Thursday, August 13, 2009

Commitment vs. compliance - the Difference Between Bacon and Eggs.

Gaining Commitment In the Workplace - The Difference Between Bacon and Eggs, by Gary Lea

Recently I was asked to speak on this particular subject. What is it that makes getting people to commit to a cause or organization rather than simply be in compliance with what they are asked to do? To help decipher that question and look at what really makes the difference I spent a great deal of time going back through my own experiences as an employer and an employee and the following blog was the result. this is also the basis of my discussion on the subject. I hope it provides some value to those who read it.

Commitment versus Compliance

In the world of multi-unit operations I am often asked what really constitutes commitment and why is it preferred over compliance. On the surface it seems so easy to answer both but the truth is not so simple. Explanation is one thing, putting it all into practice is a whole different thing.Let me start with a little anecdote from my grandfather. He once told me the difference between commitment and contribution, compliance or anything else of that ilk is the difference between bacon and eggs. He explained it like this. “When a Hen sits in the roost and plops out eggs day after day she really contributes something special to your breakfast. She is compliant and forces those eggs out one after another. The Pig on the other hand, who became the bacon, well now he is totally committed to your breakfast isn't he!"I use to use this philosophy with my managers when I was in the restaurant business and running upwards of 50 units. You need compliance in those situations and I would never argue the value but I always prefer that people get committed to what they are doing.

Compliance falls right in as a matter of course with commitment and it is a lot less strenuous on everyone if the performance comes because people are committed to your vision and mission. So I created a character named, appropriately enough, T.C. Pig as our group’s mascot. He was a pig in a suit carrying a brief case and the T.C. stood for Total Commitment. I gave out golden pig awards for exceptional performance; we had a monthly publication called the Pig Gazette that we used as an informational vehicle and as a way to highlight top performers of that month. It went over like gangbusters and people would covet those little gold pigs. We had a very high degree of commitment and that group of restaurants over a two year period rose from being at the bottom of the company in almost every measured metric to being the number one group in the company nationwide. A lot of people started to ask how they could get in on the Hog Bandwagon!

Of course a fancy mascot and some awards will not buy you commitment. What does get you commitment from your people comes from a few sources and not just one thing. Over the years I have tried to distill it all down into a key area of focus when you are trying to get that commitment from your team. I believe that the single most important key to gaining commitment from people is TRUST. When people trust you they are more likely to get behind initiatives you give them. How do you gain their trust? Here is what I have learned so far:

1. Honesty – This is probably the most important step you can make with your team in gaining their commitment to anything. If people cannot believe you because you have displayed dishonesty they will never trust you. Always be honest with your team. I do not mean Brutal Honesty but rather good sense honesty. Let me demonstrate the difference. Again I can thank my grandfather (you will be hearing from him now and again I can guarantee you). He told me that the difference between being honest in a tactful way and being brutally honest is this. Imagine an elderly couple sitting having coffee at the kitchen table. The wife looks at her husband of 60 years and says “Honey, when I look at you time stands still!” What she was thinking was “your face could stop a clock”! Yes an extreme exaggeration but I can state with certainty that the first statement probably got her a lot further along than the second. It is learning to give people honest information and to deliver it tactfully. America was fascinated with Donald Trump in his TV series, The Apprentice and seemed to love it when he said “You’re fired!” They probably would not have found it quite so entertaining if it was projected directly at them. We all prefer a little more tact when delivering information, especially if it is not good or positive. How many times have you had to ask your staff to get behind something that may not be particularly fun or positive but was necessary? Giving them the honest truth puts them more in control of what they do in response. Giving it to them in a tactful way reduces defensiveness. This allows for the team member to make some choices about that particular situation with a more logical and thoughtful approach.

2. Consistency is another key. You cannot be all over the place with various members of your team. Telling one person things are this way and then another person something totally different. You cannot have separate rules for the individuals on a team. You have to level the playing field give each member of your team a consistent example to gain any hope of driving commitment. They must be fairly certain that the way you treat them is the same way you treat others and that you are fair and equitable with the entire team. They also must see that you walk the talk! You cannot display double standards. Today’s employees are pretty doggone smart and are very connected. If you tell one of them you cannot come to aid them with a project because you are helping so and so over at another location, you better be telling the truth because if you are out on the golf course or at the mall having your nails done they will know it. If you expect them to put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay you better consistently model that behavior. My greatest frustrations and the times when I had the most difficulty working for someone was when they behaved in a fashion that was untruthful and inconsistent. I would expect no less from my own team under those circumstances.

3. Knowledge is the third factor that I feel drives commitment. When your people have a full understanding of why changes are important and how they benefit them they are more likely to get on board. By giving them full knowledge of the circumstances they feel much better about doing something. Even if the change is needed but not necessarily positive the more they know of what went in to the decision and why it is needed the more likely they are to be committed to it. Yes it takes a bit more time to do this but by investing that extra time to fully explain the need, the benefits and tying it all back to them and what they want and need facilitates trust, understanding, desire and team work which all create a culture of commitment. I think that the days of treating our employees and coworkers like mushrooms should be decades behind us but in reality I find all too often that it is, sadly, not! Every generation becomes more savvy, more street smart and more intelligent than the last. They know when you are keeping them in the dark and they usually see it as an insult. Do we need to provide them with every minute detail of the company business? Of course not and most people do not expect to know all that and many would not want to know it if you offered to tell them. What they do want to know is why things are being done the way they are and how this will affect them, good, bad or indifferent.

4. Treat people with dignity and respect. Correct in private, praise in public. A company I worked for in my past life made and absolute art of dressing people down in front of their peers, subordinates and anyone else in range of human hearing and called it “Feedback”! Here is a definition of feedback from our dictionary – “The return of a portion of the output of a process or system to the input, especially when used to maintain performance or to control a system or process.” Now here is a definition of Scolding – “A harsh or sharp reprimand”. Now let me ask you this question. If a group of high ranking corporate people including peers of yours and peers of your subordinates walked through your operating unit, then gathered you together with your subordinates and told you what they found that was wrong and needed to be fixed would you consider that harsh? If they told you that they were extremely disappointed in the condition of your unit at that moment in time and questioned your leadership and did it within easy earshot of everyone and their mother would you be wide open to the “feedback”? Most likely, not so much. Most people would not and it does not matter if you deliver the message with a calm tone and a smile on your face the intention is not lost because of a flowery delivery. Treating people with dignity is treating them the way we all would like to be treated. Yes often one finds themselves in the unpleasant situation of performance or behavioral correction but that should always be done in private.

Be cordial with your people. Acknowledge them especially when they are doing a good job. Be real and people will respond to you in a positive way.These four things in and of themselves will never guarantee that you gain commitment rather than compliance from your team but I dare you to try and get it without one of those being in place. You will not get much of anything resembling commitment. If on the other hand you make these principles sacred in your organization you will find yourself with a team far more likely to be committed to you and your vision than not.

Compliance is not something that people do but rather something they are and you cannot will it, demand it, threaten it or lie it into the fabric of what a person is. I have found that getting commitment from your team is a matter of consistent, honest, fair, and respectful behavior. Modeling that kind of behavior as leaders is what creates the culture of commitment within any endeavor and so often the failure to adhere to one of those principles, or a combination of them, is the greatest obstacle to gaining commitment any organization can create. It starts with a look in the mirror and the accountability to understand that if the team is not committed then perhaps I, as the leader, have failed to create the proper culture by following these four principals.

I guess in the end I have just become a pig for what I believe in and that makes all the difference :-)!

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