Merge's Blog

Commitment is more valuable than compliance

CommitmentAs a leader, you want commitment from your employees. Unfortunately, unless you are vigilant, what you may get is compliance. They both look and feel the same – objectives are met, clients are served, things get done – but that is only as long as everything is “situation normal”. It’s when things go wrong – a crisis occurs, emotions escalate, a routine process breaks down – that the difference between commitment and compliance becomes glaringly obvious. If all you had was compliance, look around; you’re likely on your own as your staff will have (emotionally, if not physically) abandoned you. Unfortunately, at that moment, it’s too late to build commitment, and that’s when you need it the most.

The sad truth is that people who are not committed to your vision and goals are unlikely to go “the extra mile” when things go wrong. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and tackling the problem as a team, they are more apt to take the “you’re the boss, you figure it out” approach. These employees tend to deflect responsibility and blame others for the problems. Even worse, “complying” employees need to be convinced repeatedly as each new circumstance arises. Essentially, when you get compliance, it comes with a “Good for only one use” tag on it! All very good reasons for leaders to seek to build commitment, not compliance.

But the problem is that building commitment takes energy and time. Far easier to just tell people what to do (you’re the boss, right?). But it really is a question of pay now or pay later. Invest the time and energy upfront by bringing your people into the planning and design phases of whatever you’re doing; it will pay off in owned responsibility, shared vision and commitment that will come to light later when it really matters. Or push decisions and implementations through, and pay the price by going it solo afterwards when things go awry.

So what do you think? Is the time and energy required to get commitment worth it? Or have you seen situations where compliance is enough. Do share.

For a related blog post about how to get employees to do what they said they were going to do, see Get people to follow through on their commitments. Tip: it’s easier than you think!

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