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Under promise and Over deliver. Gaining Trust & your sanity as a Finance leader.

finance leadership relationships time management Apr 04, 2024

Have you ever had a problem with over promising and under delivering? 

Do you just want to help people, you keep telling everyone, "Oh yes, I can do that for you!" 

Then low and behold, you're overwhelmed too stretched to meet these expectations?

Yeah, me too.  

As a support function, particularly for a start-up and scale-up, it's your job to support the business with the Commercial decisions and as a Finance Director or CFO it can be very easy to over promise and under deliver.

It's all about setting expectations.

It is certainly something that I have found challenging, particularly earlier in my career where I wanted to prove to everyone that I can be really useful & really add value to commercial decision making. I was also trying to build those business partnership relationships. 

I certainly found that I was in scenarios where I would spend a lot of time at the end of the month in meetings with all my business partners, and promising them information that I thought would be useful for them.  .... and then we would start a month end process.

And I would forget that it's actually a quarter end, which meant that we had to do board reporting as well.

And then the founder would tell me that an investor who potentially might invest more into the business has asked for a scenario on the current budget growth model.

And if I could do that in a few days.

As you can imagine, with all of that work piling up, unfortunately it was the business partnership relationships that suffered because month end couldn't be late, board reporting couldn't be late and this particular investor work that had to be completed quite promptly couldn't be delayed, so the team and I would do really late nights to just hit those initial deadlines.  Coupled with all of the reports that I promised my new business relationship partners, at the end of the month, they were the ones that had to wait much longer before they would see anything.

It's great to say that you're going to deliver something, but ideally, I should have set delivery expectations very low. For example, in the above scenario, if the piece of work would take the team about two weeks with the usual workload, then we should have said it would take a month's time instead. 

It would have also been more useful to only promise to a couple of the business partners, and leave the other business partners waiting another month before you talk about outputs that you could deliver them. So it is much better to under promise, and then over deliver because nobody is going to complain if you deliver a piece of work earlier than what you said you would. However, on the flip side, there is nothing worse than talking about a particular piece of work or output that you want to receive, given a date for delivery and then not getting anything for another week. This can be incredibly infuriating. Particularly if you want to rely on that piece of work.

As a leader, you are very much judged on your output, and not on how hard you work.

Within startups, a lot of teams are working really hard, if not, most of the employees are working hard, because that is the nature of the industry. So therefore, you're not unique if you're just working long hours and as a leader, again, you are judged on your performance, on your output, not on the fact that you're the first one in and the last one to leave online or offline.

So be mindful about what you're promising people & really ensure that you're planning your work properly. Even take a leaf out of a project or programme manager in the tech team on how they schedule all tasks and availability of the team. It's not a bad idea to have a back of the envelope style version of this as well (or even detailed). So when your peak times in finance, that's usually a month end, year end and budgeting times - you know where your gaps are and when you can do additional analysis and additional work.

I certainly have found that when I've made these mistakes in the past, not only are you losing trust within the business, people start relying on you a bit less, and it affects your reputation. It's also really stressful! I can get quite anxious and overwhelmed when I realise that there's all these deadlines, and may be missed. 

The stress not only sits with you, but also your team.  You're really adding a lot of pressure onto the team which can also affect the quality of the work output if you're really piling it on. So have a think about setting those expectations the right way. And again, under promising really reducing that expectation, so then you can over deliver or just hit the deadlines that you've promised. 

  1. Download our FREE leadership guide.  
  2. Register for the mini-course, Upgrade your Management Accounts and get noticed by the business 
  3. Work with me in the Financial Leadership Foundations course  that includes monthly Q&A sessions where we can discuss all of your questions and how to apply your learnings to your current role. 


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