Got Commitment? Create a Culture Where People Choose to Stay

We all have choices, and when it comes to jobs there may be more choices now than ever before. Unemployment is down, technology is creating jobs that have never existed before, and global economies are growing. Our employees can choose to leave our companies and work for our competitors all over the world.

As leaders, we have choices too. What type of choice is required of a leader who wants to stimulate high productivity, and rate well on all measures of employee satisfaction? It is the choice between a strategy based on imposing control and a strategy based on eliciting commitment (Handel, 2003).

I teach Sociology of Organizations & Institutions at Brandman University, and every term students share the terrible experiences they have had in the workplace. They talk about tyrannical supervisors, cutthroat coworkers, and feeling like pawns in a big chess game. These complaints are often describing organizations utilizing a control strategy – a model that assumes low employee commitment, is based on hierarchy, and seeks to maintain order and achieve efficiency. This model is designed to produce reliable results but fails to inspire outstanding performance.

In contrast, the commitment strategy works to develop mutual trust. It removes levels of hierarchy, empowers employees, and creates jobs with more responsibility and flexibility. Management hierarchies are relatively flat and differences in status are minimized. At the heart of it, the commitment strategy believes that eliciting employee commitment will lead to enhanced performance.

If the commitment strategy is so great, why don’t we see more organizations using it? There is a cost associated with the commitment strategy. It requires managers to learn new skills, invest more in relationships, handle greater levels of uncertainty, and move outside their comfort zone – where they will experience the discomfort associated with changing habits and attitudes.

I believe the commitment strategy not only leads to enhanced performance, but it also leads to greater retention. People who are committed will choose to stay with the organization. Based on my knowledge and experience, here are nine ways we can build commitment in our organizations.

  1. Effective Leadership – A strong measure of leadership is the willingness of the team to follow. If we want to be the employer of choice, we must grow our personal leadership skills. These leadership skills include communication, listening, integrity, transparency, and self-awareness.
  2. Opportunity – Opportunities can come in many forms – increased pay, promotion, professional development. People are looking for opportunities for growth, and if our company doesn’t provide opportunities they will look somewhere else.
  3. Autonomy – Autonomy can mean letting people set their own schedules, work at their own pace, make independent decisions, and more. Higher levels of autonomy tend to result in increased motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity.
  4. Ownership – Ownership is similar to autonomy, but means the employee is trusted to make decisions that impact the organization’s success. For example, developing new programs, defining processes, and proposing changes.
  5. Ability to succeed – Do our teams have the tools they need to succeed? Is there a sufficient budget? Have they been properly onboarded? Do they have mentors? As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our employees have what they need to be successful in our organizations.
  6. Social connection – Research shows that people with work pals are less likely to accept an offer outside their company. And the more workplace friends they have the more likely they are to stay. The importance of social connection at work varies by generation, but overall it’s correlated with retention.
  7. Work-life balance – Technology has increased work demands and impacted our ability to draw firm boundaries between work and life-outside-of-work, resulting in increased anxiety and burnout. Focus on the long-game and support staff when they request time off.
  8. Passion – As leaders, we don’t have control over every aspect of staff retention. Employees bring their own drive, motivation, and passion. But, we can look for passion in our hiring processes. If someone loves the subject of their work, they are more likely to stay.
  9. Special sauce – What makes our organization unique and different? Is it the annual holiday party? Weekly flower arrangements? Free gym memberships? Special sauce can be anything (and it doesn’t have to be huge or expensive), but it needs to be something our employees can’t find anywhere else.

Handel, M. (2003). The sociology of organizations: Classic, contemporary, and critical readings. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA.

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