What two commitments were made the morning that Stuart and Al got into their little argument?
Most people are able to see that Al made a commitment (albeit reluctantly) to Stuart to put some numbers together. This is the type of tangible commitment that we are used to talking about, and the type we criticize when it doesn’t occur. That’s the easy part of this little exercise.
But in my experience, comparatively fewer people are able to see that Stuart also made an important commitment that morning: the commitment to review what Al did.
Why do you suppose this is so often overlooked?
While Al did something that was very obviously active, what Stuart did in return was comparatively passive. It doesn’t require any obvious action other than to listen or receive the active work of others, so it’s nearly invisible. Yet, Al would have been unable to meaningfully follow through on his commitment if Stuart didn’t follow through on his.
This might remind you of the old thought experiment, “If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?” If nobody is there to review your active commitment, does it even matter that you did it?
It’s actually quite hard to think of any commitments that are not dual-sided in nature. Even a successful surprise party involves a passive commitment on the honoree to be at a given place at a given time. The party would fall apart if he or she didn’t show up. I hope you are beginning to see how easily overlooked these passive commitments can be.
Did you ever do a difficult chore or errand that went unnoticed? How did you feel? I suspect that you probably felt a little like Al would have if Stuart had cancelled the 1:00 meeting.
Have you ever worked in an environment where people perform their assigned commitment, but at the agreed-upon review time, the customers who committed to review the outcome change their minds and try to reschedule? There is no reliable path to progress if this pattern prevails.
Yet, this happens all the time…and the fact that people are familiar with the feelings associated with the dismissal of passive commitments can actually make it easier to discuss. Whenever you make a commitment to do something and are unsure about people being around to review it, get vulnerable and discuss the anxiety that you have about the possibility that there will be nobody there at the end to “listen for the tree.” Ask everyone in your group to discuss the variety of things that could get in the way of a review of the outcomes, and ask what their anxieties are about their own ability to watch and listen to the results.
If you wish, simply share the Stuart and Al story to illustrate the point. Have everyone identify both the active and the passive commitments that are required for success for the initiative at hand.
Just as importantly, recognize and discuss the difference between a commitment-driven culture, and a promise-driven culture.
When we promise something, what do we expect to happen if that promise is broken? Surely, some form of flagellation (perhaps even self-flagellation) will take place, with an attendant apology and other consequences. Promises merely set us up for failure mode. This is typically counter-productive.
A commitment means we will do everything in our power to do what we say we plan to do.
In a commitment-driven culture, if we fail in our commitments, we do not beat ourselves up! Instead, we follow another commitment: the commitment look at why we failed. We then consider what we can change as we move forward.
Promise-driven cultures quickly grow tiresome because they are essentially fear-based. Commitment-driven cultures are sustainable, because they embrace the idea of continuous improvement.
As a leader, you already know that nothing moves forward without commitments. What will you do to boost your awareness of their dual-sided nature?
🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pbn6a0AFfnM.