Keeping your promise

Jan. 1, 2020
I made a promise about 10 years ago that took me much too long to fulfill (for a myriad of reasons).

I made a promise about 10 years ago that took me much too long to fulfill (for a myriad of reasons). Anyone that knows me very well knows this story, but I’d like to share a few lessons learned that others may benefit from.

Early last year, I fulfilled the promise to make my nephew William a partner in the business. William started out hanging around the shop with me from the time he was about 10, worked part-time here while in school and full-time ever since, working his way up the ranks to production manager. During a particularly difficult time a while back for me, he stepped up and acted as general manager, and although I always knew he was bright and capable, even I was impressed by the scope of the potential he demonstrated.

I believe that things happen as they do for a reason, and I think my delay in fulfilling my promise to William taught me some important things.

Give critical thought to the timeline you need to accomplish any promise. In my case 10 years ago, William had given his notice and accepted a position with an MSO in our market. I took this personally and was angry, accusing him of betraying not only me, but also his grandparents (who owned the business before me). I did not respond professionally and ultimately gave my promise out of fear of going it alone and not having a family member for succession for the business. (Making him a partner had been part of my long-range plan, but I had yet to determine how and when this would occur.)

Do not over-promise and under-deliver. Just as with customers, this undermines your credibility. I fairly soon realized I’d over-promised on what I was psychologically able and willing to do.

The longer you delay, the more likely the other party will become disenchanted and lose faith. I kept putting William off because I couldn’t get my hands wrapped around a plan. After talking with many colleagues and a couple of attorneys, I was overwhelmed with the amount of information I had and became a little paralyzed.      

Avoid procrastination by getting a trusted friend, colleague or consultant to act as your “accountability partner.” Two years before finally signing the partnership documents with William, I was a member of a DuPont Business Council group with Mike Anderson of as our facilitator. Fulfilling my promise to William became the main focus of my action plan while in this group, and Mike took it upon himself to be my accountability partner, regularly following up with me to make sure I was accomplishing the steps in the process. Mike had a handful of what he calls “come to Jesus” meetings with William and me to work through the mess we created. (I say “we” because at various points neither of us handled ourselves very honorably.)     

If you’re unable to fulfill a promise, or need more time to do so, be the first to initiate discussions, including truly credible things that are inhibiting your progress. I did not proactively keep William informed of my progress (or lack thereof). Instead, he would ask periodically where I was with things, and often I took the anger I had towards myself about it out on him. In turn, his frustration with me was apparent in his performance at work (which impacted mine as well), and the lack of quality interaction between us at times vibrated negativity throughout our organization.

I realize now the value of having a consultant and attorney with experience with such things help you avoid a quagmire. I became stuck in the many options and details I had amassed. Had I sooner sought professional help that I was comfortable with, much of what we went through could have been avoided. A consultant or attorney can help keep business business, and family-stuff family.

I’m not proud of the way I handled things initially, but I am extremely proud of William for his forgiveness, stick-to-it-ness and drive to move our business forward.

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