Commitment-phobic organizations

The contrast between consensus and commitment has fascinated me ever since I first heard that distinction made.  During my conversation on strategic commitment,  Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader laid out some of the challenges of relying on consensus:

  • There will always be “the unforeseen” when executing strategy.   Those who only give consent feel free to remain spectators.  The committed become partners in fixing, adapting, etc. to the unforeseen.
  • Consensus devolves into choosing the “least-offensive” solution.  I forget whether this came from Josh or Gershon, but struck me as an excellent turn of phrase.
  • Commitment means that you give up the right to second guess.  More importantly, the truly committed don’t want to second guess.

This last point gets to some of the symptoms of a less-than-committed organization.  None are surprising, but they make a a nice checklist:

  • Existing dysfunctions resume immediately after meetings/workshops/agreements to proceed in a different direction.
  • No change in communication styles or channels… collaboration patterns and alliances persist.
  • Excuses about the lack of change abound.  Hallway meetings and sidebars arethe only places where the true causes are aired (rather than public forums).
  • Silence may equal consent, but it doesn’t equal commitment. 
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One Response

  1. Another good useful post, Paul. I agree with this distinction. When the cultural decision making norm is “consensus-based”, I run for the hills.

    Getting anything done is not so different than pissing in the wind in such environments.

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