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.


Productivity Products: Trello vs. Evernote

In Student Affairs, we are constantly juggling multiple projects and deadlines. It can be daunting to keep track of all the items on our to-do lists. Fortunately, there are some great productivity systems to help us. But which products can serve us best?

I have used Evernote daily for several months and I love it! Recently our department started exploring Trello for collaborative projects and tasks. I am still learning my way around Trello, but here are some of my initial thoughts on both.



Trello is a project management application that makes collaboration easy. It has a remarkably clean and visually appealing interface.


Trello is great for:

  1. Project management. Map out a big project  with lists and see all your to-do items on one board. Break larger tasks into smaller tasks. The most common lists seem to be To Do, Doing, and Done, but you can also create lists like Today, Tomorrow, and Someday, or Big Ideas and Little Ideas.
  2. Event Planning. Create due dates and visually arrange them on the calendar. If you have annual or reoccurring events, Trello is a great place to archive and record tasks after project completion for easy reference.
  3. Collaboration. Add members to a board and communicate about tasks by leaving comments on notes. Notes can be assigned to members, and when a note is updated the assigned member(s) can receive a notification.
  4. Multiple to-do lists. You can easily break up your to-do list by day, week, or month, and tasks can be moved from one list to another effortlessly.
  5. Supervision. If you are overseeing a project, you can see which team members are contributing to tasks and how the project is progressing. If team members have questions, they can post the questions on notes and you can respond.



Evernote is a digital filing cabinet. It is an excellent tool for helping you remember everything (hence, the elephant logo)!


Evernote is great for:

  1. Lists. I love to make lists. I have lists of words, quotes, movies, songs, memories…you get the idea.
  2. Going paperless. I still like to make notes on paper, but I can take pictures of my handwritten notes and back them up on Evernote. Evernote can decipher the text on pictures which allows me to include pictures of these handwritten notes in my searches.
  3. Brain dumping. Evernote is my backup brain. I dump everything into it, which allows me to free up my mental capacity. Once all these thoughts and ideas  are out of my head, I easily prioritize and categorize them into notes and notebooks.
  4. Storing email. Evernote gives you an email address which allows you to turn your email into a note. Just forward the email you want to save – travel confirmation information, newsletters, or tracking online orders – to your Evernote email address.
  5. Sharing notes. You can share a note with another Evernote user or a non-Evernote user using their email address.

As I mentioned, I am an avid user of Evernote. I use it throughout the day to keep track of names, blog ideas, birthdays, websites, and meeting notes. However, I am impressed by Trello’s clean interface and collaborative possibilities.

What is your experience with Trello and Evernote?

10 Tips for Getting It All Done


I recently revisited some of my old blog posts and found this gem. I have been a hobby blogger for the past seven years, and when I first started blogging I wrote a lot about balancing my personal and professional life. Although my days are filled with different responsibilities now, I still find these tips extremely useful!

The past twelve months have been extremely busy. At the height of it all, I was working full time, preparing for a baby, writing my dissertation, serving as a committee chair for the local United Way, and running a side business. How do you do it all – balance home and work while finding meaning in modern life?

Here are ten tips for getting it all done and feeling fulfilled at the end of the day:

1. Set small goals. Most of my commitments are part of a larger long-term goal, such as finishing graduate school. It these cases, it can take a long time to reach success. Instead of measuring success by the completion of my degree, I set goals each quarter to work on my assignments each week. By setting small goals, you can benefit from achieving success more quickly.

2. Build self-efficacy. When I achieve a small goal, I am motivated to work towards another goal because it reinforces my belief that my actions can lead to positive results. This is in effect building self-efficacy – the belief that our actions have certain consequences. Remind yourself of your achievements. Research tells us that people who believe they can accomplish a goal are more likely to achieve that goal.

3. Write it down. I don’t know about you, but ideas and thoughts swim in my head all day, and every once in a while I have to “unload” my brain. Writing things down allows us to focus our attention on the important things, rather than spending energy remembering a thousand little things. By writing down everything that’s on your mind, you’ll also be able to group similar items (just like when you file papers). You may find that some items can be accomplished simultaneously.

4. Nurture your relationships. I have all my girlfriends on speed dial. If I’m having a bad day or need someone to give me an “atta girl,” I call up a friend. Relationships are like our emotional armor – they protect us from disappointment, fear, loneliness, and set-backs. Medical researchers have found that those who have friends tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer than those who do not.

5. Work it out. A few years ago, I was talking to my physician about all the stress in my life – her prescription? Exercise. In our modern world, we sit at desks, talk on the phone, and type on our keyboards all day. There is no outlet for our natural fight or flight responses to deal with stress. Over time, either days or weeks, the stimulus we take in begins to accumulate. Exercise is a natural stress reliever and a mood enhancer.

6. Schedule the “big stuff”. The best analogy for this comes from Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If your time is analogous to a bottle, and you first fill your bottle with small rocks and sand then there is no room for the “big rocks.” However, if you first fill your bottle with “big rocks,” then the small rocks and sand will fit in between the cracks. Covey’s message is to schedule the important stuff first – a date with your spouse, a phone call to your best friend, a workout, a massage, etc. Otherwise, these things won’t fit into your schedule.

7. Be grateful. No one can do it all alone. It takes many people to achieve a great accomplishment. Acknowledge the contributions of others to your own successes and show gratitude. Gratitude has many benefits as well, scientific evidence indicates that grateful people feel more inclined to share, and that gratitude is linked to optimism, better health, and positive social interactions. New research tells us what philosophers and religion have told us for thousands of years – being thankful can increase our overall happiness.

8. Be patient. When I have back to back meetings, a looming deadline, and I’m trying to catch the last bus home, it’s easy to lose my patience. In this modern world, we often find ourselves in long lines, traffic jams, and put on hold. However, without patience, we are left annoyed, frustrated, irritated, and angry. When you lose your patience, remember to be grateful. Count your blessings – you have a job to provide for your family and a house to call home.

9. Enjoy the moment. With a packed schedule, I have made the mistake of thinking my “to do” list is only temporary – that once I get through it I can enjoy life, my family, my vacation. There will always be items on your list – phone calls to make, cards to write, projects to finish. It’s part of being alive! John Lennon once said, “Life is what’s happening when we’re making other plans.” If you wait until you have checked all the items off your “to do” list, you’ll miss everything!

10. Learn to live with imperfection. Whether you have many or few commitments, no one gets it right all the time. The need for perfection turns our attention to what’s wrong with something and leaves us feeling dissatisfied. This is not to say don’t do your best, but rather try not to be overly attached and focused on how things could be different. Remember what they call the guy who finished last in his class in medical school – Doctor.

There’s one more item not included in this list, but of great importance – Keep your sense of humor!