What gives rise to our behavior…the actions we engage in day in and day out? It’s easy to say that people in an organization act to serve customers, be great employees, ensure quality, safety, etc.
That’s true, to a certain extent. If you really look, however, you’ll find that people base their actions on other concerns as well—avoiding looking bad, avoiding making a mistake, avoiding speaking out of turn, not wanting to stir up conflict. These concerns drive much of our behavior.
It’s understandable that this happens. It’s also inconsistent with a corporate culture that inspires great things from people. Avoiding something unpleasant does not create the conditions for people to be at their most creative or most bold.
What is the kind of corporate culture that inspires great things from people? There are many ways to answer the question, but all involve being a part of a commitment-centered organization.
Commitments are things we take a stand for even in the face of circumstances that suggest that it’s difficult (or seemingly impossible) to fulfill them – such as the circumstances we all find ourselves in at this moment. They also exist between people as explicit agreements. These agreements could be focused on how work is done (one could, for example, commit that work will be conducted transparently) or that a particular goal is fulfilled. A commitment-centered organization is one in which people in that organization align on the framework inside of which they operate.
Whether a commitment is focused on how work is done or focused on the delivery of a particular goal, commitments guide and influence behavior. In an environment in which no one person commits to safety, there’s nothing to hold people accountable for moments in which safety is neglected. Conversely, in an environment in which each person has made an explicit commitment to safety (to use one example), the level of safety can dramatically increase.
Let me use an exaggeration of a dynamic I frequently see with my clients: there’s no level of quality high enough to satisfy the quality department, and no productivity gain great enough to satisfy the manufacturing department. Getting people from these two groups to align and complement each others’ efforts is rare.
In organizations that fail to generate alignment on an overarching commitment, territorialism and unmet expectations prevail. This is especially true between different departments that have different focuses or areas of expertise. In contrast, organizations that align different groups on broader commitments that speak to all parties are those in which coordinated action and appreciation for divergent perspectives prevail.
Fortunately, building commitment-centered organizations is simple. Questions to consider include: ‘How do we want to work?’ ‘What values do we prioritize over others? (quality vs. speed, for example)’ ‘What is the overarching commitment that demands us to work together effectively?’ Starting the inquiry by simply noting where common commitments are absent is another easy place to begin.
You will be shocked by the speed at which groups of people take these kinds of commitments and ‘run’ with them. As it turns out, your colleagues don’t want to be squabbling about whether the quality is more important than speed. Instead, they’re waiting for you to build commitments that they can all get behind.