Anyone who’s been in the business world for more than a few days has probably seen that lack of follow-through can be a project killer, a deal killer, and even a business killer.

Yet so many people still fail to follow through on what they’ve promised. Why? Is it laziness? Carelessness? Lack of self-discipline?

Dr. Mark Goulston, a clinical psychiatrist and cofounder of Heartfelt Leadership, an organization dedicated to bringing more humanity and more profit to the workplace, suggests there might be other factors at play.

In a webinar that Goulston recently conducted as part of our Small Business Week sponsored by Verizon, Goulston explained the underlying reasons why people fail to follow through. He also offered advice on how to approach clients, staffers, and partners who don’t hold up their ends of deals.

Why It Happens

“People have good intentions, but they take on too much,” said Goulston. “The number one threat to productivity is conflict avoidance,” he added.  He explained that some people say yes to certain tasks or deals just because they want to be able to end a conversation. Others say yes because they simply don’t know how to say no – especially to a superior.

But there may also be chemical factors at play. For example, some people get an adrenaline rush from the act of pleasing others. When these individuals agree to something, it’s usually with the full belief that they will complete the task. Once the chemical rush has passed, the person crashes and the motivation fades.

Let This Core Value Lead

Obviously, there’s no silver bullet to eliminate lack of follow through. However, Goulston had one over-arching message to combat the issue, as well as several practical recommendations for how to implement the concept in a personal way.

The key: Make integrity your core value.

Goulston defines having integrity as doing what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it.

But there’s more to it than just vowing to live with integrity. It’s also critical to keep in mind the consequences of not following through. At best, people will assume that you’re flaky and unreliable. At worst, people will assume that you lack integrity and that you’re a liar.

On top of that, people will feel that they have free license to badmouth you or your company if you let them down.  In today’s business world where online reviews can make or break a company, the consequences of an unintended loose end could be costly.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Goulston suggested the following practical steps to improve follow through:

  • Be careful of what you promise. Before making any commitments, ask yourself if you’re willing to pay the consequences of lost trust, confidence, or respect if you fail to live up to your obligations.
  • Focus on things that matter to you. People don’t do what’s important; they do what they care about.
  • Turn routine