October 28, 2019

5. Commitment: Does The Leadership Peck Or Moo?

Jeff Stephenson

Jeff Stephenson
Co-Owner and Subject Matter Expert/RPSolved

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A commitment as defined in most contract management circles refers to “any action people take in the present that binds them (or their organization) to a future course of action.

Looking at a typical Texas breakfast of steak and eggs your company can truly see the distinction between involvement and commitment. You see, the chicken was involved in making the breakfast (laid the eggs) however the cow was fully committed (gave up it’s life). Your company leadership must be committed to overcoming hurdles with time, energy, moral support, visibility and follow-thru and not just involved by issuing orders that others have to action.

To produce the steak above, the cow was bound to not living anymore. Even though as pointed out in section 5 that there is no sure way of doing things, commitments are hard to make but nevertheless unavoidable. This is where the problem lies; your company leadership must make long-term commitments knowing that things could change. The absence of certainty does, however, not eliminate the need to commit as commitments can convince others to provide the necessary resources.

In addition to specific project related instances, your company must also commit to building specialized resources to maintain a competitive advantage against competitors to create and sustain value to the extent that they control tangible or intangible resources. To create value, a resource must have three characteristics; (1) it must create economic value by reducing costs OR increasing the customer’s willingness to pay, (2) it must be uncommon amongst rivals and (3) it must be difficult for rivals to substitute an alternative resource.

It must be noted that most companies do not own a specific or unique technology or process and their offerings are not significantly cheaper than everyone else. Yes, your company does have intangible resources (Ie; longevity in the market and customer connections) but legacy  client connections retire and with them go the benefit. 

Commitments can yield efficiency as well as expertise by tailoring a specific process thereby gaining efficiency. However, it must be correctly implemented as doing so can limit your company’s ability to modify the work process in the future. Commitments also fortify confidence as both are the critical links in a chain that drives progress. Through repeated cycles of commitment and success, momentum will be built in order to have the speed to climb the hills along the way.

We have discussed what commitments do; now let’s discuss what they do not do.

Commitments DO NOT guarantee success as unforeseen shifts in the external environment may cause failure. your company and other companies look upon commitments as once in a lifetime vows (marriage, choosing a profession, etc.) however in reality, your company and its leadership (like almost everyone in the business) stumble into commitments without noticing, let alone evaluating them.

Due to the fact that a single big bet rarely determines the future but rather it is a densely interwoven tangle of commitments that initially define the details of the plan and reinforce them, leadership responds to immediate opportunities and threats the best they can. No matter how they portray or try and convince otherwise, there really is no grand design but rather a series of workable solutions to unforeseen challenges and opportunities.

Commitments DO NOT cease once the details of the plan have stabilized. However, reinforcing commitments focus attention and concentrate effort on what really matters; they attract employees, clients, and partners who fit well with what your company stands for; they decrease costs; they help mitigate and manage risks; and prevent rivals from easily securing the same benefits.

There are five types of commitments that other successful firms have focused on when embarking on change.

Frames – These focus your company leadership’s attention within a narrow segment of a plan. They include specific metrics to measure success.

Commit to share leadership in a core area

Declare traditional competitor public enemy #1

Refine existing success metric

Resources – Include your company’s both hard assets and intangible assets. These must be aligned to a specific plan.

Focus expenditures on core offerings

Invest in your company image

Extend image into closely related markets

Build specialized units to support strategy

Processes – The recurrent your company procedures used to get things done. Standardized processes increase efficiency, enable your company to scale, and facilitate coordination among different divisions.

Capture best practices in process manuals

Replicate existing processes in new areas

Require flow down to vendors and suppliers

 

 Relationships – The associations forged with external individuals or organizations that provide resources critical to success. If partners thrive, the relationships contribute to your company’s success.

Invest in things to serve client needs

Require stakeholders to use your company information systems

Integrate backward into engineering or forward into procurement and construction

Tighten relationships with partners through joint ventures or mergers 

Values – The shared norms that unite and inspire your company team members. Strong values attract performers, fuel their passion, and build strong bonds of loyalty.

Promote personnel who exemplify core values

Realign or remove personnel who challenge or jeopardize established culture

Write down values and distribute to personnel

As with anything that has more than one moving part, even commitments have their problems. Piling commitments on top of each other makes it harder to change the plan, because the dependency between previous commitments makes it difficult to “unpick one” without disrupting other commitments. Hence, decision makers are reluctant to admit that earlier commitments were wrong. However, this has to be done because when plans go unchallenged for extended periods of time, they slip off the radar and become “taken-for-granted assumptions” that may or may not work on new obstacles or opportunities.

Sometimes however, the failure to change course is nothing but sheer arrogance. Instead of accepting that most times people want to accommodate requests, some persons in authority see it as insubordination which leads to crippling results. The story below is an actual record of events from a US Navy vessel patrolling waters off the coast of Canada.

A naval officer was standing watch onboard his aircraft carrier one evening when he saw a light looming ahead which was in direct path of his ship. He picked up his radio and with a tone befitting of his rank, he said, “Vessel bearing 15 degrees, you are in my path. Divert your heading five degrees to the north.” A voice responded, “No can do. Strongly advise you divert your heading five degrees to the south.” The admiral barked back, “This is Admiral Parker on the USS Ronald Reagan, the largest and most powerful aircraft carrier in the known world! I order you to divert your course as instructed!” Again the voice came back, “I am sorry admiral, I cannot comply. Again, strongly advise you divert your heading five degrees to the south and cut back on your speed.” In a more furious tone the admiral barked, “How dare you give me orders! Identify yourself immediately so that I may know who has the audacity to deny the request of an admiral!” The voice responded, “This is the watchman at the Newfoundland lighthouse whose light is in your path. Suggest that you divert your course as instructed and cut back on your speed unless you wish to become a landmark on my beach.”

More often than not, when the plan which was committed to no longer works, non-battle proven leaders tend to throw more resources into the plan in an effort to pull themselves out of the hole, only to dig themselves deeper. Hence, frames that once focused attention on what really matters become blinders. It is critical that your company leadership are (1) willing to acknowledge their plan is no longer the way to go, (2) predict such instances where this would prove to be the case and (3) have an exit strategy.

Recommendation(s):

Implement the following items as a matter of priority and as they apply to the respective five resources:

Your company management must help their section heads and sub-leadership understand that it is okay to shift gears and change direction when their current path is blocked and they cannot clear the obstacles quickly and/or without significant expenditure of time and money. Document the aforementioned in the respective workflow and make personnel familiar with it.

A gateway should put in place for approval of any project/process prior to launch. It should not spend a lot of time having them explaining why (lessons learned will capture that) but explicitly make the project owner list five potential situations that could occur that would necessitate switching horses midrace and five ways how they would still deliver upon their commitment.

Brainstorm and/or find something that your company has or can create that will distinguish them from the rivals (Can probably use item 2 above to do this). If your company have to invest money into it, so be it, however make sure it is managed as seriously and with the same oversight as a project would be.

Senior management should sit with groups of employees and hear them out. Start a suggestion platform on the intranet and manage it to ensure that all entries are responded to (I did not say action every one of them, but acknowledge them).

Your company leadership must take an active visible role in the success of the company. Have more town hall meetings and tell everyone what is actually happening.

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