person rock climbing to demonstrate follow-through


Follow-through is the traceability between what I say and what I do. It’s that traceability throughout a situation from beginning to end which builds trust. Many times I’ve found that this is difficult see though. I don’t always define a clear goal at the beginning of the situation so when I get to the end, it’s hard to tell if I’ve delivered on my promise or not.

So far I’ve discussed three of the key disciplines that I use to develop trust:

I plan for this to be my final post on building trust. However, I’ll probably continue to find valuable ways to build trust as I learn about myself.

I work as a business analyst in custom software development and despite all the skills that I’ve acquired, building trust provides me with the most success. Often times when working with a client I discover that their project goals are unclear or missing.

I was working with a worldwide corporation that was looking to rebuild a piece of outdated software. They didn’t know where to start or what their end goal was. They knew that the software was out of date but didn’t know how to fix it. Simply put, they didn’t understand what value the software could bring to their company.

Start with the end in mind

In order to access the value that follow-through brings to building trust I needed to help the client define their goals. How could this software add value to the company?

How could I followed through on the project goals if the goals were never defined? I couldn’t, so I had to take the time to define the goals at the beginning.

I worked with the client to understand what the future state would look like before the project started. By defining the goals, I had a clear starting point that I could trace back to when the project ended.

It’s important to have a clear definition of success at the beginning so that you can trace that all the way through the situation to the end. Only then can you make the connection between what you say and what you do.

skeptical snake
Did you really follow through though?

Why not just vaguely commit to something so that it’s easier to follow through? Because the more specific your commitment is, the tighter the relationship is with the results. The tighter that relationship, the more trust you’re going to build.

If I had not defined the goal of the project clearly in the beginning then I couldn’t have pointed to a concrete goal that I followed through on. It’s easy to define a vague goal at the beginning and then point back to that at the end. But it’s likely that you are going to get a lot of skeptical looks when you point to arbitrary objective.

Actions speak louder than words

I think this is actually better put as “Actions build trust when they fulfill expectations.” But I guess that does roll off the tongue as easily.

You can apply this same situation to anything in life. Your friend asks you if you can help him move and you agree to help (what you say). Then when moving day comes around you show up ready to pack, label, and carry boxes (what you do). You just built a little trust with your friend. The more often you do what you say, the more trust you build because trust is incremental and it builds on itself.

An unfortunate truth

Before trust is built, people tend to look for gaps between what you say and what you do. Because of the desire to be right we enjoy pointing out flaws in others so that we can feel superior. Check out Building Trust — Part II: Vulnerability for more on the desire to be right.

For example, I say I’m going to deliver a blog post of 1,500 words by the end of the week but I deliver the blog post late and it only contains 1,000 words. You probably won’t trust me when I say I can deliver the next blog post on time and with the appropriate amount of content. In fact, my failure to deliver the post will stick out in your mind every time you ask me for something.

Trust is more easily destroyed than built.

What did I learn about myself?

Following through is hard!

Why is it hard to follow-through? It’s because you don’t know everything. You can’t possibly know all the variables when you commit to something, so you can’t always follow through on your promises. That’s what makes it special when you do it. This is why I persist to meet the expectations that I’ve set because I know how valuable it is to a relationship. I also know how damaging it can be when I don’t follow through.

Conclusion about follow-through

Listening, vulnerability, simplicity, and follow-through are the keys to building trust, which forms the core of relationships. The great part about trust, once you have the foundation it’s easier to build more. But keep in mind once you’ve lost trust, it’s harder to build it back up again. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it just means that you’re going to have to work harder applying the fundamentals that I’ve outlined here.

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