One Simple Strategy to Boost Your Career

Website redesign projects suck. Anyone who has ever been a part of one will tell you that, and anyone who tells you it doesn’t suck is a liar or a masochist.

I have been a part of four website redesigns, and none has launched within a three months of the original schedule. When my most recent company announced in December 2020 that our new site would launch in March, I gave my colleagues a one-word prediction: “September.”

They laughed.

“Just wait,” I replied. “It’ll be September.”

Then I sat back and watched as various people failed to keep their word on when the new site would be up. As content creators, we were forced into a two-week sprint-from-hell to write hundreds of webpages on complex medical conditions because project managers insisted it was necessary to keep the project on track. That sprint was in April, a month after the original deadline.

Following the initial change, we then were told “spring,” a gloriously ambiguous date if you’re trying to plan a launch strategy. Then it was June. Then it was “definitely” going to be in early July. Then it was “sometime in July.”

So when did the website launch? In September.

I understand that website projects are challenging. I also understand there are a million case studies out there that tell you to add about six months to whatever you think your launch date is going to be, especially if the redesign is really a reinvention, as was the case with my last company.

There’s a lesson in this for those who are just starting out in their careers. It’s something many kids are taught as early as preschool, but it’s eroding in the workplace. If you’re looking to set yourself apart and build your future, there’s one simple strategy that can help you stick out from a growing crowd, and that is this: Always keep your word.

This might seem like a no-brainer. Just about everyone understands this as a concept, but fewer and fewer are living it. That word “always” is certainly confining and scary because, hey, there are always exceptions in life, right?

Not when it comes to your word.

Always keeping your word is so important it can be considered a career strategy. Let me give some examples to illustrate the point.

Case Study No. 1: An Honest Answer

During our website to create brand-new content on all the different conditions our hospital system treated, I messed up. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t wrap my head around how the project managers wanted us to write the content, and so I went about doing what I always do as a storyteller: I wrote stuff that would make the target audience feel something. I did this for roughly 20 medical conditions, more than half of which I knew nothing about when the project began.

Then I turned it in for review, and my work sat there for more than a week.

Two days before the sprint was to end, I got a call from my supervisor telling me there was “some concern” about my copy (some of which, incidentally, she had reviewed and approved). It wasn’t written in the correct style. I was going to have to rewrite everything. “Can you get this done by the deadline?”

Now, I felt the pull to be the can-do employee and say “Absolutely!” But the reality was, I was going to have to essentially start from scratch and write in a style I needed some time to perfect. That wasn’t going to happen in 48 hours.

So I answered her honestly: “No. Not if you want it to be good.”

That was the truth. It might not have been what she wanted to hear, but it was reality. “Give me the weekend and I’ll have it done and done well,” I added.

Then I busted my butt and got the work done before the weekend was over. Yes, I missed the 5 p.m. Friday “deadline,” but the world didn’t end. The work I did was well-received, and, more importantly, I kept my word to my boss.

Case Study No. 2: Introducing Tardy Terry

Meet Terry. That’s not her real name, but she’s definitely a real person. Terry is intelligent, capable and hard-working. She’s also five to 15 minutes late for every single meeting, whether she is the one who schedules it or simply accepts the calendar invitation. Never does she let anyone know she’s going to be late, and rarely is she even remotely apologetic for making her colleagues wait for her presence.

Tardy Terry is not unique to my former company. She’s all over the place in the business world, and people resent the hell out of her type.

When you schedule a meeting or accept a meeting invitation, you’re giving your word you’ll be there when the meeting starts. If you’re not going to be there when the meeting starts, you’re obligated to let the meeting organizer know. If you don’t and you do this more than once, you are going to get a reputation as someone who doesn’t respect her colleagues’ time. This becomes the topic of conversation among your colleagues while they are waiting for you to arrive. You might feel as if you were just being talked about when you walk in the room. You were.

Why Your Word is So Important

So why exactly is your word the most powerful commodity you have as an employee? Simple. It is the tool through which you build trust. When I gave my supervisor a realistic deadline by which she would have work in line with expectations for the website project and then delivered, she knew I was trustworthy enough to give her honest feedback in difficult circumstances.

Failing to live up to your word is one of the easiest ways to lose trust. After the second or third failed deadline with the website, no one believed the project managers to deliver on the next promised launch date, and fewer people responded promptly to their “urgent” requests. When Terry accepted a meeting invitation in which her presence was vital to the gathering, everyone knew to add on at least 10 or 15 minutes at the end to account for her tardiness.

Keeping your word isn’t just about the supposedly “small” things like deadlines and punctuality. Steve Jobs famously said at the 2007 Macworld gathering that Apple would by delivering three revolutionary products to the world:

  1. A widescreen touch iPod.
  2. A life-changing mobile phone.
  3. An internet communicator.

That might have been news enough. But Jobs went further, telling the assembled masses he would be delivering these things on one device: the iPhone.

“Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” he said.

He then went and did exactly that. There are currently more than 1 billion iPhones in use, and Apple spearheaded an entire new industry in smartphones.

Jobs is hardly alone. Great people keep crazy promises. John F. Kennedy promised we would get to the moon by the end of that decade. Babe Ruth (allegedly) pointed beyond the outfield fence and then hit a home run. Elon Musk said we’d have rockets that could launch and land.

These type of folks don’t get too far out over their skis. They understand the subtle art of under-promising and over-delivering.

How much better would it have been if our website project leaders had said “by December 2021” and launched in September? How great would it be if Terry organized meetings for a half-hour after she thinks she can get there and be the first one in the room?

Similarly, how awesome does it feel when a restaurant tells you it’ll be 30 minutes to get a table and then seats you after 10? When a company tells you an order will be delivered Friday and it arrives Thursday? How does your boss feel about you when you complete a project with quality work ahead of schedule?

The best employees I’ve ever worked are the ones who say they’re going to do something and then do it. It didn’t take long for these folks to become my go-to colleagues. I never lost an ounce of sleep wondering if they were going to get the work done when they said they were going to do. These type of folks who worked for me received the highest raises and the first promotions.

You want to be one of these people.

So make your word the most important thing you bring with you to work each day. Recognize how one failure in this area can ruin years of hard work.

In the end, your word is you.

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