July 30th, 2012

Compliance or Commitment?


In a recent workshop on employee performance management, a manager said, “Why won’t my employees just do their jobs? If they would just listen to me and do what I tell them, we’d all be in good shape.” His adamant assertion caused many in the group to gasp. Others looked quizzically upon the manager, likely wondering what kind of hell it must be to work for this guy.

As our discussion progressed, the rest of the group agreed that forcing an employee to “do it my way” is the least effective approach to engaging employees. In fact, the group came up with the wise conclusion that a manager’s goal should be to gain commitment rather than compliance from employees. This distinction is significant.

Gaining compliance may work in the short-run but gaining commitment produces longer-term results. How your employees behave indicates the kind of performance you are fostering.    

As a manager you have the power to evoke compliance, which means the employee does what you ask them to do. They’ll do what you tell them to do, they’ll stay between the lines, and they’ll follow the rules. And you will get what you ask for, for awhile.

Alternatively, you can choose to create a culture of commitment, where employees’ contributions are valued and new ideas are encouraged. In work environments driven by commitment, employees are not afraid to try new things.

While full commitment is sometimes difficult to achieve given the uncertainties in the workplace today, we can certainly do better than compliance.

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