Get Rid of Commitment Conflict Once and For All
10 years ago

Jennifer Russell, fellow coach and co-founder of Mind Money Meaning, wrote a blog post last week that carried a really important message for entrepreneurs… Are you really committed to what you say you are?

She points out that there’s a dissonance between what you consider yourself to be committed to and what you’re really committed to. You can always tell what you’re really committed to by looking at your bank statement and your calendar to see how you invest your time and money. Those things are the physical manifestation of your commitments.

I wanted to follow-up on her insight because this dissonance manifests very powerfully for leaders of companies and large organizations.

And there is one, simple way to resolve this problem.

How We Experience Commitment Conflict

I’ve seen Jennifer lead exercises in rooms full of entrepreneurs where she’ll ask, What’s most important to you right now in your business? and someone might say, Marketing and lead generation is really what’s most important!  Then she’ll say, Great.  Let’s look at the last three weeks.  How much time did you spend on that issue? And what was your financial investment in that issue?

The answer is usually something like 20 minutes in the last three weeks, with a negligible financial investment.

What Jennifer points out is our ability as humans to have a totally different set of commitments than we think. Somehow, in our heads, we reconcile that through deleting, distorting, and generalizing reality.

The Root of Commitment Conflict in an Organization

Most executives feel like the priorities of the company align with their own felt sense of priorities and how they divide up their time and actions. However, this does not equate to the priorities of all of the employees in the company.

We have this sense that we know what our folks are working on, but really very few people do.  Whenever we do a roll up of what the weekly time commitments are inside of our organization, executives are shocked.

To give an example, I was working with a software company and the CEO was very frustrated with the VP of engineering. One incredibly important strategic feature was taking a very long time to be developed.  They had 500 or so software developers within this company of about 1,000 employees.

So why was it taking so long to build this feature? The VP of engineering polled all the engineers on their priorities, actions, and time spent.

commitment conflict

A team has to be committed to the same goal to achieve the desired outcome. source:

The poll showed that every action made sense on an individual basis.  Each engineer was working on some major bug, disaster recovery programming, and so forth. All critical work to be done. But out of 500 employees, it turned out only four were working on this “incredibly important feature.”

When we have a bunch of competing priorities, we can sort them out in our head.
But when our commitments are reflected by the actions of hundreds or thousands of other people, there’s often a lag time, because the hundreds of other people are acting based on what our priorities were when we spoke to them last or when we had the agreement with them about what they’d be focused on.

Because of that lag time, you can get quite out of sync with what the actual expressed priority is, based on how people are spending their time and money in the company.

How to Get Rid of Commitment Conflict

With this issue of commitment versus action, how does an executive track or determine that the priorities of his or her organization are out of line? As the dissonance manifest, important questions arise, like, Are you going to meet the revenue targets?  Are you going to meet the updated schedule for software development?

The solution is a simple poll. Question the employees on the top three or four priorities. Then, ask them to determine how their daily or weekly commitment fits into that. Are they contributing 20% of their time, 50% of their time, or 80% of their time to each of those priorities?

It’s also a good idea to answer these for yourself, as a leader.

This poll is part of our alignment survey that we do for rapid scale experts. When we ask companies that simple question, we can see visually at the end where they’re in alignment in the organization and where they’re not. And this provides a very good lead indicator predictor of how these strategic initiatives are going to turn out.

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