Leaders Create an Org Culture of Shared Commitment

by Alli Polin on August 2, 2013

Leadership is a commitment to being, doing and giving their best to self and others

Three powerful words, “I am committed” – especially when followed by what you are committed to being, doing or creating.  It was after a multi-day leadership workshop I led, that I discovered just how powerful those words can be, and also learned that the impact can be erased in the blink of an eye.

The new leadership team was in place and had some big goals for a two day workshop:

  1. Get the new senior leaders and the large management team connected and energized
  2. Co-create a vision for the division
  3. Evaluate progress to date for all major accounts and collaborate and consult with each other to determine the go-forward strategy

There was nothing planned on the agenda to engage the 75 people sitting out on the call center floor – the front line between the clients and the candidates. The recruiters on the floor needed to stay heads down while their leaders wrestled with what’s next, and how to get clients and employees all engaged and focused on the new direction.

In all of the workshop sessions, I discovered people that were smart, funny, experienced and passionate about growing and innovating recruiting to remain at the forefront of the staffing industry.  I was inspired as they stepped into thinking big.  As their shared energy grew, they were prepared to make the leap into the future; together.

At the end of the day one workshop, I had the leaders in the room put their hopes, dreams, and needs on the walls covered with flip charts for all to see, embrace and reflect.  The last wall invited people to share what they were most committed to as they created the future and a great place to work.

Energy was rising and it was time for it to explode with passion and purpose.

Out on the call center floor there was a enormous white board wall that was blank.  I made a suggestion and everyone agreed…

At the top of the whiteboard wall we wrote:

I am Committed

The SVP shared with the entire team what we had been doing in the conference room and invited the front line to grab a marker, write what they are committed to, and sign their name.  Almost immediately individuals and small groups moved to the wall and without hesitation shared their hearts, minds and commitments.  The space hummed with trust and hope; I’ll never forget it.

The front line team didn’t participate in the leadership team conversations in the conference room on purpose, vision, and trust, yet they expressed shared values through their personal commitments:

  • I am committed to exceeding expectations of my clients.
  • I am committed to supporting my team to be successful.
  • I am committed to bringing my passion and desire to make a difference to every person I touch.

The “I am Committed” wall served as a reminder of individual and shared commitments and the desire to create something exceptional.

A few weeks later, I got off of the plane, headed into the call center, looked at the wall, and it was covered with open reqs and fill rates; statistics replaced the heart of the call center.  I felt crushed. Luckily, a member of the training team was there when it was erased and she got a quick picture of it on her phone.  Still, the wall was all but forgotten.

The impact of erasing the commitments?

Overnight, the organizational culture went from one of shared possibility to fear of failure.  The new mindset drove every single decision of employees and leaders alike. The magic of being a part of something new, a true innovation, was replaced with difficulty, second-guessing, and daily scrambling.  Fires were popping up everywhere and there was little time to focus on the future while trying to stay afloat in the present.

It has been several years since the original workshop.  Months of tinkering were followed by multiple senior leadership team turn-overs.  The secret formula, apparently, still remains a mystery.  I wonder if some key ingredients were just not present in a high enough proportion from the get-go:  trust, engagement, shared vision, play, and of course, commitment.

BREAK THE FRAME ACTION:

If you work with a team, take an afternoon to share and document not only what you’re committed to as a team and as an organization but also what each individual is committed to along the journey.

If you are a solo practitioner, take an hour to mind map what you’re personally committed to creating, being, and doing.

Hang it on the wall as a reminder that success is built on belief and commitment to make the once impossible, possible. (Click to Tweet)

What are you most committed to in your life, work and leadership?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Jolly August 2, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Alli,

This is fantastic – thank you so much for sharing. I am going to implement the “wall of commitment” at work AND at home! What an inspiring idea!!

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Alli Polin August 3, 2013 at 12:48 am

The wall was an ever-present reminder of shared and individual commitment – it was a reminder that everyone plays a critical part in the long term success. I hope you do it!

At home… it’s something that I’m actually planning to do to. I’ve done it as an individual but I think as a family, we all have a contribution to make and a commitment as well.

Appreciate you, Karen!

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Joy Guthrie August 2, 2013 at 5:16 pm

We’re big believers in having everyone commit. Our approach is almost identical. We capture the physical signatures. The act of signing your commitment really does trigger some”magic” all it’s own. Enjoyed your post, Alli!

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Alli Polin August 3, 2013 at 12:46 am

I love that you do that, Joy! You’re so right. It’s one thing to say what you’re committed to but to sign your name is actually very powerful. Absolute magic.

Thanks so much for sharing, Joy!

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Lalita Raman August 3, 2013 at 8:14 am

I have always wondered how people thrive without commitment. It still remains a mystery to me.

Commitment is an essential part of who I am and what I do and don’t know any other way.

Thank you Alli for reiterating that 🙂

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Alli Polin August 3, 2013 at 8:54 am

Lalita – I can FEEL that about you. I don’t think you know how to live without commitment. Neither do I – I’ve noticed when I’m most off center, that’s what’s missing and what I’m craving.

Love that about you!

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Jon Mertz August 3, 2013 at 9:24 am

Essential things to do to build an effective and engaging culture. Great points, Alli. When “committed,” constant communication is vital and the most effective communication is in the follow through actions. Getting culture right is very, very key! Thanks, Jon

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Alli Polin August 4, 2013 at 7:20 am

Jon – You’re right on! It’s absolutely more than what we say as leaders… it’s also what we do. People know when the two are incongruent and it seeps into the fabric of the culture. Thanks so much for your comment, Jon!

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Mohamed August 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm

The dynamics of leaders followers is built on trust.
No matter what you are or do the teams need to feel valued for their efforts, once they feel this is happening they will backup their leaders and commit themselves to each bit of work they will deliver.
Great idea the white board as long as used for the right reason, interesting approach.

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Alli Polin August 4, 2013 at 7:23 am

Mohamed, First of all, thank you very much for your comment. Everything flows from trust – including commitment. You can (and should) pay people fairly and do interesting work but when people feel the trust and give their commitment, possibilities multiply exponentially!

It was actually a very cool wall and a center piece of the call center floor. Even if it couldn’t be the wall of commitments long term, I wish we had a great photo to blow up and hang in the room in its place. Lesson learned!

Thanks again! ~ Alli

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Alice Chan August 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Thank you for this wonderful article, Alli. We underestimate the power of being clear about what we’re committed to. I just came back from a weekend retreat where I contemplated why a part of my life is stalled. I realized that I hadn’t made an unequivocal decision about where I’d like it to go. In other words, I wasn’t committed one way or another. So, your post is most timely. Thank you!

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Alli Polin August 6, 2013 at 8:08 am

Alice – you’re speaking my language! Without knowing where we really want to go, it’s impossible to fully commit. I’ve been there and have seen it come up for so many people I know. We were all left wondering why we only made mediocre progress – because our hearts did not 100% understand where we were headed.

Thanks for sharing this insight, Alice!

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Lolly Daskal August 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm

What a great article.

In order to great the culture of connection and caring we must show commitment to others and accountability to self.

Both are important to succeed.

Thanks for a great post.

Lolly

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Alli Polin August 6, 2013 at 8:05 am

I agree, Lolly – the two go hand in hand when in pursuit of success. Without accountability, we’re left with empty words.

Sincerely appreciate your sharing and perspective!

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Terri Klass August 6, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Such a wonderful concept, Alli about how to make commitment part of our everyday routines! I think those 3 words can make or break a project if all the team members are not really on board. I think commitment goes hand in hand with accountability. When we commit, we hold ourselves accountable to what we need to do. Thanks!

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Alli Polin August 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I agree, Terri. When we commit, we put ourselves on the hook. In this case, when the commitments were erased, no wonder the team started to fracture. Also, telling the world (and colleagues, clients etc) I am committed means I’m not only in it for myself, but for what we’re creating together.

Always appreciate when you comment and share here, Terri! Thank you!

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