“I know that I should be a person that makes it happen for this strategic initiative,” confided Steve, “but, when I consider the risks and obstacles, the best I can do it help the strategic initiative along.” Steve was a member of the core team that had been charged with building a project management capability for a large Northeastern US bank. It was a boundary-spanning endeavor, with sponsorship by the Bank’s Chief Operating Officer.
Actually, I was glad to hear Steve’s honest appraisal of his level of commitment. I knew that we could count on his energy and support, but he might loose heart. We would have to manage the ambiguities and risks present in this strategic initiative.
A Useful Tool for Assessing Commitment
For years, I have sketched this simple five-level framework of commitment with definitions:
- Profound Commitment is characterized by the phrase “Make it happen.” People that possess profound commitment will find ways to overcoming barriers and obstacles. They have passion.
- Enrollment is characterized by the phrase “Help it happen.” This is engaged support where people have enthusiasm and volunteer their talents to achieving the vision.
- Compliance is characterized by the phrase “Let it happen.” Here, people do what is in their job description, or what they are told to do by an authority figure. They follow the rules – often cheerfully – but seldom show initiative.
- Grudging Compliance is the same as compliance with some sort of vocalization of anger or resentment. I tell people, “Think of a surly, rebellious teenager.”
- Silence & Sabotage characterizes people who are passive or insurgents. They have and alterative vision, and can’t be counted on to do the hard work needed to accomplish the strategic intent.
I tell people to use this five-level framework to first diagnose their own level of commitment: that’s what prompted Steve’s realization. Then, consider other people who are instrumental to the initiative’s success.
What do they say? What do they do? Which level best describes them?
An Example of True Commitment
To be honest, “make it happen” true commitment is rather rare because it means that the person will not let obstacles deny them of their vision. Many people know of George Bernard Shaw‘s quote,
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.”
One of the best stories of true commitment concerns the invention and innovation of 3M’s Post It brand notes. 3M research scientist Dr. Spence Silver first developed the technology in 1968, while looking for ways to improve the acrylate adhesives that 3M uses in many of its tapes. In a classic case of innovative serendipity, Silver found something quite remarkably different from what he was originally looking for. Silver knew that he had invented a highly unusual new adhesive. Now the challenge was: What to do with it? For the next five years, Silver gave seminars and buttonholed individual 3Mers, extolling the potential of this new adhesive and showing samples of it in spray-can form and as a bulletin board. Despite its interesting properties, there were no commercial applications.
Dr. Silver was told to stop working on the adhesive, but he didn’t.
That’s true commitment!
Eventually, the team found that people would pay for an office product that combined the adhesive with note paper. The result is, as they say, history. In 1981, one year after its introduction, Post-it® Notes were named the company’s Outstanding New Product. Fry was named a 3M corporate scientist in 1986.
The Heroic Journey
In any story, the hero functions to serve and sacrifice. 3Ms Spence Silver was willing to risk it all, and it worked out well. It’s a great story!
By contrast, Steve (in the opening vignette) was willing to serve (enroll in the strategic intiative) but he was not sure about his willingness to sacrifice. People can sense when their leader is afraid to make reasonable sacrifices, and that is one reason that many strategic initiatives fail. I will be taking up the role of mentors and sponsors in future postings, as an important contributor to getting people to step up and lead.
More Leadership Tips for Buy In
One of the six traits of strategic initiatives leaders is that they have a strong results orientation. Here are some insights and tips:
- Recognize the importance of emotive benefits as described in my previous posting.
- Recognize that different people are motivated by different things. Some people are motivated by money. Some people are motivated by adventure. Some people are motivated by security.
- Ask people to make promises. For example, “If you give me “help it happen” energies, I will see that you can learn new skills.” Think in terms of offers, counter-offers, and refusals. Actually this is something of a negotiation
- Foster alignment AND commitment. Program management tools provide the benefits of aligning efforts with strategic intent, and get people to invest in the face of uncertainty.
Leaders are skilled motivators. How do you “make it happen?”
- How to Secure Buy In for Your Strategic Initiative (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Can You See Your Vision Statement? (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
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