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How to regain your motivation

I was coaching someone the other day who is generally a highly committed and passionate person. He is also someone who has historically dedicated himself to big commitments and self-improvement. I was coaching him because somewhere along the way he got stuck and deteriorated into a state of resignation and suffering.

When I asked him to share what had happened he said, “I have lost my motivation.”

Over the years, I have supported so many committed people who have experienced this same sensation of feeling stuck. I have also struggled through it myself. So, I want to dedicate this blog to the question: “how do you find your motivation when you have lost it?”

Part of the problem is that most people don’t understand where motivation comes from so when they “lose it,” they look in the wrong place to find it. As a result, it takes a long time for them to get back on the horse.

Most people wait, expect and hope for external things to motivate them – more money, a promotion, good news, success at work and/or someone “inspirational” who will compel them and put them back in touch with who they really are and their passion and self-expression.

Others refer to themselves as “self-motivated.” They try to always bring a positive, optimistic outlook and spirit to everything. This is very powerful. But, even the self-motivated sometimes slump. In fact, I have found that those who are most passionate and committed when they are in their high points tend to be the ones who crash and burn the hardest when they fall or get stuck. I know this because I have been there a few times in my own journey.

When you are stuck, you can’t rely on your motivation. As my client said, “I have lost my motivation.” You have to rely on your word.

What does that mean? You have to say what you’ll do and do what you say.

The two sides of my instructions are key. First part: you have to say what you will do, explicitly. If you don’t say what you will do, you will not do anything. If you say vague and wishy-washy things, you will take vague and wishy-washy actions. In reality this means no action.

When you are stuck, don’t declare or set your objectives and outcomes. Only promise specific short-term actions you will take with specific deadlines. Box yourself in day by day, say what you will do and do what you say. Follow this routine until you start generating a momentum of success in that motion.

The second part I already mentioned above: do what you say, no matter how you feel about it. This means: go through the motions if needed, fake it till you make it and/or do what you say even if it feels mechanical and inauthentic.

The more you do that, the more you will recover your word and your ability to determine your destiny and future. Even if your promises only on a short-term basis at first, you will ultimately begin to regain your power and self-confidence. This will quickly lead to higher energy and motivation, and enable you to promise bigger things and deliver them.

Motivation and action are like the chicken and the egg. They feed, fuel and inspire each other. When you are at the top of your game, your motivation inspires your action. That is the time to declare your vision, commitments and what you stand for, set goals and act spontaneously.

But, when you are stuck, promising what you will do and doing it will get you unstuck and back on track for your motivation and commitment. You will regain your integrity and recover your motivation and power. That is how you “find your motivation.”

It may sound too simple, but it really works.

Don’t confuse Commitment with Compliance

Many managers and leaders assume their people automatically will commit to a new direction or strategy. They believe they should not have to ask for people’s commitment. They come from a school of thought that employees are obliged to align when a boss askes for it. It’s a belief to the effect of, “We shouldn’t have to beg you to get on board. That’s what you are paid to do. This isn’t a democracy. As soon as you understand the rationale and valid business reasons for this direction or strategy, you should be fully behind it.” This assumption is incorrect and dangerous. We find that this attitude often stems from a view that compliance is the same as commitment. It isn’t.

Let’s be clear, low levels of commitment do not mean that people won’t do their jobs. Fear of being fired for sub-optimal job performance is enough to motivate most people to do what it takes to keep their positions. Plus, from a less cynical viewpoint, most people are proficient enough at their jobs to perform it without applying their full passion, dedication, intelligence and commitment. We can assume the Pyramids were not built by what anyone would call an enthusiastic work force. Therefore, lukewarm organizational commitment to a strategy or initiative will not inherently guarantee its failure.

But true commitment goes far beyond compliance. When people are committed, they behave differently in key ways:

  • They invest their hearts and souls in the cause
  • They perform their roles with passion and energy
  • They take on bold promises and commitments
  • They follow through with extraordinary levels of tenacity and perseverance; they don’t give up
  • They look out for opportunities to improve, fix and perfect things
  • They genuinely care for others who are on the journey with them

A committed organization is one whose employees work harder to accomplish their tasks. It’s a place where people anticipate problems and resolve them early, before they fester. Excuses are not tolerated — only answers and actions to how problems are going to be fixed. People love coming to work. They’re more productive, creative, attentive and aware.

Contrast that with an environment of compliance. People don’t take the new initiatives to heart. They don’t ache for it or want it in their gut. If it fails, they don’t lose sleep over it. In fact, they brush it off as someone else’s fault. Because they don’t view the game as their own, they avoid expressing their views including when they feel things are not working the way they should. And, if things fail they have no problem taking out the “I told you so” card. They detach themselves emotionally from its success or failure, and by making few or no guarantees to deliver specific outcomes, they are less likely to see a personal role in making the initiatives happen.

If you wanted to join a team or bet on a team’s success, which of the two would you want to be a part of, or bet on?

 Photo by: Chris Potter

Do you have time for commitment?

My wife and I spent the weekend with our dear friends B and R. B and R are a bit older than we are. They are both successful professionals. Their kids are older, they’ve moved out, one married. In fact, B and R are expecting their first grandchild this year. They are empty nesters, both in great physical and mental shape. So, they are set up to have a great time for the rest of their lives.

As we were on our morning walk, I asked B, “So, what do you do for exercise?” and he said “Nothing.” When he saw my surprised look he continued and said in a guilty voice, “I know. I have to find the time in order to make the commitment.” After a little pause I responded with, “No, you have to make the commitment in order to find the time.”

I totally understand how B feels. I talk to so many successful people who want to do things in other areas of their life and they feel that “they don’t have the time for that commitment.”

Time is an interesting phenomenon. Every hour of the day is equal in length on the clock, however our experience of an hour could be quite different depending on the circumstances. Not for naught people say: “time flies when you are having fun” or “time moves at a snails pace when you are not enjoying what you are doing”.

I live in Canada, and every year around January my wife turns to me and says with a sigh, “This winter is so long. Seems like it will never end.” And, around mid-to-end of July she says in panic: “I can’t believe how fast the summer is passing by. I wish I could slow it down!”

I have noticed that on the day before the weekend or a vacation, when I feel like “I must get everything done in order to have the peace of mind on the weekend or vacation”, I seem to be much more productive and have more time to spare too.

If you Google “people are most productive when they are happy in their lives” you’ll find a host of articles and surveys that provide more insight into this topic.

Perhaps if my friend B, who wants to be fit and in great physical shape, made his commitment to his well-being a top priority, and then scheduled his exercise routine accordingly, his other activities would adjust themselves to his new schedule. B is a very focused and successful man. He would continue to be successful even if he had a few less hours in the week to work.

People always find or make time when they commit to things that are important to them.

30 years of blissful marriage

This week my wife and I are celebrating 30 years of extraordinary marriage, and 35 years of being together. We met on the day of my 20th birthday. It was love at first sight, and after 5 years of dating with a couple of short breakups, it was clear to both of us that we were meant for each other forever and we got married. We have been blissfully married and deeply in love ever since.

My wife’s version of how we met is that the minute she laid eyes on me (she was 15 at the time) she knew that we would be together forever. I have always found that hard to understand and believe, but people who were there confirmed that she told them that at the time.

I have been very fortunate and blessed in my marriage. In fact, I am more in love with my wife today then I was 35 years ago, and it was pretty amazing to begin with. People often ask us “what is your secret?” Even though I know how I feel and I know what we’ve done and been through to keep it blissful, I don’t have a concise, definitive and clear formula or answer. Making intimacy, love and unity thrive seems to be more of an art than science.

My wife’s answer to the question is typically very pragmatic: “Do not try to change your spouse. Respect, be kind, learn to compromise, forgive and forget, be patient, never go to sleep angry, and – have lots of sex!

Perhaps our fortune is simply a matter of luck, attraction and compatibility (and we had plenty of those, even though we are opposites in many ways). But, I really believe we had everything to do with making our marriage blissful. From the beginning we believed in our ability to do it. And we behaved and interacted that way for as long as we’ve been together. Every time we had to deal with challenges (and we had our share of these, too) our love and marriage centered and empowered us to overcome these. From the beginning we committed to a completely open, honest, authentic and courageous communication as one of our foundational values and rules. We haven’t been perfect, however, even with all my travel and physical absence, we have kept to it pretty rigorously. And, as our 3 children came along (today they are 25, 21 and 14) we made sure to not forget, neglect or lose“us” in the mix of it all.

With the rate of divorce in North America being 55%, I feel extremely fortunate. The statistics mean that 5 to 6 couples out of every 10 who said “I do” intending to stay together for life didn’t succeed. Why is that the case?

A recent article on msn.com listed the 8 most common reasons for divorce. The most common reason, cited in 73 percent of couples surveyed, was lack of commitment http://living.msn.com/love-relationships/the-8-most-common-reasons-for-divorce

So many couples describe the time they met as “love at first sight”, like us. They fell in love, married and then fast forward 5, 10, 15 years they “fell out of love”.

A close friend who is also celebrating his 30th year anniversary shared with me that he surprised his wife and took her to the same exotic resort in which they had met and fell in love 30 years ago, hoping this will rekindle their marriage. I asked him how it was and he replied sarcastically “not as great as the first time”.

I was not surprised by his answer. People often think the source of love is in the external setting, conditions and circumstances. So, we tend to go back to the same resort or restaurant or do the same things that made us happy in the beginning, hoping these will ‘do the trick again’. But they don’t because even though the places still exist, we have changed. And, kindling or rekindling our love comes from the inside, not from any circumstances.

Falling “in love” and “out of love” seems like things that happen to us. As if we don’t have a say about them. I recognize that it is not the same for everyone. Marriage requires deliberate focus and often a lot of work, and that it is a journey often filled with ups and downs. Plus, there is an element of luck, attraction and compatibility in the mix too.

However, WE have the biggest say… if we believe that and if we can stay in the game, enjoy it and prove it right.

 

Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out!

How many times have you seen the following scenario?

A team meets to discuss issues that are critical to the organization’s future. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time: they actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People have stayed within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

This happens because leaders lack one or more of the following attributes: courage, an understanding of their role as leader, and the ability to powerfully manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out. Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 per cent alignment behind a goal that is 80 per cent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 per cent behind one point of view and others are zero. How motivated are those zero per cent people to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so.”

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.

If an entire team is behind one direction – even if it is only 80 per cent correct – if they truly align, commit to a direction, and backstop each other, it is astounding what can happen. Individuals are then free to stake out a much more powerful future – and in my experience, they almost always do.

What has been your experience? 

Are you expressing love and appreciation to the people that matter most to you?

Last Friday was Valentine’s Day. I love Valentine’s Day because it’s all about expressing love, appreciation and gratitude to the important people in my life. After spending a great evening with my wife and kids, in which we all had the chance to express our love, appreciation and gratitude to each other, I thought to myself ‘how much more happy and empowered we all would be if we practiced this level of expression regularly’.

We run so fast, our lives are so hectic and driven, that without meaning to we often take for granted how others feel about us and what they do for us. We just don’t stop and say “Thank you” enough.

We wouldn’t dream of driving our cars with no oil in the engine. Friction would build up, the pistons would seize, and the car would grind to a halt. Expressing love, appreciation and gratitude is the oil of relationships. When we express our love, appreciation and gratitude we touch others and this motivates them to give even more. People can endure, even thrive, during extensive difficult times when they feel appreciated and loved.

I travel a lot in my line of work, and in the past it often took my wife and I some time to reconnect when I would return home. It’s not that we don’t love each other. In fact, we are madly in love. But, when I was away and my wife was at home, we had different routines. And it often took some conscious effort to reconnect and realign our routines when I came back. There always seemed to be a period of heightened sensitivity when we came back together. If I would criticize my wife, even for small and insignificant things like ‘the kitchen is not clean’ or ‘the kids are not in bed on time,’ it would often turn into an argument beyond proportion.

So, a few years ago we started a new practice – we agreed that in the first hours of my return home we would only express positive, supportive, and appreciative things to each other. There are always things to criticize each other for, and some of these seem more pronounced when you’ve been a part for a few days. Even though we’ve been practicing this routine for a few years now, I still find, even today, that it takes a conscious effort to avoid the negative comments and only focus on things to appreciate and recognize in my wife and kids. It’s not always easy, but it works and it is very rewarding for all of us.

People seem to be lazy and even stingy about expressing love, appreciation and gratitude. The lazy say, “well they already know how I feel. I thanked them last week or last month.” They don’t understand that expressing love, appreciation and gratitude is not about the information. The stingy say, “they could have done it better, it wasn’t that great.” They focus on what’s not good enough instead of generously highlighting others’ efforts and care. Both are letting the oil run out of the engine.

Wouldn’t it be great if we lived every day like it was Valentine’s day?

Are you counting your blessings or focusing on what’s missing?

In the previous blog I talked about how the rat race to achieve more and meet our life objectives often prevents us from being present and living our life in the moment.  

This is a very common modern life dilemma that many ambitious and successful people face: how to set exciting goals in all areas of our life, work hard to realize them (because that is what it takes), and while doing that fully enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

How do we slow down enough while we are going so fast?  

How to grow as many roses as we want AND also stop and smell them on a regular basis?

This has definitely been one of my life learning curves. I am a visionary and an ambitious person. I have big dreams aspirations in all areas of my life: professionally, in business, financially, staying healthy and fit, having an amazing marriage with my wife of 30 years, and deep closeness with my 3 kids and extended family. I want to ‘have it all’ and I want to be present and enjoy my journey as I go through it, not just when I get there “someday”.

My wife Na’ama has made a huge difference in keeping our focus and awareness on our accomplishments and how blessed we are, in all areas. The conversation of gratitude has become an integrated part of our family life because Na’ama has been a relentless champion for this. She constantly reminds each of us, especially when we face adversity, how lucky and blessed we are in our life. She always helps us shift our focus from what’s missing, wrong, and not working to what IS working and what we feel grateful for.

Several years ago we started a practice of ending each day with ten minutes of writing down (journaling) the answers to the question: “What are four things I accomplished today? and “What are four things I feel blessed and I am grateful for today?” Even if we had a bad day, or felt that we didn’t accomplish anything we still answered these questions.

What I learned from this process was that I had an abundance of things to claim as accomplishments, and an abundance of things that I feel blessed and grateful for. In fact I had many more than 4 each day. And, the more I focused on accomplishments the easier it became to find them and the more fortunate, empowered and energized I felt. Standing in that space enabled me to accomplish even more.

Our writing practice compelled us to have more conversations on a regular basis about what we are accomplishing and what we feel blessed and grateful for. The ‘counting our blessing’ conversation became a daily affair, and as time passed it infected our kids and close friends as well.

As Fr. D’sousa wrote – the events, obstacles and ups-and-downs of our life should not keep us from living our life to its fullest, now. On the contrary – our day-to-day journey, no matter how good or bad, contains in it an abundance of small, medium and large victories, accomplishments and things to feel blessed about.

Living courageously means highlighting these accomplishments, embracing our fortunes and allowing ourselves to be inspired by our own life every minute and day.

If the ideas and practices that I shared in this blog resonate with you I encourage to try them on and share what you learned from that.

If you feel that you are great at living the moment – please share what you do to live in that space.

Space of Possibility

Over the last few weeks, I have written much about the differences between Warriors and Worriers, positioning them as distinct opposites. But the truth is that Warriors do occasionally worry. And Worriers sometimes act courageously. From time to time, we step over that line to the other side, but we all live mostly on one side or the other.

The difference between the space where Warriors live and the space where Worriers is possibility.

Worriers are bound by past limitations. They tend to believe that their future prospects are constrained by past events and predicaments. They often allow themselves to remain stuck in the past, because it’s more familiar and safer that way. Doing what they’ve always done requires no vulnerability, no courage, and little to no exposure or risk. Worriers live in the space of “limited or no possibility.”

Warriors, however, live in a place of possibility. They honor the past and learn from it, but they continue to look towards the future and think about what could be, what they want, and what they are committed to achieving. And they take ownership for making it happen. This is a much more empowering, free, and courageous way of thinking.

People always vacillate between these two spaces. We choose the side where we’ll live, but we occasionally blip into the other side. When Worriers blip into the space of possibility, they often respond with sarcasm, defensiveness, and cynicism. I often see this in organizations. When change initiatives are launched, Worriers are typically the first to criticize, find the flaws, and say “This, too, shall pass.”

When Warriors blip to the other side, they typically experience mental and even physical pain. They feel like they have not been true to themselves, so they get back to their rightful side as quickly as possible.

Here’s an example: One of my clients, who typically is a very bold and courageous leader, recently called me because he was quite upset about the way he conducted himself in an important meeting the day before. Apparently, he promised to backup one of his colleagues in a critical presentation to the board for a new idea. Their department was seeking to get investment for its implementation. The meeting didn’t go well, and when it was his opportunity to speak up he held back and didn’t live up to his promise. He was devastated with his own behavior. In fact he shared with me that he couldn’t sleep that entire night. After our brief conversation he picked up the phone and called his colleague. He took responsibility for his lack of courage and support, apologized to his colleague and received forgiveness. He called me again later that day feeling completely restored, freed up and energized.

When Warriors screw up, act harshly, offend someone or act in any way that is inconsistent with they commitment, they are much more inclined to pick up the phone to that person, apologize and patch things up. This is the way they return back to their rightful side when they blip for the Warrior into the Worrier space.

We all vacillate from one side to the other. The question is: Where do you live? Where’s home? And if home is in the Worrier space, are you perhaps ready to move?

Develop Your Warrior Muscle (Part 2)

In last week’s blog, I wrote about how Warriors either “love” (or own) what they do or they “leave” it. This doesn’t mean they give up easily. In fact, Warriors stay true to their vision. They may change their course of action, but they seldom quit.

Warriors are very resourceful. While Worriers often see others as obstacles, pains in the you-know-what, or necessary evils they must deal with, Warriors typically view others as potential resources, allies, or partners. Warriors are not shy about admitting when they don’t know something or when they need help. They acknowledge others’ superior skills, experiences, and track records, and they ask these people for coaching and guidance. This is because Warriors are more concerned with fulfilling their visions than pretending to have it all together and looking good.

One thing that repeatedly surprises me in my work with organizations is how much time and energy many people spend on covering their behinds. Time and time again I see people spending more time and energy making sure everyone knows issues are not their fault than they do figuring out how to fix these issues. That’s why, in most organizations, people CC everyone on their e-mails.

Warriors and Worriers also deal with success differently. Worriers don’t let successes in. They don’t embrace and own their accomplishments and greatness. Why? Because if they did, they might have to admit they are capable of being Warriors, which would require them to start living with greater courage, passion, and sense of possibility. And that’s a scary prospect for many people.

Worriers rarely acknowledge or recognize other people’s accomplishments, success, and greatness. They often view life as a competition in which the more they elevate others by highlighting their greatness, the smaller they become in comparison. So, they refrain from generously and courageously recognizing others.

Warriors, on the other hand, acknowledge and celebrate their own success, as well as that of others, whenever they can. Understanding that success invites success, they always look for opportunities to highlight progress and accomplishments. Yet, they strive to remain humble and centered in their vision, rather than arrogant about their achievements. And they don’t expect to be perfect. In fact, their mantra is to constantly drive progress, not perfection.

Warriors also tend to be more generous when acknowledging and recognizing other people’s accomplishments. They view the world as abundant with opportunities and the people around them as allies, so they don’t feel threatened by the success of others. In fact, they believe that being in the presence of great people only enhances their own greatness.

As I stated in one of my earlier blogs, being a Warrior is like any other skill. To develop a Warrior mindset, you must commit to this way of being and regularly exercise those muscles.

People often think that they believe what they see. However, the truth is that we see what we believe. Our attitudes and expectations often become self-fulfilling prophecies, and we are usually able to gather evidence to support our points of view. So, if we are going to prove something right, why not prove right stuff that empowers us?

Develop Your Warrior Muscle (Part 1)

Every day we are faced with numerous circumstances and situations over which we have no control. However, we can always control who we’re going to be in those moments and how we’ll react to each situation.

The choice is yours: You can deal with problems like a Worrier (i.e., by being a victim, blaming others, and making excuses for yourself). Or you can deal with problems like a Warrior, meaning you accept and own the reality and approach problems head on.

Worriers tend to complain. Warriors avoid complaining, because they understand that even when their complaints are valid, focusing on them is a waste of time. Doing so only weakens them and makes them smaller than their problems.

Worriers often feel their problems are larger than them, and they let challenging or overwhelming circumstances conquer them. Warriors know they have a choice about their attitude and the way they’re going to respond to the tough situations with which they’re faced. And they never stop moving forward.

Worriers say things like “it’s not fair” and “why me?” On the other hand, Warriors ask: “What do I do now? What can I control here? What difference can I make? And how can I make the best of this?” They always take the stand that they are larger than their circumstances.

Warriors live by a “no victim, no suffering” code. They typically gravitate towards doing work they enjoy, or they bring love to their work. In other words, they “do what they love or love what they do.” They bring a positive, productive energy to whatever they tackle, and even if they don’t love every aspect of their work, they do everything in their power to at least own it. This means genuinely accepting and making the best of things. And if they can’t own it, they leave it.

Warriors know they make a difference. They have faith in themselves and their intentions. If they don’t feel they can make a positive difference in their current environment, they always stay true to their values, act with courage, and make the tough decisions. They leave and go to a different team, role, or environment where they can express themselves and make a difference. They don’t allow themselves to recede into a victim mentality or to become resentful, which is what typically happens when people sell out on living up to their values, principles, and vision.

Worriers can spend their entire careers being cynical and resigned. They often view the world as “unkind,” their luck as “unfortunate,” and their options and possibilities as “scarce.” A client once described his job to me as his “eight-hour inconvenience.” Yet, he had been working in that same company for many years. You can imagine which camp he belongs to.

The global workforce is filled with people who spend their entire careers and lives in the Worrier space. In fact, the Worrier space is still the norm in most companies. The problem is that it takes a tremendous level of numbness and unconsciousness to sustain this existence.

Warriors are not perfect by any means. They have the same fears, anxieties, hang-ups, concerns, and doubts that Worriers have. What makes them Warriors is that they act with courage. They understand and accept that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather being afraid and living up to your vision and commitment anyway.

Worriers are often very circumstantial. They typically have a good reason for why they can’t have what they want, or a good story about why it’s not the right time. They keep waiting for the fear to subside or the obstacles to evaporate, or they play it small and safe enough to not provoke fear in the first place.

Building your Warrior muscle is ultimately about developing courage: The courage to be vulnerable and authentic, to be open and honest, and to try new things. Everyone – men and women, young people and those nearing retirement – can be Warrior, but only if they are willing to take ownership of their careers and lives.

More to come on this in my next blog. Stay tuned.

4 Steps To Creating Total Strategic Alignment

Most leaders believe that it takes between six and 12 months, or longer, to develop a strategy. They mistakenly think that the criteria for a meaningful strategy are the amount of research and market analysis that goes into it, and the time spent vetting it with experts.

But our observation is that how well communicated a strategy is, is far more important than how logical or well researched it is. The effectiveness of any strategy is directly proportional to the level of ownership, commitment and accountability among the executive team. A strategy is only as good as the levels of commitment the people who are accountable to fulfilling it, possess.

Here are the essential fours steps necessary to create total strategic commitment and alignment.

Step one: Do a commitment audit and tell the truth about the current levels of ownership, commitment and accountability within the organization. Ask people to be blunt about the degree to which they understand – and believe in – your current strategic plan.

Step two: Craft a bold and compelling future. Help your leadership team roll the clock forward two to three years from now. What is a clear, concise and well-articulated 15- to 20-word statement that describes what you are committed to building as an organization?

Step three: Define your specific success criteria. What are the three, four or five key measurable outcomes that will let you know you have reached that future state?

Step four: Get everyone on board with these. This means cascading the process through the ranks of management, sharing the content of the strategy with all levels of staff and listening to and addressing issues of competence, sincerity and courage.

Remember, the issue is not, “What is the right solution?” but, “What will people buy into, take ownership for, believe in and commit to?” When staff buy into a strategy, it’s because they trust their leaders are telling the truth about the need for it, they believe that their leaders have the courage and resolve to address the real issues, and they have faith their leaders are competent to do what needs to be done in order to implement the strategy.

On top of this, when staff feel cared for, concerned about and respected, they will naturally support and contribute to the strategy being realized.

Six Warning Signs You Lack Employee Engagement and Commitment

In the past two blog posts regarding this topic I explored the problem of lack of commitment and looked at two case studies. In this post I examine what to do if you want to tackle your commitment problem. Where do you begin? What are the most effective ways to assess if and where there are commitment problems? Here’s a list of some observable indicators:

1. People don’t speak up even when they know things aren’t being dealt with honestly and directly. This is relatively easy to spot, especially in meetings. Everyone knows important issues are not being addressed. Yet they fail to speak up because of fear or cynicism.

2. Missed commitments met with excuses, explanations, rationalizations and finger-pointing rather than a rigorous and energetic desire to get to the source of the problems, get back on track and take ownership for what went wrong.

3. Problems discussed and debated endlessly, with little lasting improvement from repeated attempts at resolution.

4. Initiatives to improve organizational performance progressing slowly or stalling altogether, despite sizable investments in resources and technology.

5. “Hallway” conversations are also a good indicator and can be easily detected. For example, when people spend their time talking about how things are not their fault or how another department or organizational level is to blame for sub-optimal results, commitment is lacking.

6. When people complain about how busy they are rather than doing what needs to be done, or complain about the unreasonableness of leaders’ expectations, this too can be a good indicator that people are avoiding rather than taking responsibility.

These are the informal ways of discerning commitment problems. We suggest that CEOs who feel they may have such issues go beyond sensing to asking employees directly – the members of their executive team and workers up and down the organization. In diagnosing the state of commitment in dozens of organizations, we have found questions such as these to be revealing. To what degree do employees:

  • Effectively address and resolve difficult issues around here?
  • Take ownership for solving problems rather than make excuses or point fingers when things go wrong?
  • Take risks and challenge the status quo?
  • Have confidence in the leaders of this organization?
  • Feel they can be honest with their leaders, including about negative or contentious issues?
  • Feel connected with, and empowered by, their leaders?
  • Communicate honestly and directly, without fear of retribution?
  • Trust each other and work together effectively across departments?
  • Come to work every day feeling that they make a critical difference to the future of the business?
  • Feel enthusiastic about their work experience?

There are also proven assessment tools and surveys available to help gauge commitment and engagement, the Gallup Q12 being a particularly noteworthy one where a 0.2 improvement along a 5-point scale has been statistically proven to correlate with an improvement in employee productivity.

One word of caution: If trust is low and fear is present, employees will not be truthful about the poor state of commitment. They must feel safe to tell it like it is. They must believe executives are genuinely interested in hearing unvarnished views, and they must feel encouraged to speak up about the real state of things, and praised when they do. Otherwise they will pay lip service to the process and say only the things they believe are safe. Unfortunately, this kind of lip service is more the norm than the exception.

To significantly improve commitment, the CEO and his team must be completely honest about, fully aware of, and own the current reality, especially the aspects that are dysfunctional. Once they understand the size of the commitment problem and no longer take it personally, they can begin to transform the cynicism, resignation, apathy and complacency into an environment of passion, ownership and total support.