The Gravitas & Grit Series, Part 4: The Making of the Right Commitment

“What is right to be done cannot be done too soon.” Jane Austen

We make commitments all the time, through the choices we make. Which person should we hire for this role? What’s the best use of capital dollars? Which product should we choose? Small or large coffee? Should we accept this vendor’s pricing? Choices turn into commitments. Organizations and individuals only have so much time, energy and resources for a certain number and type of commitments.

Have the determination (grit) to make the right commitment, and the seriousness (gravitas) to meet that commitment.

Begin with the end in mind. When helping or being helped to prepare for an important meeting or event, keep your eye on the desired outcome. Is it shared understanding? Approval to deploy resources? Acceptance of a contract? Starting with the end in mind means knowing the minimal viable conditions for a good beginning including skillsets, capacity, dollars, space, contracts, stakeholder buy-in and more. Minimal viability is situational.

Know the capacity. Over-commitment is a chronic problem and frequent root cause of organizational angst. In organizations, I frequently see too many projects running in parallel with frequent delays. Organizations who do fewer, prioritized projects and meet their commitments are both perceived and perform better. In order to do this, capacity needs to be known. This doesn’t have to be onerous administrative overhead counting hours and FTEs. A simple construct that understands the skillsets of the people available to get work done is sufficient.

Be aware of decision timing. If I’ve heard “the decision still hasn’t been made?” once, I’ve heard it …. a lot. Leaders need to be conscious of the time that elapses between realizing a decision is needed and making that decision. Given time-to-market pressure and hyper-acceleration of technology, speed of decision making is increasing in importance. It is possible to become faster *and* better in decision-making given contemporary business intelligence (BI) and analytics. While lags in decision making can indicate poor BI, more frequently it is inefficient governance, analysis paralysis or (worst of all) lack of trust between leaders. It is better to make a decision based on available information and leadership judgement, establish some KPIs and start iterating than it is to wait for a full and absolute set of information. First, because the opportunity will pass by, and second because there is rarely a full and absolute set of information.

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Willingness to be taught. What does this have to do with commitments? Confidence and success in making commitments requires having knowledge; and knowing you need to be increasing your skillsets on a regular basis. Willingness to being taught is not the same as willingness to learn. Acceptance of being taught requires believing that others have expertise and skill that you don’t, and being open to actively listening and applying those teachings. Others can include mentors, coaches, colleagues – and most importantly, people that work for you. The more you know, the more comfortable you will be in supporting and making decisions.

Support the team. Once a commitment is made, leaders need to empower the team and stay visible. Empowering means letting the team be accountable for its decisions and work within clear and logical governance. Be visible and supportive, but don’t direct the details or second guess. Leaders who disappear send a message that they don’t care. Leaders who micro-manage send a message that they don’t trust.

Abandon the wrong commitments. Metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) should accompany any commitment. First, choose the gauges to watch, how to watch them, the frequency of measurement, and the qualitative and quantitative measures. Second, look at the KPIs, and if they repeatedly aren’t moving as expected, make sure to consciously decide whether to keep going or abandon the project. Stopping a project that isn’t getting results isn’t failure; failure is keeping a project going that isn’t getting results.

Ensuring a trajectory of meeting and making the right commitments requires will, knowledge, persistence and pragmatism.

“Commitment is an act, not a word.” Jean Paul Sartre

Worth considering:

“Time and again, research on this has shown that the more power we hold, the less self-aware we become.” Dr. Tasha Eurich @tashaeurich, as interviewed on @npr that examines the role of self-awareness plays in sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement is generating a lot of conversation. The comments of Dr. Eurich ring true – people in power tend to be unaware and dismissive of the affects of their words and actions. Leaders would do well to reflect, seek feedback and consider adjustments to their behavior and style. And when it comes to the media maelstrom on sexual misconduct, I’ll say this: “A clear and innocent conscience fears nothing.” Queen Elizabeth I

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