Commitment, values, org change (long) LO232

Fri, 24 Feb 95 15:29:48 PST

Folks - here are my own thoughts on this issue of commitment. Chew them up
and use them as you will, I have no axe to grind and I'm not making money
in this business, I only hope to advance our collective learning. This is
my 0.02 worth: (Note: very long e-mail, you may want to read just the
first two paragraphs and then delete)

As has been said by many on this list, "lack of commitment" is frequently
cited as the cause for failure of some business, project, etc. Yet this is
rejected by some who say all people are committed.

This goes directly to the question of values which I posted (no takers, I
might add) several months back. To wit, it is a popular notion, and seems
to make sense, that it is best for an organization if the vision, goals,
and values are shared by all members. So, what are we to do when values
are not synchronized so neatly? I believe this is the essence of the "lack
of commitment" argument. It is not so much a lack of commitment as a
DIFFERENCE of commitment.

Really I think this is a far more fundamental issue than we may want to
admit, one which societies have attempted to address for centuries. My own
personal belief is that it will never be solved, that in some beautifully
sick way this is part of what gives us the energy to keep on going. Have
you ever listened to John Lennon's "Imagine" and then tried to really
imagine that world? I think I would be bored to death in that world! Maybe
this is a genetic defect, my grandparents were very active in the IRA so I
have a slightly different notion of social change than some people.

Well, back to this notion of commitment and values. From what I've seen
the "lack of commitment" charge typically comes when certain members of a
group are in disagreement with some or all of the group's goals. There may
be many reasons why this situation occurs. It seems more common in some
hierarchical organizations where all goal-setting and decision-making is
done by those in "mahogany row" and passed down to the masses. But it may
be that decisions are make by the majority and the minority are left
feeling out of sorts; democracy does not guarantee bliss. In some cases it
is impossible to say what you really believe for political reasons, but
you cannot expect someone to really change because of political
correctness, they will just make believe. This leads to the very real
sense of a lack of commitment.

It is a difficult thing to change someone else's attitude and even more
difficult to change their values. Behavior is easy if you have enough
power, but that is often quite temporary. Commitment is perhaps not really
needed by every group, but if you're planning to be around for the long
haul then there may be real value in building a sense of community, which
also involves commitment.

Some ideas on what helps and what hurts, from my experience:
- it helps to clearly communicate the values of the group
* first you need to figure out what those values are.
* normally they include only what's important to the group's mission.
You would not want to include things that are unrelated to the
group. This makes it okay to have divergent values and beliefs on
things unrelated to the mission.
* make sure everyone (or everyone who matters) agrees on the values
* review these values from time to time. Like every morning.

- it helps to make it abundantly clear that these are the things which
are important to this organization, and if you aren't in agreement,
something must change (either you find a way to change, or live with
the ever-present knowledge of a value mismatch, or you leave)
[The best discussion of this issue I've heard was a group of
fundamentalist christians discussing the ethics of working at a company
that had different values. The example was of a vegetarian who had to
work at a fast food burger joint in order to make ends meet. He was in
a quandary, but he realized that it was more important to take care of
his family than to push a lifestyle. But he also recognized the problem
and immediately made plans and began acting to find a new job which
better matched his values.]
* I don't know how this works in a legal sense, but if these values
are so important, how can someone who does not agree be part of the
group? I hope this would make one pause before writing long lists of
values. (Consider the current debate in the Republican party over
the abortion issue and you can see how much trouble you get into if
you choose values large parts of the group don't agree with and
which may not be essential to the mission.)
* Make sure new people who come to the group are told about these
values BEFORE they decide to work there.
* make every effort to hire only people whose values are in synch with
the group's values. This is becoming more common in the interviewing
process, I think. Although some are looking for people whose values
match the INTERVIEWER's preferences, which is absurd, if there is
any test of values it can only be the one's which have some valid

Now, my personal bias on this is quite consistent with my belief in all
such matters, which is that it is primarily the responsibility of each
individual to know their own values, and seek opportunities which allow
them to remain true to themselves. A lack of such understanding can only
lead to aimless wandering through life, a pointless and tedious journey
from cradle to grave. But then my heroes include Socrates and Jung, so I
put a lot of importance on values, and community, and discovery, and
learning. These are my values, not everyone's.

Times change, societies change, groups change, and individuals change. So
do the values of each, although I think there are some things which remain
constant. It is difficult but not impossible to direct these changes. For
a group, change often takes place through what we call leadership. Real
leadership can inspire people, can cause them to change their values.
Management, on the other hand, will rarely cause a change in attitude or
values, and isn't even particularly effective at changing behaviors.
Before you think I'm one of those "hero-leader" types, I must interject
that leadership can come from the group, or parts of the group, or from
anyone in the group. To my way of thinking leaders are the people who have
a clear and strong conviction to some values and are able to cause others
to move toward the same goal. It may be a common goal or it may initially
be only the leader's goal. But a leader does not necessarily come from the
higher ranks of a group. (However, a strong leader often moves or is moved
to the higher ranks of the group, as followers prefer to have a leader in
charge. The problem with this approach is that good leaders are no more
good managers than a good manager is a leader.)

As organizations become increasingly large, it becomes ever more difficult
to have common goals which are shared by all members. There is some point
where a group moves from an organization to an institution, and the
organization seeks to control and hold dominion over all its members.
While this may sound a bit like what I've been describing, it is most
certainly not what I would prescribe. This is the death knell of an
organization. The organizational and individual reflection and statement
of goals, individual understanding of and commitment to organizational
values, has to be a voluntary agreement on the part of the individuals
involved. It would be a source of unnecessary stress for the individual
and other group members if one did not share the group's values, but all
the group should do is lay the cards on the table and let the individual
decide. I don't think a group should be able to cast off one who does not
seem to comport to the group's desires.

I have to apologize for this stream-of-consciousness writing, I realize it
takes up too much space. (I suppose I ought to take a few months off and
write a book, but there's that damn mortgage!) I look forward to your
responses and hope this may have added something worthwhile to the

Sean Gawne,
Southern California Edison