Gordon Sinclair had a problem. Almost one third of the people who made a reservation at his fancy Chicago restaurant didn’t show up. This was costing him $900,000 per year.
When people phoned in to make a reservation, his staff told them to “Please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation.” But it was not working.
By adding two words to the message, Sinclair was able to reduce the number of no-shows to ten percent and save over $500,000 per year.
What were the magic two words? Will you…
Sinclair instructed his employees to ask “Will you please call if you if you have to change or cancel your reservation?” And then to wait for an answer.
Waiting for the answer was key. Everyone said yes, they would call. And by doing so they had made a public commitment.
Fast-forward to 7 o’clock on a Friday night. You have a reservation at Gordon’s restaurant in an hour. It’s been a rough week at work, the kids are tired and the babysitter is unavailable. You decide just to stay home and chill with a beer or two. Looks like another no-show for Gordon’s.
Then a small voice in your head pipes up: “Hey, you told them you would call if you need to cancel the reservation. Do the right thing. Call them.” So, you pick up the phone and cancel the reservation. Gordon’s gives the table to another party. You feel good about yourself for honoring your commitment.
Put Some Skin in the Game
Making a commitment, however small, puts “skin in the game.” A commitment now influences behavior later. People want to act in ways that are consistent with what they have already said or done.
You can influence a person’s future behavior by asking them for a commitment today and then waiting for them to give it.
Will you email me if you won’t be able to attend the presentation?
Will you send me a summary of your thoughts on the issue?”
Will you ask the sponsor to approve the budget?”
Some people might say “no,” but many will say “yes, I will.”
Once someone has made a public commitment, the need for consistency will encourage them to follow through. After all, their reputation (and self-image) is at stake.
Follow the (Bright) Line
A bright line is a simple rule that makes the desired action clear. For example, “I will have a one-on-one talk with every person on my team each week.”
Bright lines work best when you make them public.
You influence your own behavior by telling people what you intend to do in advance—sharing what psychologists call implementation intentions. A colleague once told me, “Mark, I am going to write a book next year.” And then he went on, “Do you know why I am telling you this? So that I actually do it.”
Want to have one-on-one talks with your team? Schedule the meetings now. Want to achieve a better work-life balance? Tell your daughter you’ll be at her next football game. Communicate your bright lines so you commit and follow through for positive change.
You might also enjoy my article on how bright lines simplify decision making and boost commitment.
Cialdini, R. (2006) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: Harper Business.
Grimes, W. (1997, Oct 15). In War Against No-Shows, Restaurants Get Together. The New York Times.
Taleb, N. N. (2018). Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. New York: Penguin Random House.