Think about a time when you were excited about what you were doing. Now think of a time when you were doing something because you had to. Were there differences in your effectiveness and productivity? Did you even have a sense of the difference in the emotion between the two situations as you thought about them now? Those differences are what makes commitment vital to success.
There is less loyalty and more skepticism in the workplace. In this environment, how do we develop a sense of commitment for ourselves? How do we create a sense of commitment with others whose support we need in order to get work done?
The Remarkable Differences Between Compliance and Commitment
In the beginning of this article, you were asked to think about two situations that illustrated the difference between commitment and compliance. The table below summarizes the differences between compliance and commitment.
People do things because they have to.
We need compliance when
• there isn’t time to discuss or debate,
• there is no viable alternative,
• you have the knowledge to make the decision.
Safety policies are an example where compliance is appropriate.
People do things because they want to.
We need commitment if we
• need to create widespread support,
• the solution is not readily apparent,
• the solution needs to be long-lasting.
Introducing a new product, service or process with no errors and on time is an example where commitment is crucial.
What are the differences in results between commitment and compliance? What is the difference in effort you have to expend to get results when people are committed rather than just compliant? What has your experience been for yourself or what have you observed with others?
Now it seems as if we might always prefer to have commitment. It certainly is a powerful motivator. But sometimes, we just need compliance. If a decision has to be made quickly, then we need people to just carry out that decision, to comply with the decision. How they carry it out will determine if it is successful or not. Do they have a chance to determine how it will be accomplished? Or do they even have an understanding of why it needs to be done in the first place? In other words, have they been told what the decision is, why its been made and why their full support is necessary?
The Challenge of Winning Commitment from Others
In work situations, there are two groups that we want to create commitment with: people who work for us and people who work with us.
While it may seem easier to create commitment with people who work for us, it isn’t necessarily true. To gain commitment, we’re better off if we treat people just as we would a “volunteer.” If we can win agreement without relying on our authority, we will know the commitment is real.
There are three conditions to gaining commitment:
1) The goal, project or activity taps into something the other person is or can be excited about. People see a benefit for themselves or something they care about and there isn’t a negative consequence that overshadows the benefit.
2) There is a mutually agreed upon goal or at least one where the other person had a chance to give input about how the goal will be met.
3) There is communication: the person has been listened to.
It is up to the leader to create these conditions. And the more important the commitment we want to gain, the more thinking and planning we need to do about how to gain that commitment. If I were going out to sell a concept for a new business to investors, I certainly would do a great deal of preparation before presentation. I only get one chance. The same holds true with with employees, team members or customers. They’re going to invest their time and energy. What’s going to convince them?
There is a caution to be aware of. Going back to the “well” too often can create commitment “drought.” We can get people excited. But at the end of their effort if they don’t see a worthwhile result, one they believe was worth their effort and personal sacrifice, it will be more difficult to get them excited again. We can see this with people who have been on project after project and who have not seen a beneficial result to any of the projects will be reluctant to cast their full commitment behind yet another project.
Downsizings can have a similar effect. The survivors experience shock, let down and fear. They wonder if they will be next. They often wonder how they will handle the workload. Their concern is often justified because after the cutback if no one looks at the workload to set new priorities, they will be expected to handle it all. If honest, empathetic communication doesn’t take place, morale continues to slide. This may be due to such things as badly made decisions, poor communication or a lack of responsiveness to employee needs.
In these cases, the leader must confront reality. That means rather than ignoring or glossing over the situation, we admit that there is a problem, tell people what we’re going to do about it and give them justifiable hope. It is, of course, imperative that we then follow through on our commitment to them. They will be as positive and committed as we model.
The longer morale has been at this level the more difficult it will be to reverse it. It takes a fresh, radical approach with patience, honesty and follow through on the part of management. Because of a lack of credibility with past actions, current management may face an impossible task. That is why you often find that a new person must be brought in to put the changes in place.
Keeping Ourselves Committed When We Might Not Want to Be
Suppose we find ourselves in a situation where we’re not treated well. We would love to be able to get the people we work for to change. We can fantasize about it. But usually, if we work for someone who is difficult to work for, the probability of changing his or her behavior isn’t great. So what are our options?
I really have several questions to ask myself. Do I stay or leave? If I stay, what can I do differently? What happens if I put my full support behind whatever work I do? Can I maintain my own standards and do a better job than just getting by? Can I think differently about the situation? With respect to the last question, for example, most people who rise to executive positions have worked for someone who was terrible to work for. One way they changed their perspective about the situation is to tell themselves it won’t last forever. At some point something will change. The boss will leave. I may get a new job. One of us may depart from this world! (Just kidding.) What this outlook does is to give us hope and when we have hope we can find ways to cope.
They also ask themselves what they can learn from this person who is so bad to work for. There is always at least one thing. You guessed it. How not tomanage.
A Final Note
When there is good communication, when people see a challenge and a worthwhile result, when they can be part of a team and enjoy what they are doing, you have the foundation for strong commitment.
Content Credit: James A. DeSena, CSP