Targets, Orders, Guarantees and Promises - Does the Difference Matter?

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated June 2023

We often use these terms interchangeably but knowing the difference between can be a matter of life and death. 

Here’s my definitions:

A Target is a stretch objective which you are strongly aiming for but may not achieve.

An Order is a goal mandated for you to achieve but without any input or negotiation from you.

A Guarantee is a goal you must hit no matter what. The arrangement is only entered into on the expectation of 100% certainty of achievement and full legal redress if not.

A Promise is a goal which you personally agreed to and are committed to achieving for another person (“the customer”). In a promise you (“the performer”) also commit to having a conversation with your customer if you judge the achievement of the promise is in doubt so that timely steps can be taken to address or renegotiate it. 

To illustrate the difference I invite you to imagine a pilot flying you and your family on holiday. 

What do you expect from the pilot in terms of a safe landing?

A Target - “I have a pilot’s license and am hoping to get you there safely”

An Order - “The airline has told me to get you there safely”

A Guarantee - “There are no circumstances where you will not get there safely (despite non-zero aviation crash probabilities)”

A Promise? – “I am fully qualified and current and will do everything in my power to get you there safely”

Understanding (and acting on) which of these 4 commitments the pilot is making could save your life! 

In our Business Acumen Simulations, such as XSIM and YSIM, we explore the crucial differences in leadership performance between targets, orders, guarantees and promises by having the participants and teams engage in on-going role plays with the “CEO in the Simulation”.

For more on the very important topic: Making and Managing Commitments

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Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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