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Declaring Commitment

Oct 25, 2022

Written by Ed Cook

Commitment is a word that shows up in many places. Some commitments are more quiet and more personal. We make commitments via New Year’s resolutions, sometimes to a workout regime, sometimes to different eating habits, and sometimes to our relationships. Some of these commitments are often short-lived. Why? Perhaps it is because the commitment is quiet and personal. Commitments that are made aloud -- more publicly -- seem to have more force. It is the declaration that generates the power.

Declaring a commitment makes it stronger. Repeatedly declared, even when there have been lapses, makes the commitment stronger still. People talk about recommitting because keeping a commitment consistently is hard. So a recommitment is a way to create new energy for the commitment. It is a new declaration.

For organizations and employees the same holds. Commitments can lapse or even just lag. A recommitment through a declaration can both renew and strengthen the commitment. This can come from either the leaders of the organization or the employee. The culture is better when it is both leaders and employees because Commitment is one of the ten dimensions of Joy at Work (see The Guide to Joy at Work). Employees feel Joy at Work when they are willing to commit (as well as engage in the other dimensions). It is the back and forth between leaders of organizations and employees, however, that creates the conditions for Joy at Work. 

“Joy at Work exists when: The company, leaders, and managers continually create the conditions and extend the invitation for employees to contribute in this way. -- and -- Employees constantly accept the invitation.”

The recent talk of “quiet quitting” is the opposite of commitment. Putting aside the fairness of the work-life balance in organizations which surely varies widely, quiet quitting is an employee’s retraction of commitment to the organization. This may be caused by the organization’s retraction of commitment to the employee. Layoffs and benefit reductions are examples. Quiet quitting is an indicator that the relationship between the organization and the employee has become transactional. A transactional relationship rarely grows Joy at Work. 

A Commitment is a Decision

When someone makes a commitment, they are choosing what they will not do as well as what they will. A commitment is a decision because alternatives are removed and only one alternative is chosen. Just like a decision, when someone makes a commitment, they need to know what they value. These values may not be the same as personal values such as integrity and honesty, although they certainly can be. More often what someone values in a commitment may be less lofty but still important. 

Commitment is the willingness to remain focused and keep promises even when achieving them becomes difficult and requires additional effort.  -- The Guide to Joy at Work

Every child knows what commitment means and how hard it is to do. They feel it at the dinner table doing their homework, on the playground trying to make a free throw, or in the orchestra pit trying to play a new instrument. When a college graduate makes a commitment to an investment bank as their first job, they are likely making a commitment of far more hours of work and possibly more stress than their peers who chose other jobs. If they are truly making a commitment, then that decision comes from valuing the intense experience, the thrill of doing something with high stakes, and the potential for a significant payout both immediately and in the future. If that commitment matches their values, then it is a good commitment. It is when there is a mismatch that trouble occurs.

An employee working for a hard-driving organization that consumes most of their time can still have Joy at Work if that organization is as committed to the employee as the employee is to the organization. Although that situation may be terrible for another person, for a person where there is a match in values, making the decision to commit can be an excellent choice. 

Declaring a Commitment is the Path to Team Engagement

To grow Joy at Work requires the leaders of the organization to commit to the employees and for the employees to commit to the organization (the team). This is the heart of Team Engagement. 

Team Engagement is a sign that Joy at Work is present because it requires the employee to declare a commitment to the team. To do that, the team (especially the leaders of the team) must create the conditions and extend the invitation to engage. This is a reciprocal relationship, a necessary condition for Joy at Work. 

In contrast, Employee Engagement, which is so frequently discussed and measured, is often about what the organization can do for the employee. It is a one-way gift of snacks in the breakroom and fun day outings and other perks. If provided to create engagement, these perks will likely generate only a superficial connection because, by their nature, they are transactional. If reduced the engagement reduces. It is not a lasting state of engagement. They are the candy bar of management -- quick sugar fix and then gone.

True Team Engagement is a much deeper and more personal connection, the opposite of transactional. An employee feels connected to the team because they feel the team’s commitment as well as the other ten dimensions of Joy at Work. The team feels the employee’s commitment and pulls them in as one of their own. The presence of Team Engagement is a strong sign that Emotional Capital has been created in the team and the organization.

Declaring a Commitment

If the power is in the declaration, then how do you do it? State your intention.

The word intention is important in this context. A commitment can seem very binary. It is kept or it is not. An intention indicates what you hope to achieve without some of the baggage that will come when it is missed. As it must be missed because humans are imperfect. Recognizing that imperfection and preparing for it is the key to making the commitment and then recommitting without judgment every time there is a lapse. 

For leaders, this can be one of their most powerful moves. A declared leader's intention is a commitment to the team, a visible declaration of what the leader wants. Leaders are often surprised to find that what they want is also what their team wants. Making the declaration helps to bring everyone into alignment. Fortunately, it is not that hard. Declaring an intention can be done in just a few steps. For some help, see the Your Personal Leadership Statement mini-course.

Once declared, repeatedly referring to your commitment and asking for feedback on where you are succeeding will not only keep you on track but also indicate to those around you that you are earnest about your commitment. Done repeatedly your commitment will grow Joy at Work.