We live in a world of norms, standards, rules, processes, procedures… with which it appears good to comply. And the workplace is no exception, far from it! I especially think of the rush to processes which are imposed by “those who think” on “those who do”.
Management demands ‘compliance’ and goes even further in asking staff to be more ‘committed’. The lack of commitment to the job has indeed become a common concern of businesses and organisations.
Compliance and commitment: two concepts that are worth stopping and thinking about for a moment.
Firstly, it is clear that both concepts belong to the area of performance improvement, at least in managers’ intention. And yet, only genuine commitment will ensure real and lasting performance. Let’s take a closer look.
Compliance is part of a ‘logic of obedience’. Depending on whether my ‘obedience’ is more or less consented, I will comply at different levels which will determine the amount of energy I will put into the task.
For instance, I can comply when I do not believe in what I do but, out of fear of losing my job, I bow and obey, even sometimes up to the level of absurdity, to try and show the stupidity of the system. There is ‘compliance’ but my energy level and my contribution are at their lowest.
I can also comply out of respect or even acceptance, like a good little soldier. In this case, my contribution may be sincere and positive. The energy I give to the task is already significantly higher, but this is still not ‘commitment’.
For there to be commitment, there must be a free and responsible choice. Commitment is part of a ‘logic of responsibility’.
I act because I adhere to the objectives from within, that is to say, for reasons that have a deep meaning for me, and not for reasons rooted outside myself such as the fear of the consequences or the desire to please others.
This notion of meaning is essential. In commitment, I live and breathe the meaning of action and it becomes mine. I then act freely because I choose to and want to, not because I have to. In these conditions, my energy is at its highest.
Meaning is much less present in the concept of compliance: one complies ‘to’ a rule, one commits ‘for’ a cause. Compliance is linked to the way of achieving a goal, commitment to the goal, to the meaning itself.
In commitment, there may well be compliance, as long as this latter serves the purpose. If this is not the case, I will question the standards, processes, regulations, etc. and I will take actions to modify them in order that they serve the deeper purpose. I feel I have a responsibility to do what it takes to ensure the objectives are met.
Let’s now put these concepts in the context of management.
It is now clear that it is preferable to get commitment in order to optimise performance. So then, why do we push compliance so hard?
Probably because it fits so well into the logic of the ‘command and control’ hierarchical management style, still predominant despite its inadequacy in the complex and changing world of today: « I know, I think, I impose on you if necessary, and you, you execute! » This is a caricature. There are certainly more participative variants but what is clear is that as soon as compliance is imposed, one obtains at best consented compliance but certainly not commitment.
Another reason to push compliance is that it is much more difficult and time consuming to get commitment. In fact, it is not possible to force anyone to commit. At best, we may, without any guarantee of success, create the conditions for others to make a free and responsible choice to commit. To create these conditions requires from managers a high level of maturity, strong leadership and a strong commitment on their part. These qualities are unfortunately quite rare today, even though awareness of their importance is increasing.
Finally, many people have lost the ability to commit in a responsible manner and only a few do the work on themselves that would allow them to get this ability back. I see here a larger problem, which is that our society no longer promotes responsibility, an essential requirement of commitment. We live in a world where assistance is gaining ground on solidarity and where it is considered normal to be dependent on aid. A world where we tend to look externally for the reasons for our failures and misfortunes, without seeing what we ourselves did, or did not do, to get there. And finally, a Western world in crisis, where defeatism prevails and many feel powerless, become discouraged and resigned, and no longer find the strength to commit.
And yet solutions exist and fortunately interest in them is growing. I must say that it is worth it because, according to the work of Martin Seligman, American psychology researcher, professor and author, commitment, alongside pleasure and meaning, is one of the three dimensions of authentic happiness.Categories: Management @en