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Compliance vs. Commitment and the relationship to engagement

One of the current criteria being used in measuring organizational success is the engagement of employees in the pursuit of the organization’s strategy and goals. I have found, in most of my work with coaching and developing employees at the team and individual contributor levels, that they want to be more engaged…what they often find lacking from their leaders and managers is a lack of clarity around goals and vision to which they can commit their engagement. Often, individual contributors and teams lack a clear understanding about how their goals align with the organization’s strategy and business. Without this link, often compliance is substituted for engagement in an effort to fit more with the cultural norms of the organization.

Compliance implies an adaptation of internal behavior to external rules and a tendency to yield readily to others in the hopes that they know “better” where the goals and objectives of the organization fall. Commitment, on the other hand, implies a dedication and understanding of the outcomes with a personal interest (or motivation) to be an integral part of the process in achieving the goals of the organization. Commitment = engagement. For simplicity’s sake, this can play out 4 different ways between leaders/managers and their teams:

Compliant Team/Compliant Leader
The dynamic of compliant teams and compliant leaders can often be the result of organizations that have rigid structures and processes in place. The team and leaders know the rules and procedures of what they need to accomplish and efficiencies are gained in the flow of information and work…but creativity and innovation are severely hampered if the team and manager don’t know the “why” of their work. In other words, teams and leaders need a clear understanding what they do and its impact on the success of the company.

Compliant Team/Committed Leader
Committed leaders can often be guilty of “looking up” the organization; trying to meet the needs of their direct leaders rather than making sure their teams clearly understand the strategic direction of the company and engaging the team in the pursuit of company goals. Leaders in this dynamic often let personal ambition and relationships guide their actions, not fully understanding their management responsibilities in guiding and developing their teams. Teams can become compliant when the leader does not make the time or effort to communicate vision and direction of the organization.

Committed Team/Compliant Leader
Committed teams don’t appear out of nowhere, typically there has been an accomplished leader (either formal or informal) that has brought the team to this point. The danger here is the discouragement of team commitment through the efforts of a new or inexperienced manager. If possible, transitions should be anticipated and monitored to ensure a high performing team doesn’t get “over-managed” in the new leader’s effort to establish control.

Committed Team/Committed Leader
This dynamic is typically where the highest levels of employee engagement occur. Teams know what needs to be done in regard to the objectives of the company and they understand their roles. Committed Leaders understand how to communicate, as well as, encourage and monitor performance associated with the organizational goals. These leaders recognize a committed team and they coach rather than manage their associates.

Given, that for most companies, 70 – 80% of the workforce is composed of individual contributors, front line leaders and supervisors have the most impact on helping a majority of employees make the transition from compliance to commitment. Leaders and managers who can articulate a clear line of sight from the company’s strategic goals and make it relevant to their teams objectives and outcomes are the ones who will be successful drivers of increased engagement for organizations. One of the key skills a new leader must develop is the ability to understand and communicate a clear line for sight from the company’s vision and business strategy down to the efforts and objectives of teams and individual contributors. Clear vision leads to better commitment which leads to higher engagement.

Post by Mark Mueller.

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