Why Overdelivering Is Overrated

Why Overdelivering Is Overrated

Why you should care

Because your overachieving probably isn’t worth it. 

“Underpromise, overproduce” has become a modern business mantra. If you manage expectations, you can’t disappoint, the idea goes. But a new study questions whether trying to exceed your underpromises will have the desired impact.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of California, San Diego, conducted three studies. One of them involved students thinking about buying concert tickets. In this scenario, there are three ways a reseller could respond:

  • Give you better seats

  • Give you the seats you wanted

  • Give you worse seats

Surprisingly, the winner — in the undergrads’ minds — was the second option: getting the seats they wanted in the first place. That made them even happier than getting “better” seats. Sure, we could imagine exceptions to this rule — who would shrug off surprise backstage passes to Ariana Grande? Or a first-class upgrade on a long-haul flight you had originally expected would result in no sleep ’til Sydney?

But in most cases, overdelivering doesn’t result in lavish new experiences — it just does pretty much the same thing that keeping the promise made in the first place would do.

“Businesses may work hard to exceed their promises to customers or employees, … but our research suggests that this hard work may not produce the desired consequences beyond those obtained by simply keeping promises,” the authors note.

“Promises can be hard to keep, and promise makers should spend their effort keeping them wisely.”

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