Do you really want committed people?

Posted by David Miller


In this week's blog, David Miller - Founder and Chairman at Changefirst - gives a definition of commitment and explains why the distinction between commitment and acceptance is important for your organizational change to be successful.

I recently decided to digitally detox. I wanted to go 7 days without using my iPhone. My screen time was way too high, and I was seriously over-dependent on Apple. I realized this, one day, when I took my dog for a walk. I was about 15 minutes from my car and discovered I had left the phone behind on the front seat. Feelings of anxiety quickly emerged, and it took a few minutes to stop myself from walking all the way back to get it. The episode simply highlighted, to me, my addiction to smart phones.

So, I ‘committed’ to being without a smart phone for a week. It didn’t last. Anyone who understands the basic principles of personal change will know that I had under-estimated the difficulty of changing my deep-seated habits and I couldn’t deal with the loss of control of being without the phone. To deliver this particular personal change I would have need a better plan than ‘simple abstinence’ or as I often hear in organizations ‘Just Do It ‘.

When I began to think about my detox failure, it reminded about how we use the word ‘commitment’ very loosely in both our personal and work lives. I thought I was really “committed” to the detox and I had just assumed that somehow that was enough. Trouble was that I really wasn’t committed. It was like one of my many unfulfilled New Year’s Resolutions.

In organizational change - we say we want commitment. But do we really want that? Or, are we happy if people just comply or maybe even accept a change without really being committed to its outcomes? And, we plan and execute orchestrate change this is very important stuff.

What is commitment?

Let’s define what we are talking about. Our definition is that:

Commitment occurs when an individual takes personal responsibility for making a change happen

Maybe, they will even do everything it takes to make it happen.

However, when I hear people talk about Commitment, they sometimes seem to be describing Acceptance. They are using much more passive descriptions which be synonymous with the word ‘compliance’. The other day I heard someone describing how a new technology, they were installing, will ‘enable the relevant changes in behaviour to happen’. They used the word ‘enabled’ but it sounded a lot like ‘we’re just going to tell them, and they won’t have any choice’. This person may well have been right, but that isn’t commitment.

Why is this distinction between commitment and acceptance important?

Well for three reasons:

  1. Different changes require different levels of commitment. Acceptance may be enough for low level changes but it sure won’t be enough to ensure you transform your enterprise.
  2. Commitment requires far more effort to build, will take longer and be more expensive to achieve than Acceptance.
  3. This in turn impacts your change planning. Your change plan needs to reflect the level of Commitment you require. A plan to build Commitment will be more detailed and take longer to execute than the plan to build Acceptance.

I’ll leave you with a concern and some optimism.

The concern? In our database of past changes only 24% of employees said they were still committed after a change was declared implemented. Could this be a hard core of engaged employees who will ‘automatically’ commit to most organizational ideas? Net/net - in some organizations, our change plans are not moving the dial at all.

The optimism? We have organizations who are reporting at the end of an initiative that they are getting commitment level of 60% plus. In the future, I’ll try and share what it is that closes the gap between the 24% and the 60% + group.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Comment directly on David's LinkedIn blog here

For more thought leadership you can follow David on LinkedIn here


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Tags: creating change commitment, employee commitment, successful change lessons, successful change management, changemanagement

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