Organizational commitment to a CEO’s strategy is a key factor in how successful that strategy will be. How far employees at all levels will go to execute the strategy — what we call their “strategic commitment” – doesn’t just make the difference between stellar and mediocre results – it can be the deciding factor in producing any results at all. But in many organizations, such commitment is often lacking, and executives don’t even know it. When revenue and profits are suffering, these managers rarely look to a deficiency in commitment as the culprit.
As a result, many CEOs avoid dealing with commitment problems simply because they assume they don’t have one. They believe that if people are doing their jobs without interruption and abiding by organizational rules and procedures, everything is fine. But this point of view mistakes compliance for commitment. Most likely they haven’t had direct experience of how robust commitment produces extraordinary levels of personal effort, investment, engagement and contribution.
Why then are so many CEOs blind to commitment problems in their organizations? Many are simply out of touch with the sentiments of employees — even their direct reports. When they do sense morale problems, they often avoid them, worried that they reflect poorly on their leadership. They sugarcoat situations to preserve their self-image. Further, they may not feel competent at addressing such commitment problems, believing this is the work of their HR department.
But in our experience, it doesn’t have to be this way. We have seen that getting employees to embrace and adopt a strategy is the ultimate factor in whether that strategy will succeed according to plan. And despite what some may think, every CEO and his management team possess the ability to generate substantial levels of commitment – even in the most dire of circumstances.
The first step is probably the hardest and most important: being brutally honest about the extent of the commitment problem. Only when leaders are willing to admit the level of apathy or dissension – and only when they recognize the impact of it – can they hope to reverse things.
Confronting the internal politics, silos and trust issues can be a grueling and uncomfortable exercise for the CEO and his team. People have become accustomed to workplace environments where pretending, protecting and “covering your ass” are the norm. In fact, they are so used to such toxic workplaces that they need an enormous amount of courage to try to reverse it.
However, when we see the CEO and his team undertake this task with sincerity and conviction, it has always elevated their levels of cohesion, trust and communication. In every case, it has given the CEO and all employees much greater hope, confidence and commitment.