Flip the Narrative: Underpromise, Overdeliver

July 29, 2022

Flip the Narrative: Underpromise, Overdeliver

In real estate, flipping a house means buying a distressed property and giving it a major renovation. This gives new life to the home and brings more profits when reselling it. Sometimes we micro-flip too—doing minor renovation work on houses that need some updating but not a complete overhaul.

We also have to do the same with some of the philosophies in life and work that we live by.

For example, years of experience in customer service and sales have revealed that most businesses fall into the trap of “Overpromise, Underdeliver.” Every market nowadays is highly competitive, so some business owners are tempted to say anything just to get the sale and get the crowd going through the doors.

When that didn’t work and caused more serious problems for the businesses, several strategists and experts started thinking, “Why don’t we just turn it on its head instead?” and the mantra “Underpromise, Overdeliver” was born.

At first, it felt like something groundbreaking was starting. It makes sense. If the problem is overpromising something and not meeting the expectations set, then why not do the reverse instead?  

In a way, yes. “Underpromise, Overdeliver” is all about lowering your clients’ or customers’ expectations and surprising them by delivering more than what was promised. It managed to solve the underlying problem of overpromising something: having dissatisfied customers and hurting your credibility because of being unable to deliver what you said you would.

It works, short-term. But in the long run, when you “overdeliver” by pulling back on expectations, your customers will expect the same thing every time. What happens if, despite cushioning your promise, you still can’t overdeliver?

Also, “rigging the game” that way ends up becoming a disservice to your customers and clients in the long run. You risk becoming complacent and losing sight of what promises really mean and how heavy the weight of trust is in an agreement in business. This also stunts your potential for growth and innovation.

What’s worse is, if Underpromise, Overdeliver bleeds into your company culture, you then begin raising teams that are content with staying in their comfort zones and prioritize predictability over creativity, taking risks, and aiming for better outcomes.

Yes, in business we want to make sure we always deliver on what was promised. However, cultivating an attitude of shortchanging your stakeholders and customers in order to not lose face isn’t the best way to go about it.

We need a certain level of daring to make any sort of impact, and we have to keep going out of our comfort zones and challenging ourselves to achieve growth. As Steve Jobs said, “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.”

Yet it isn’t enough to be bold and daring. You need to know that a certain level of work needs to go with your crazy ideas in order to actually execute them. Then you can change the world. Look at Tesla, for example.

Elon Musk’s vision for Tesla is to “replace fossil-fuel-powered transportation with clean vehicles." (Source: Insider) In order to do that, he pours enough time and resources into developing the technology that would make that vision come true.

Over the years, Tesla has had reports on delayed releases and deliveries. And yet, people still believe that Elon can make his vision come true. Has Tesla underdelivered? Yes. Many times, it almost came to the point where people expected late product releases. That didn’t stop Elon from standing by his values, though. Long-term, he has over-delivered in terms of reaching his vision.

He could have short-changed everyone by releasing semi-finished products to meet his deadlines. But he was unafraid to commit to the standards set out in Tesla cars. His stock price points might be all over the place, but the people’s trust in his products, values, and vision remains intact.

What did he do differently then? He keeps his promises and delivers. And if there’s a delay between here and there, he makes sure to be transparent about it. Then he takes responsibility for any blips his business faces, regardless of whether it is his fault or something outside anyone’s control.

That’s what I want to leave you with. Sometimes, the unexpected happens. Not everything always happens the way we plan it. Delayed outputs could be as surprising to us as they are to our clients. It could also be that we are too tired to sustain the same level of quality in the meantime–we are humans, we get sick, distracted, and even discouraged every now and then.

When that happens, transparency and accountability are really important. The person on the other side of the promise will be able to understand, make adjustments on their end, and appreciate the fact that you value the agreement between the two of you. (Though they might be a bit disgruntled by the delay, at first.)

Of course, even with transparency, you might still lose a few deals. It happens. Instead of being disheartened about it, let it become a learning experience for the next time. Figure out how you can be better prepared for similar situations in the future.

There will always be bumps in the road. Set realistic expectations, but don’t ignore the reality happening around you as well. When something unaccounted for happens, communicate immediately. Be as transparent as you can, and take responsibility. That’s the best way to keep your relationships strong.

At the end of the day, “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.” Abraham Lincoln.

Keep your word, communicate honestly, and deliver. Be ready to fail sometimes, and don’t forget to aim a little higher every time. Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.