Under-Promise and Over-Deliver


I hate car shopping. I’m one of those people who will wait until my car is more rust than machine before trading it in. It’s not that I hate new cars. I will just do anything to avoid the car salesman pitch: Buy this car now! It’s the best deal on the lot! Hurry! It could be gone tomorrow! I know it’s part of the car-buying dance, but honestly, I’d rather sit this one out.

The vast majority of marketing we encounter is overblown. Everyone claims to be the best, whether it’s your real estate agent down to your toothpaste provider. We’ve become jaded to the promises we’ve heard through advertising, to the point where many of us actively block it whenever possible. I mean, Super Bowl aside, who gets pumped about watching ads?

It’s no wonder in this environment that business schools tell students that great companies under-promise and over-deliver. The idea is simple: don’t make hyperbolic claims and then disappoint people when you can’t meet them. Instead, focus your company on making attainable promises and always deliver. For real consumer loyalty, go above and beyond the call of duty to delight your customers. Over time, your business will build its reputation based on customer interactions, not false promises.

I’ve followed this advice for many years in my professional life. I try to go the extra mile on my projects, especially on the details many people might miss. I set reasonable deadlines for myself and when possible, try to get them done early as an added surprise. Whenever I make a mistake, I own up to it, and then without saying anything, do my best to correct it and learn from it. Not everything I’ve done has been recognized, but I have built a solid reputation that has allowed me to branch out into contract work.

But why stop at your professional life? One of my flaws is that I’m terrible at staying in touch with family. For years, I’ve been telling my grandmother I would call her regularly, which translates to major holidays – hardly a stellar record. This year, instead of making promises to her, I made a calendar event every Wednesday to call her. No excuses, just action. Now that I’m calling every week, we’re both happier, and this time I didn’t promise her a single thing.

So if you find yourself not able to keep your word – whether it be professional or personal – stop talking about what you’ll do (under-promise), and just do it with style instead (over-deliver). Go the extra mile and please someone in a way they didn’t expect you to. It will not only make someone else appreciate you more, but you’ll feel less like false advertising and more like someone who gets things done.

Photo by ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser

13 thoughts on “Under-Promise and Over-Deliver”

  1. I absolutely love it! All of it! And will take action and start under-promising and over-delivering with my family and my business today! Thank you

  2. It’s always good to hear this message. It seems so obvious, but also easy to ignore. It feels good in the moment to over-promise. We want to sell people on our idea, our business offering, or ourselves. But that just makes it harder on us.

    I’m not perfect with this, not by any means, but I am building the habit of being modest in my predictions and promises. This leaves room for errors and setbacks, but also to blow people away when possible.


    1. I hope I didn’t give you the impression that I’m an expert at this either, Ben. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things can get out overblown. If you’re relatively consistent, though, you can build a solid reputation over time, even if you have a few relapses (like I do).

  3. I love this post since and so very true – I’ve had my own company for the last 15 years and have customers that I hold myself accountable to. So YES I love the under promising and over delivering.

    I also follow the 4 Agreements – Impeccable Word, Never make assumptions, don’t take anything personally and ALWAYS do your BEST.

    Wonderful insightful post,

    1. Thanks for adding a few more insights. Of all four, I have to say that “don’t take anything personally” is the most crucial in business. People have so many things going on in their lives, you can’t assume anything about why they choose (or don’t choose) your product or service. You just have to do your best.

    2. I love your comment – never take anything personally. So true in business. Especially when dealing the public. And if you under promise it is easier to over deliver. Great reminders!

  4. Under Promise and Over Delivery is something I try to practice in my personal and professional life… I love giving people the little “WOW” moments. Along these lines, one thing I’ve really worked in is setting realistic expectations with whomever it is I am talking to or working with. If that “WOW” factor can’t be there, being honest and setting realistic expectations can go along way with people as well.

    Great stuff!

    1. It’s true, you can’t always make the “WOW” factor, so being realistic is always a good policy. That way, you never have to explain why you couldn’t meant unrealistic expectations.

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