The role of commitment and engagement in achieving sustained change

What is Commitment?

In the present tense commitment is either a process where we assign ourselves to deliver on something or in the past tense, we have demonstrated a level of application and accountability to get something done. One dictionary definition is “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity”. That should give us a flavour. In terms of the business environs this has a direct relationship to the outcome on the assumption that those delivering are aligned to the task and are competent.

What is engagement?

This is the process which we as leaders follow to connect with our staff in a way that will motivate them to deliver on the objective.  It has both a transactional element and an emotional element. Those who are considered good at engagement can use both the “left” and “right” sides of their brains to fully connect with their teams.  Those who are fully engaged go beyond a basic connection and have a trusting relationship with those who they relate to.

Why does engagement lead to commitment?

It may look as though there is an obvious answer to this question. How can you be committed to an organisation, cause, assignment or other without being engaged?  It is possible because some staff can be committed as they are driven by their own knowledge, values, and beliefs.  A better question might be, “Are your staff fully engaged to maximise their commitment”?

The reason we raise this is because quite often employees or team members are challenged rightly or wrongly on their levels of commitment to a piece of work when they perceive themselves as fully committed.  It will be a moot point on whether they are, or not, and will be down to the team leader or manager to make a judgment.  It could be related to the way we measure commitment and engagement, and we may be stifled by our own paradigms around the visual signs.

It is a common mistake to assume that commitment is just from the employees and that if you “Engage” as a leadership team you will illicit commitment automatically for the reasons mentioned above. In fact, it is more important that leaders are both committed and seen to be committed.

How can high levels of commitment and engagement be sustained?

There are several factors that influence sustainability in this area. Some of these may seem obvious, but most of them can be categorised under the auspices of classic change management models. If we take as an example the 8-Stage Model developed by John P Kotter[1] you will see that all these stages require both commitment and engagement, founded on strong and effective communication.

  • Establishing a Sense of Urgency
  • Creating a Guiding Coalition
  • Developing a Vision & Strategy
  • Communicating the Change Vision
  • Empowering Broad-Based Action
  • Generating Short-Term Wins
  • Consolidating Gains & Producing More Change
  • Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

If we look at each of these 8-stages they all require both commitment and engagement to varying degrees or on a sliding scale. Put another way none of these will work without both engagement and commitment. If we pick out a few as examples, then a founder, entrepreneur, senior leader will have to engage effectively with his or her primary team to create a guiding coalition at the early stages.  That will be very much about engagement initially and getting the team commitment in a way that makes them advocates for the change. This will also be required for empowering broad-based action. You cannot delegate and empower without engaging and gaining commitment first.

All this is underpinned by effective communication. An easy thing to say, but less easy to do. This is an area where we have seen clients get it wrong.  Both the quality and cadence of communication is critical.  It is easy to fall into the trap of over communicating and run the risk of disengaging staff, and the natural corollary to that is the subsequent reduction in commitment.

Sustaining the Gains

Using a change management model will help sustain the gains as it provides structure. The key point here is about clarity. Following a defined model such as Jick, Kotter or ADKAR® helps because the structure provides clarity and framework for those involved in the change.  There is the adage about “eating the elephant”, it is easier when it is in steak size pieces. Many organisations initiate change programmes, but these fail early on for several reasons. Poor commitment and engagement are often cited as reasons for these failures. Commitment and engagement be both “enablers” and “accelerators” for change management success.

In our experience, one of the most important factors to sustaining the gains and maintaining the “change momentum” is authentic leadership. Authenticity goes deeper than building trust. It is about consistency of purpose and transparency. It is necessarily about consistent actions because they may have to change throughout the process. However, there is a difference between changing actions and tactical moves to meet the programme need and regular strategic shifts, which will have a negative effect.  Leaders who are not authentic can be easily noticed, and that will erode both commitment and engagement over time.

Aspire2BLean and Blackmore Four offer expertise in organisational change management that is context-rich and outcome-oriented.  Our companies work in partnership where our combined perspectives work to integrate people and process solutions to deliver performance, growth, agility, productivity and effectiveness.

[1] 8-Step Change Management Model as discussed in his book “Leading Change” 2012


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