The-Meaning-of-Commitment-in-an-Empowered-Organisation

The Meaning of Commitment in an Empowered Organisation

Employee commitment is necessary for any Change initiative. Yet, there are two forms of commitment, both of which are based on fundamentally different schools of thought.

Key Takeaway

Successful Change initiatives rely on the right balance of empowerment as well as the degree of employee commitment present, of which there are two forms. Only one of these forms truly supports empowerment, and consequently, the success of any change implementation.

Back in 1998, Chris Argyris, American business theorist and Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, denounced –unsurprisingly– certain practices that appear in alignment with empowerment, such as the rhetoric of Business Process Reengineering (BPR)Continuous Improvement (CI) and Total Quality Movement (TQM). Chris admitted that ‘… despite all the talk and the change programmes, empowerment is still mostly an illusion”.

Rightly so.

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One of the biggest challenges managers and employees will face in their relationships, throughout their journey in implementing empowerment, is change in their skill set, attitude, communication and the relationships per se.

Flattening the organisational chart is essential for introducing empowerment, as it enables employee creativity and motivation to solve complex problems and satisfy customer needs.

The inner boundaries between different levels of the hierarchy will eventually break, leading to a much flatter organisational structure.

Flattening the organisational chart is essential for introducing empowerment, as it enables employee creativity and motivation to solve complex problems and satisfy customer needs.

Two Forms of Commitment

Another key contribution is the improvement of employee commitment. However, how is commitment translated in an empowered organisation?

Commitment is ‘… an idea that is fundamental to our thinking about economics, strategy, financial governance, information technology, and operations’ and also about ‘… generating human energy and activating the human mind’. – Argyris.

Argyris highlights the distinction between internal and external commitment, which are both valuable in the workplace, encouraging knowledge workers to meet the organisational goals.

It is astonishing that the two forms of commitment are based on fundamentally different schools of thought, with only internal commitment reinforcing empowerment (see Figure 1).

External Commitment Is About Compliance

External commitment is consistent with the command-and-control management model in a strictly hierarchical organisation, in which employees have less power, control and influence on their jobs.

Their performance is assessed based on outcomes predetermined in silos by management. Any attempt that generates potential innovation or process improvement (micro) initiatives is seen to be threatening to the organisational status quo.

The message is clear: one can only (psychologically) survive through sheer compliance.

Internal Commitment Is About Motivations and Personal Interests

Internal commitment breaks organisational boundaries, allowing knowledge workers to define work objectives based on their own reasons and motivations, potentially as part of a (formal) personal development plan.

They are committed to particular programmes, projects, and teams depending on their personal interests.

By definition, inclusive participation fosters internal commitment, as it enables employees to define SMART goals and specify the necessary tactical plans to achieve them.

One would argue that aligning personal and organisational goals would ‘kill two birds with one stone’: realise strategy alongside increased employee motivation.

How Commitment Differs

Figure 1: How Commitment Differs

Bear in mind that prolonged external commitment makes internal commitment extremely unlikely, unless the change initiative’s main goal is to create a culture of empowerment in the workplace.

Inner Contradictions

Bear in mind that prolonged external commitment makes internal commitment extremely unlikely, unless the change initiative’s main goal is to create a culture of empowerment in the workplace.

For instance, knowledge workers resent, quite vividly, executives who preach for internal commitment while continuing to demand external commitment from the rank and file. Such inner contradictions in change programmes should be eliminated in order to (more likely) foster the behaviour they are meant to inspire.

The reality is that contradictions rarely surface in a timely manner.

They remain buried and unacknowledged, becoming a destructive force of frustration and mistrust. The poisonous domino effect may jeopardise the entire change programme, should preventive measures not be taken immediately.

During the first days of my engagement with a UK-based startup, I had the odd experience of attending an announcement –baptised ’open workshop’– about a (clearly) top-down change initiative.

Management preached the virtues of a particular process, which would improve inclusion during feature prioritisation. Nevertheless, the plan was also presented as the opportunity to limit the number of programming languages used across the board.

Management argued that the initiative would ‘help creativity flourish by focusing on two to three technologies only’. No members of the engineering team, apart from the technical architect, were consulted during decision time. The rest faded into insignificance.

Ask the Right Questions

At any given moment during transformation programmes, remember to ask the following questions. This will help you further research, experiment and identify the most viable corrective actions.

  • Have we achieved a balanced hybrid of a top-down (management-sponsored) and bottom-up (participatory) approach?
  • Did we manage to engage our colleagues while defining the change goals?
  • Can we identify any obvious contradictions quickly and act effectively upon them?
  • What are the plans to reengage employees that quietly distanced themselves from the change programme? If so, why did they disengage in the first place?
  • Has the programme been successful by fostering genuine internal commitment?
  • Are the signs of performance improvement related to deep-rooted change or to quick fixes (eg best practices), which hinder internal commitment?
  • Can we accept the inevitable symbiosis of external and internal commitment, whose balance is crucial to the success or failure of empowerment in the organisation?
  • Should we spot a credibility gap – can we make sure that management’s behaviour is honest, sincere and committed?
  • Have we been lured into measuring factors such as morale, satisfaction, and even commitment, when we should really be focused on the ultimate goal, which is performance?

 

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Headline image courtesy Oscar [email protected]





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