Leading using Commitment Management

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    Leaders spend a significant amount of time on roles and responsibilities, goal-setting, and determining who is accountable for what. They spend much less time defining the outcomes they desire, negotiating the conditions of satisfaction that will achieve these outcomes, and coordinating the commitments of those who report to them. Yet, by focusing on these three activities of leading, they enable others to set their own priorities and independently figure out how to get things done. Empowerment realized!

    But do you, as a leader, trust those who report to you enough to send them off unsupervised, with just a promise they will get something done? At a time when trust in organizations is at an all-time low, how can leaders get stuff done and generate trust? And if you check up on them are you leading or micromanaging? Enter Fernando Flores and his Commitment Management Protocol, a means of coordinating action through the intentional negotiation of conditions of satisfaction. Lest you think that this is a new management rage, Flores’ protocol has been used in business for at least the last 20 years.

    Words Create Actions

    Commitment Management begins with the leader actually knowing what outcome they seek rather than the means of achieving it. For example, if the desired outcome is the 2012 Brand Strategy, are you clear on what that entails? Often leaders “know it when they see it” or “know what it isn’t.” This produces needless re-working and countless iterations of a document or set of activities that could be clarified at the onset. Knowing what purpose the end product fulfills helps you define what it needs to contain and sets the scope of the work to be completed.

    Once you know the outcome you desire you can request an individual or group to be accountable for the work. This step of the protocol helps leaders think about who to engage with rather than simply assigning it to the person or group normally “responsible” for the activity. Whoever is accountable becomes your thought partner in negotiating the conditions of satisfaction. Negotiation is critical to a successful outcome, so choose wisely and negotiate until you both feel comfortable with the terms.

    The conditions of satisfaction are the key to creating trust and empowerment. When the conditions of satisfaction are clear and not ambiguous, those accountable can commit to performing the work. How the work gets done is now the responsibility of those doing it and not the leader who requested it. As they perform the tasks that they are accountable for, employees assess their progress against the conditions of satisfaction and are able to renegotiate them if need be. This means that leaders hear about new ideas and innovation or challenges and problems sooner rather than later.

    These five steps – defining the outcome, requesting the work, accepting accountability, negotiating the conditions of satisfaction, and committing to deliver – encourage creativity, experimentation, and innovation, build trust, and place accountability where the work gets done.

    How It Actually Happens

    Jake (VP Marketing): Nancy, the shifts in the economy make me think our brand strategy for product X is out of date. Will you take a look at that and let me know what you think about it?

    Nancy (Business Strategy Team Leader): Absolutely. What type of information do you want to see?

    Jake: Probably the regular competitive analysis, market landscape…is there something else you had in mind?

    Nancy: Well, if I knew how you intended to use the assessment I could better prepare it.

    Jake: I can imagine a couple of things I would use it for: I have a new product manager for that brand who is coming from another part of the business and it would get him up to speed, plus that brand has some competition on the horizon three years out and I want some fresh thinking on how to maintain our market share, I also want some new data to take to the executive council meeting next month.

    Nancy: Let me talk to my team and send you an outline of how we think these three outcomes can best be achieved. If I send it to you tomorrow do you have 15 minutes to chat about it on Thursday?

    Jake: Yes, Jeannie can schedule something.

    Notice the level of transparency that the conversation generates naturally. By not saying: “Sure” and heading off thinking she knows what Jake needs Nancy has begun the negotiation process and can talk with her team before actually committing to the conditions for satisfaction. Additionally, Jake has an informal thought partner who helped him clarify the purpose for his request.