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. 

Power of Strategic Commitment — Interview Intro

I’m catching up on some great material — at least great IMHO — that has been locked away in my notebook. Last month, I got a chance to talk strategy with Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader, founding partners of Quantum Performance, Inc.   They have worked with Fortune 500 companies around the world including: Capital One, Cisco, The United Way, AT&T, Campbell Soup, and others. 

What prompted our discussion was the recent release of their book (with co-author Alan Weiss), The Power of Strategic Commitment: Achieving Extraordinary Results Through TOTAL Alignment and Engagement.  We had an excellent chat that centered on four topics:

  1. What are the symptoms of a commitment-phobic initiative or organization?
  2. How can one maintain motivation and ownership across diverse groups of stakeholders?
  3. What should new managers focus on to be “strategic”?
  4. Why hasn’t HR been able to play a more constructive role in strategy?

PM Quote of the Day — Margaret Thatcher

Nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus.

PM Quote of the Day — Martin Luther King Jr.

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

I heard another leader I respect explain his approach this way: “I don’t need to build consensus, I need to get commitments.”  Consensus can become a code word for settling on the lowest common denominator, not excellence.  In other words, the importance of conforming to requirements or confronting a challenge can be subverted by an obsession to get all parties to say “yes”.

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