Commitment vs. Compliance

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Commitment vs. Compliance

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Glenn Widelko

Coach, Supervisor & Programmes

Commercial success depends on organisational readiness for change, as successful organisations continually adapt to the complex, seemingly never-ending stream of contextual change within which they operate. And the extent and pace of that change is only on the up and up … a non-negotiable commercial necessity.

In its complexity, the fundamental challenge to organisational change is not so much the commercial aspects of products, branding, markets, logistics, finance, etc., the ‘hard and measurable’ aspects of change, which, in themselves, are hugely challenging, yet which are more easily dealt with by seasoned expertise.

The heart and pulse of the success of organisational change is the ‘soft and immeasurable’ aspects of change, relating to people, leadership, culture, performance, etc., and without these elements on board, nothing really changes, nothing really sticks sustainably, and even the best laid plans never shine as brightly as the might.

And therein lies a fundamental oversight amongst change leaders, something that has a corrosive impact in its ripple effect throughout the essence of any organisation – the people, its culture and their willingness and commitment to the cause.

The outcome of any change endeavour is commitment, where change leaders do all they can to bring people with them, enabling them to commit. And when we look at the change models, like the DREC Change Curve with Denial, Resistance, Exploration and Commitment, we find this consistent aspired message.

Yet, theory aside, our experience is one where widespread commitment is often short of the mark, undermining our aspired aspirations corrosively. And, amongst other things, at the heart of this problem is our mistake of confusing commitment with compliance, something that change leaders seldom pause to consider.

So, what do we mean by commitment and compliance?

With compliance, people do the least they can get away with. With commitment, people do the most they possibly can. While discerning commitment from compliance is not something change leaders ordinarily consider, the difference is light-years apart in the context of successful organisational change – and the distinctions speaks to one of the fundamental reasons why organisations struggle expensively with change.

In our organisations, commercial and non-commercial, commitment doesn’t happen by accident. And rather than commitment, change leaders often unintentionally end up with compliance, which tends to reinforce the same approach and behaviours that resulted in the compliance in the first place. Chicken and egg.

Instead, when change leaders pause, take a step back, reconsidering their unintended assumptions, discerning commitment from compliance, they begin to ask some fundamental questions about their approach and behaviours, and the effect thereof – and doing something different, true commitment begins to emerge.

And compliance also doesn’t happen by accident. Our unchecked stereotypical assumptions about leadership counts against us, where short-sighted stereotypes of what it takes to lead change has a tendency to elicit compliance. And therein lies one of the most fundamental challenges of leadership, something we at Organisational Coaching begin with – leading others begins with leading ourselves and the choices we make.

Commitment doesn’t happen by accident, it happened purposefully, with different choices for different results. Those choices will be different for different change leaders, and different for different organisational cultures – and it begins by discerning commitment from compliance. As organisational coaches we can help you to consider the many things that we ordinarily never think to consider, a preventative strategy that makes a considerable difference.

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