The Heart of Deadlines: A New Contract for In-house Relationships

The following is a typical verbal exchange between an in-house designer and a client:

Client: We need it by Tuesday.

Designer: Uh-huh.


Here is what they’re probably thinking:

Client: I padded the deadline because you’re always late. I bet you’ll ask for an extension from the vendor without asking me. I filled out that &#!$ form and I know you’re going to tell me I did it wrong again.

Designer: I bet you padded that deadline. I’ll just ask the printer for an extension. Look at this brief—it’s missing half of the information I need to get it done right the first time without multiple versions.


Does this sound familiar? The way these two people communicate with each other is set up for failure for everyone involved—the client, the designer, their respective teams, the vendors and the company as a whole. It only takes one person to break this cycle—a cycle that occurs every day in corporate America. A healthy relationship in-house means you can deliver great work and have fun doing it. I swear.

So what does a healthy work relationship look like? A lot like friendship. There are always challenges, but the foundation of communication is strong. That communication is based on the TRUE principles: Trust, Reliability, Understanding and Expertise.

The TRUE Contract

Trust: I will do what I say I will do and I will give fair notice when I’m in jeopardy of not delivering as promised.

Reliability: I will deliver when I say I will deliver. Not “close to” or “sort of,” but as promised.

Understanding: I will respectfully share with you when I think you’re full of hot air. And I will be open to alternative approaches so that we can both be real in our commitment.

Expertise: I will consider you an expert in your functional area and I will respectfully ask that you do the same for me.

I understand that all of this may sound a little too idealistic. But how awesome would it be if your most frustrating internal client started treating you with respect and engaging in open communication? You’d always know where you stood and you’d also feel solid in your understanding of what was needed.

Make this contract with yourself. You can talk about it with your colleagues or just implement it quietly and consistently. Start thinking of deadlines as a basis for communication and a tool to nurture your in-house relationships. Lead by example and others will follow. Follow the TRUE principles and you’ll be the beneficiary of a more rewarding workday where you get to do great design. I’ll venture a guess that you will also get bigger budgets and longer lead times.

TRUE breeds TRUE. It’s true.

Rena DeLevie is a creative operations business coach. She approaches business with a warm heart toward people, creativity and the process—and a cold eye toward the bottom line. Rena works with entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to guide them on the path to financial and spiritual joy. Her services include individual business coaching, management and presentation skills workshops, and creative operations analyses. You can find Rena at The Roundtable Business.