Ok, I’ll admit it: ever since I naturalized to French citizenship I’ve become somewhat more critical of my adopted country. I don’t view this as betrayal; on the contrary, I’ve developed an affinity for France so strong that it pains me to witness habits that in my opinion are destructive to the future of this great country.
One of these habits reared its ugly head on multiple occasions over the past week in various business matters which just bugs the heck out of me: not honoring one’s commitments.
Admittedly, my vision is colored by biases inherent in my cultural upbringing in the U.S. and Japan, but it just seems so basic.
Do what you say you’re going to do
If you’ve scheduled a meeting with someone, be present at the meeting. If you’ve guaranteed delivery of your product within two days, don’t make it three. If you’ve committed to speak on a conference panel, show up for the conference. If you’ve agreed to sponsor an event, don’t disappear when it’s time to pay up.
Of course, unforeseen emergencies happen. People run late. This is perfectly understandable and forgivable, especially if some warning is given. (Full disclosure: I left a portfolio company manager waiting alone for me on a scheduled lunch meeting that I had completely forgotten this past summer. Totally inexcusable behavior on my part, and I’m still beating myself up over it).
I submit that this basic tenet of keeping your engagements is particularly important to entrepreneurs. For me, it’s an easy filter to pare down an unwieldy deal flow. Entrepreneurs pitching for VC funding that do not follow through on the little things fall out of the sieve. But this isn’t just about pitching me or other VCs, it’s a direct reflection of your ability to execute on the big things.
I haven’t done any scientific analysis on it but would be willing to bet on a strong correlation of success with startups whose entrepreneurs do their best to keep their commitments.
This is not a uniquely French problem by any means, nor is it ubiquitously practiced here. However, I do feel that social mores in France condemn the commitment-shirking behavior a little bit less than in, say Anglo-Saxon or many Asian cultures.
And paradoxically, I would even suggest that in the social setting, bad behavior is far more tolerated in the U.S. than in France. For example, the classic Californian blow-off of your friend’s dinner party is a serious taboo in France (and commendably so in my opinion).