Re: Commitment LO238

Eric Bohlman (
Fri, 24 Feb 1995 22:53:45 -0800 (PST)

Replying to LO236

> Uh-huh. "Commitment" is an observer's word, not a participant's. People
> who are committed show it. They don't usually have any reason to use the
> word itself.
> Regards

Furthermore, "commitment" has to be "to" something. It's meaningless to
speak of an individual or group as being "committed" without saying what
they're committed to. It's always a good idea to ask what the
committment is supposed to be to; it often turns out that once this is
answered, the problem turns out to be that one person has somehow
expected another to read his/her mind, or more precisely, that the person
who isn't "committed" is working from different mental models than the

I'm reminded of a story told in Maryann Keller's _Rude Awakening_ about
two workers in a GM plant whose job was to install a bracket on a
particular place on a chassis, but frequently put it on wrong. This had
been going on for quite a while, and then a new plant manager came in. He
took the workers to various other points on the production line and showed
them how the bracket was used in later assembly steps, and how those steps
were affected if the bracket was put on wrong. The two workers
immediately learned how to put the bracket on right.

Here, superficially it would look like the workers weren't "committed" to
doing a good job, but in reality, they weren't "committed" to what
appeared to them to be a completely arbitrary rule about how to put the
bracket on (since they had no idea why they were putting it on). As soon
as they became aware of what the operation *meant*, their "commitment" to
doing it correctly became obvious.

In other cases, "lack of commitment" may really mean "inability to do the
impossible." Gary Fellers cites the case of a pizza parlor where all the
delivery drivers were catching flack for taking too long to deliver a
pizza and come back. The manager thought the drivers were slacking,
because he had made several trips himself and timed them. The problem was
that he had timed how long it took himself to drive out to those places
and back at a time when traffic was very light. His timing did *not* take
into account the time needed to load up the pizza, the time spent waiting
to merge into traffic, the time spend waiting for traffic lights, the time
spent parking, the time spent carrying the pizza from the car to the
customer's address, the time spent waiting for the customer to answer the
door, the time spent waiting for the customer to pay, and any traffic
delays on the way back. The drivers were doing the best they could, and
were "committed" to doing it as quickly as possible, yet because the
manager didn't personally have to deal with the various hoops they needed
to jump through, he interpreted their times as a lack of "committment."

Another illustration is the story Deming told about the shoe factory. The
thread on the (very expensive) machines for stitching soles was constantly
breaking, and the operators were spending over 10% of their time
rethreading the machines. Management assumed that the operators were
breaking the thread as a result of inexperience and carelessness. Deming
used some simple SPC and determined that the pattern of breaks, and their
distribution among the operators, indicated that the cause had to be
something common to everyone rather than individual characteristics of the
operators. He discovered that the company was buying a low-grade thread
in order to get a price break, and that this thread just wasn't strong
enough. Changing the thread fixed the problem (and the savings in
downtime more than paid for the higher cost of the thread). His point in
telling the story was that there was *nothing* the operators could have
done to fix the problem on their own; they could have done their jobs with
godlike perfection and the thread would still break. They had put all
they could into their jobs; all more "commitment" from them could do would
be to make them feel lousy.

Of course, one source of *genuine* commitment problems is conflicting
goals. The classic case is the one where a plant's management talks about
the need for quality, but simultaneously demands that people cut corners.
Or where the CEO is given free reign to run the company as he sees fit, as
long as the next quarter's profits are 5% greater than this quarter's.
These conflicting goals usually take the form of "but sentences"; "this is
important, but..." Most people have learned through experience that if
there's a conflict between the statements on either side of the "but," the
second statement is the true one. If a company tells its employees that
teamwork is important, *but* their performance evaluations will be based
on how they rank relative to their teammates, you're not going to get much
commitment to teamwork.

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From: (Eric Bohlman)