Honoring your word

I came across one of the more powerful distinctions I encountered recently by reading Michael Jensen’s:

Integrity: without it nothing works

In it he provides a very concise definition of integrity:

An individual is whole and complete when their word is whole and complete, and their word is whole and complete when they honor their word. We can honor our word in one of two ways:

1. By keeping our word, and on time

2. As soon as we know that we won’t keep our word, we inform all parties counting on us to keep our word, and clean up any mess that we’ve caused in their lives

He then goes to give a more detailed definition of what one’s word actually entails, and the key factors that often cause us to not see the costs of not honoring our word.

But to me, the most profound lesson from the article is the important distinction between “keeping your word” and “honoring your word”.

In collaborative interactions we are often times asked, either explicitly or implicitly, to keep our end of the bargain by completing the work the rest of the team depends on by a given time. And therefore, we often tend to commit, explicitly or implicitly to do just that.

But committing to keeping our word sets us up to not be in integrity, since it assumes that we have complete control over the outcomes of our efforts. Which is rarely the case. Furthermore, when reality hits us in the face, and we realize that we won’t be able to keep our word, our commitment to keeping our word holds us back from letting our collaborators know that we won’t be able to do so, turning a bad situation into a worse one.

But what what if instead we committed to honoring our word? When it turns out, that for reasons outside of our control, we are not going to be able to keep it — we will have no mental disincentive not to let our collaborators know, and we can help mitigate any negative effects.

To make this distinction a bit more tangible, consider the difference between:

Keeping your word: “I commit to having this draft ready for you by 4pm today”


Honoring your word: “I commit to doing my best to have this draft ready for you by 4pm, and if it turns our that I’m unable to meet that deadline – let you know as soon as I can (and help fix the mess I caused)”.

Which one of those responses sets us up better to be in integrity, and maintain a healthy collaborative relationship?

So next time that you are asked to make a commitment — consider committing to honoring your word (rather than to keeping it).

Honoring your word

Organizational Polarities

In doing further exploration into polarity management, I came across this neat image that truly exemplifies the adage of “a picture is worth more than 1,000 words”:


Though to be fair, it’s a picture of mostly words 🙂

It was developed by Robert Quinn as part of his book, The Positive Organization, which is now added to my reading queue.

But basic familiarity with polarity management is enough to see the value of this diagram even on a standalone basis, as a really powerful way to capture some of the core organizational polarities, highlighting the key positive and negative of each pole.


I view it as a great tool for jump-starting any organizational polarities conversation. By providing a crude-but-complete (negatives and positives of both poles) jump-off point for the conversation, it can help accelerate the shared empathy and understanding of the opposing views and move participants further along in navigating the more nuanced aspects of the tension.


Organizational Polarities

Are you a Segmentor or an Integrator?

Work-life balance is always a hot topic in organizational circles. Even if you buy into this loaded distinction, good advice on how to improve it is hard to come by.

Megan Huth of Google came up with a pretty interesting insight on that topic:

Segmentors vs Integrators: Google’s work-life-balance research

She started with a distinction between two work/non-work time management strategies first introduced by Christena Nippert-Eng:

  1. Segmentors are people who create rigid boundaries between their personal and work lives. They reported that: “In my life, there is a clear boundary between my career and my non-work roles.”
  2. Integrators are people who blur the lines been work and home, switching back and forth between the two. This group often agreed that: “It is often difficult to tell where my work life ends and my non-work life begins.”

And then looked for correlations between the way Google employees classified their existing and desired time management strategy with the way they rate their overall well-being. She found that:

Regardless of preference, Segmentors were significantly happier with their well-being than Integrators. Additionally, Segmentors were more than twice as likely to be able to detach from work (when they wanted to). Less than a third of Googlers behaved like Segmentors and over half of Integrators said they wished they could segment better.

That latter part: over 2/3 of Google employees are NOT segmentors, and 50% of them want to be, highlighted both the size of the opportunity and an interesting path forward in improving employee’s overall well-being.

In the remainder of the article Megan outlines several strategies and techniques that Google experimented with, attempting moving the needle in that direction.

Are you a Segmentor or an Integrator?