Re: Evidence for Commitment LO240

Michael McMaster (
Sat, 25 Feb 1995 10:50:13 GMT

Replying to LO213 --

In quoting my message LO193 out of context, Carol Anne has put me on the
wrong side of the fence.
> Michael McMaster writes (in part) LO193:
> > This issue of commitment is important to our way forward.
> It is a *very* important issue, and is key to one of the projects we're
> working on with a client, a group about about 500 people. One of the key
> influencing factors to investors is "how committed are your people?"
> It has senior management concerned, because they have no answer, beyond
> "Uh, very!" They have no criteria for measurement or assessing commitment.

I think it has "senior management concern" because it is part of the
unquestioned meta-narratives of management which, in attempting to get
people do what they want by means of mechanistic psychology (just the
inherited baggage of management "theory"), they know only to talk this way
and use this language for assessment. What they don't seem to realise is
that even getting the assessment right won't help. It will lead to
activities that will not produce the results they are after. (The tools
used will be "motivational" and these have shown themselves to be
inadequate decades ago.)

I am suggesting that the ideas of "commitment" that we have in management
and organisational terms (which frequently need to be distinguished from
common useage a la Deming's statement that management needs to understand
and create "operational definitions" for its tools) are not only useless
but dangerous. The dangers will be revealed with some deconstruction of
what follows in her communication. > > Our first question is: What IS

To commit is linguistically rooted in the "ability to promise". It has
English legal tradition and is powerful when considered as a speech act.
What is being asked, however, is about the supposed internal states which
are the source of such speech acts (at best) but more commonly what are
the supposed internal states that produce energetic, focussed and
"count-on- able" actions from individuals or groups of people.
Considering commitment as an internal state will lead to all kinds of
unsavoury practices like exhortation and pressure. ("Are _you_ committed
or not?") It is based on the mechanistic psychology fallacy that says
there must be an internal state to explain every external action.

It will be much more accurate, useful and respectful to consider what is
wanted - such as extraordinary results, an externally visible spirit,
certain behavioural qualities - and then measuring them and concentrating
on achieving them. The specific question that is validly being asked is
frequently, "Can we count on these people or this organisation to keep its
word?" That can be measured and the ability can be developed without any
reference to internal states.

> Our second questions are: How do you measure it?

The first of the second questions now becomes quite easy. You can measure
anything you want either directly or by using indirect measures. Or both.
I suggest that you think in terms of indicators, registers and "ordinal"
measures rather than "cardinal" measures which purport to measure exactly
the thing wanted. Why? Because I suggest that what is being looked for
will be, at least partially, an emergent phenomenon more amenable to less
precise measures - at least at the beginning.

For the rest of the "second questions", you can see the trouble that they
are leading to. The least of this trouble is ability to measure. The
worst is what domination from judgement and assessment will result. (I
can speak with passion about this because I've spent many years in many
organisations teaching committed speaking and seen it turned into very
sophisticated manipulation. Probably unfortunately, very good results
were produced even so. The unfortunate part is that the humanity didn't
improve and the full possibility of cooperating, creative human beings was

>What evidence do you
> require to make the definitive statement: "This person is committed!"?
> Is there a scale from "uncommitted" through "somewhat committed" to "wholly
> committed," and how do you know when someone has moved along that spectrum?
> What observable behaviors could you expect to see in an organization that
> exhibits commitment to the successful execution of their mission?

Rather than looking for scales of commitment, try looking for scales of
coordination action, sharing information, teaching/learning, reliability,
energy levels, communication, participation.

And my second tip is to not look to processes to get commitment nor to get
any of the above. Instead look to inhibiting structures and their removal
on the one hand, and creating an enrolling, engaging, compelling dialogue
on the other. When an idea is open, nurturing, growing, has room for full
expression and participation, it becomes compelling of its own accord.
When this self organising process occurs (with self responsible people in
free systems) the results are amazing and the whole world will say, "those
people are committed" - at least until they realise that the term is for
use by someone in the stands (outside of the game) for description of the

Thanks for the opening. I am making amends for some of my past as well as
sharing my experience and my thinking. Your interest coming from being on
the line for some performance created the opening that was useful for me -
and I hope for others.

Mike McMaster <>