What to do if commitments are not fulfilled?

You all will know these situations from your daily business: commitments will not be fulfilled every time. In principle that’s no problem at all, except it happens often. But what to do if a member of you team often miss his Goals?

Check your own work
At first you should always look at yourself and check whether you do everything fine. I know, it is easier to search and find mistakes done by your team member, but in most cases commitments are not fulfilled because you have done something wrong.

If some work is not done timely or is done in low quality, in about 90% of all cases one or more of the following mistakes exist:

  • It was not clear what exactly was expected
  • The consequences of the failed commitment were unknown or not suspected
  • The one who should do the task could not do it

What can you do to prevent these mistakes? You have to delegate in a right way. For example you may use the SMART principle to delegate Tasks.

I am sure, if you check and if necessary change your own way to delegate work, you can noticeably reduce the number of not fulfilled commitments. But of course, there will also be the cases where your colleague or team member is unreliable and constantly will miss his goals. In this case you should talk with him.

Speak with the colleague
To talk about mistakes, missed goals or not fulfilled commitments is always difficult. You have to criticize the other one. Therefore such a talk has to be done carefully and in the right way. Before you start a discussion of this type you have to define a subject. And this subject should never be of a kind like: “Why do you often miss your goals”. Instead you can use a topic like: “How can we fulfill the project timeline anyway”. And it is also important to stay on this topic during the whole talk. During the discussion, the following steps can be used to clarify the situation:

  • Why is it that we have this situation?
  • What will be hampered as result of this situation?
  • What can we do to reach the goal anyway?
  • Create a new agreement with the colleague about the future proceeding. Also define some control steps.


In best case, this talk with you colleague will improve the situation. But if you cannot find an agreement, you have to do the next step and do a meeting with the supervisor of your colleague.

Speak with his supervisor
In most projects you have team members which are not subordinated to you. So you have to speak with their supervisor. If the personal talk with the colleague has not brought any results you have to invite for a clarifying conversation with the colleague and his supervisor. In such a case you should do the following steps first:

  • Ask the colleague for his consent to this meeting
  • Explain that you will not blame him during this Meeting
  • Agree that you will show the project facts and find solutions instead of searching for the problems

If these points are clarified you can invite for the meeting. The meeting has to be done with you, your colleague and his supervisor. It should have the following topics:

  • Show the current project situation
  • Explain the current issues (missed tasks or commitments) and their consequences
  • Show the benefit for the department and the project if the project is successful
  • Explain what the company is lost when the project is not successful (or late)
  • Find solutions to support the team member to fulfill his commitments
  • Define actions to turn this into realityAnd the most important topic or guideline during the whole meeting is: Don’t speak about the colleague, who missed his goals, speak with him. He should have the chance to find solutions and define action which will help him to do a better job.

If you get stuck during or after this meeting, for example because a conflict of priorities exist which cannot be solved, you have to identify this conflict or issue. At next you have to look for the person which is the “owner” of this conflict. For example if there is an priority conflict because you colleague has to work in two project, you have to find the person which has the common responsibility for these projects. In most cases it is you common supervisor, for example the head of you department. And this person will be addressed next.

Speak with you common supervisor
Before you talk with the common supervisor you have to do the following tasks:

  • The talk with your colleague and his supervisor is done as described above. Otherwise you get into a bad situation because your common supervisor will surely ask you: „What have you done already to clarify the situation?“
  • Often the person you have to talk to will be a senior manager. So it is advisable on the one hand to prepare a very tightly summary and talk compact and on the other hand you should follow the laws of courtesy seriously. Always keep in mind: you do this conversation to find solutions and not to analyze problems.


The meeting itself should contain the following topics. Therefore you should think about these topics before you go to the meeting and prepare some notes for yourself.

  • Ask for help (this will encourage the personal relationship level)
  • Explain the actual situation (as compact summary)
  • Show the consequences which occur if the current situation cannot be changed
  • Explain what you need
  • Make two proposals for actions to fulfill your needs
  • Explain and compare these two proposals based n evaluation criteria
  • Give a recommendation for a variant

Commitments will not be fulfilled from time to time. So you have to learn to deal with such situations. At first you should always ask yourself whether you have done some mistakes for example during delegation of the task. At next you should ask the affected colleague or team member for a talk. Only if you cannot find an agreement, you should do the next step and talk with the supervisor of you colleague. As the whole situation is complicated and may adversely affect the further cooperation with you colleague, you must act very carefully. Within this article I have shown some guidelines which should help you to master this situation.

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