Leading change: Compliance versus commitment
By Lou Markstrom
IT leaders get compliance rather than commitment from their target audience and often don’t realise it.
Do your people truly believe in and feel compelled by change initiatives in your organisation? Or are they simply going along with it because it is mandated?
To be effective in implementing sustained and effective change, it is first necessary to understand the difference between compliance and commitment.
Compliance is when people adopt a process or recommendation without really believing in it. This happens when change is implemented due to positional power and staff feel they have to go along with it.
Commitment is when there is a feeling of being bound, emotionally or intellectually, to a course of action. It is what leads to sustained behaviour change. It is very personal; you cannot force a person to commit – that would be compliance.
They need to make the decision to jump on their own and when they do, you have full buy-in and they are full participants. They believe in what they are doing, where they are heading, and intend to complete the journey.
Failing to achieve commitment is the single most important reason that IT organisations cannot sustain change. IT leaders get compliance rather than commitment from their target audience and often don’t realise it. Then they wonder why implemented changes are not being embraced.
What makes gaining commitment so difficult is that as much as we would like to, we cannot change other people’s minds. It is something only an individual can do for themselves. As leaders we must also realise that what it takes to gain commitment will be different for every person as it involves their internal beliefs, philosophies and personal values.
Here are some principles to keep in mind when looking to foster commitment:
1. Your first job in change is to communicate
A foundation of trust is required to build someone’s commitment and this comes from being informed. When someone is not informed, they start to make up scenarios and typically think of the ‘worst case scenarios’ of how this will impact them.
2. Start managing the human side of change before the process side
This means starting your communication well before any of the implementation steps of the change.
3. Learn the source of motivation
As mentioned above, choosing to commit is a personal choice. In supporting someone in the process of committing, you will want to learn and understand their source of motivation.
This can vary greatly from person to person; for some it may be making a difference, for others being the best they can be and for others still it may be about financial stability for their family. One of the best ways to find out what motivates someone is to simply ask them!
4. Speak from WIIFMs
Use outcome-focused messaging when communicating to those who will be impacted by the change. Make sure they are clear and understand ‘What’s In It for Them’ (WIIFM) on the other side of the change process.
5. Create a future that is compelling and the steps to reach it
You need to paint the picture of a new future that people are excited about and want to be part of, then break it down into a step-by-step sequence on how it will be achieved. The combination of these two factors will provide the ‘how’ and the ‘what’, which is highly effective in overcoming resistance as well as scepticism when presenting change.
6. Understand it is an ongoing process
Gaining commitment is an ongoing process and you will gain it at different stages along the journey. Even if someone begins following your change process out of compliance, you still have the opportunity to gain their commitment along the way. Remember leading a change initiative and building commitment over time must be viewed as an orientation and not a task.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series.