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Exploring the roots of employee commitment to excellence

Dan Bobinski

What conditions must exist so your employees are committed to excellence? If you are familiar with gardening, you know that the health of any plant depends on the conditions of its roots. Similarly, if you want committed employees, it’s best to consider the conditions of what’s “below the soil,” or those things that are not normally in plain sight.

These conditions could be called “success factors,” but I call them “the roots of commitment” because when managers give them proper attention, their organizations are usually thriving and healthy. Conversely, when they ignore the conditions of these roots, their organizations tend to be less than stellar and perhaps even apathetic.

As proof of this, consider the following rant, which has been circulating around workplaces for decades:

“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that before. Perhaps you’ve even passed it along to your co-workers. The saying remains popular because so many companies neglect their responsibility to “tend the roots” that grow commitment.

Over the years, thousands of managers have heard me pose the question, “What are the roots of commitment in your organization?” I’ve kept track of their answers, and as you might guess, there’s not much variation. Overall, about 20 factors keep popping up in one form or another. What follows are some of the more common responses that managers provide.

The conditions of honesty and trust appear on just about everybody’s list. When managers are asked to explain this, they say not only do employees want to trust that what’s being told them is the truth, they also want be trusted to do what they’ve been trained to do, not micro-managed. As if to confirm this, it’s when trust and honesty are missing that I see the biggest loss of commitment in the workplace.

Knowledge and communication are also on just about every list. Employees want to know what is expected of them, know the contents of the big picture, and know how their work contributes to the big picture. Plus, the managers themselves have a stronger root of commitment when they know what’s going on within their teams.

The “knowledge” root goes hand-in-hand with communication, because ongoing communication both up and down the organizational chart is necessary or the sought-after knowledge won’t get transferred.

Another root of commitment that appears quite often is unity, which is sometimes stated as “belief in the cause,” or “everyone is encouraged to be involved.” The idea is that the organization is a team working toward a common objective, and that no person and no department is an island unto itself. It’s an effort that brings working relationships together into a common focus at all levels.

Training also appears consistently. Sometimes managers use the phrase “good training” or “skills are taught.” Obviously, the idea here is that for commitment to exist and thrive, employees at all levels of the organization should receive regular, pertinent training. People don’t like being stagnant; they want to grow. Thus, when knowledge and skills are enhanced, people become more valuable, and with that they also feel more valuable. I would suggest that this reflects what is known as the “giving and getting syndrome,” which means when people receive more, they tend to give more. So when a company invests in its employees, the employees reciprocate and their commitment grows stronger.

Interestingly, the idea of investing doesn’t stop with training. Managers also put on their lists that for commitment to grow a company must provide appropriate tools and resources. It seems like a no-brainer, yet lack of resources is a common complaint among employees in practically every industry.

Granted, in some cases providing the perfect resource is cost prohibitive. That said, I challenge organizations to look for ways in which employees can be given access to resources that make their jobs easier. When your employees see that kind of commitment coming from you they are much more likely to increase their commitment in return – with a resulting increase in productivity, too.

Other factors that managers commonly place on their “roots of commitment” list include:

Open door policies – the ability to bring up an issue without needing to set up an appointment or meeting.

Praise – hearing the words “good job” when a job has been done well.

Incentives / rewards – a little something extra for reaching a goal or beating a deadline.

Structure – rules are in place that hold things together and are applied fairly across the board.

Support / encouragement – people are “there for each other,” even in the face of mistakes.

What are you doing to attend to these roots? When managers are aware of and strive to improve these Roots of Commitment, the result is improved commitment and productivity. Remember: The health of any plant depends upon the condition of its roots.

Dan Bobinski is a certified behavior analyst, best-selling author and director at the Center for Workplace Excellence. He makes his home in Boise. Reach Dan at (208) 375-7606 or dan@workplace-excellence.com.

About Dan Bobinski