Or is it?
How long have you been thinking about this change? Analyzing it? Considering the pros and cons? Shaping it in your mind? Assessing what it will take, and how likely that it will work? Maybe you’ve talked it over with a few people, a spouse or best friend, or (if it is a business change), key colleagues and those who report directly to you. You’ve decided to move forward. You’re committed!
Or are you?
And what about the people who have to make this journey with you?
Let’s take a look at a few key things about commitment.
For as much time as you have spent with this important change maturing in your head, it’s likely that you don’t know what you don’t know. Every big change, whether personal or business, positively or negatively perceived, has a “honeymoon.” You don’t know what you don’t know. The road ahead has unforeseen obstacles. The dream, the fantasy, the “ideal future” isn’t as easy to obtain or to sustain as you imagine it to be. Even if others have told you to expect the surprises, chances are you will still be surprised.
As you learn more, you will be challenged to continue forward–to continue deepening your commitment–or to let go of the change. There will be periods of pessimism as the inevitable challenges surface. There will be mistakes, and some really big mistakes, that will drain resources, confidence, and time. If you are prone to believing in your own infallibility–or even to just projecting that image to others–your self-confidence, and the confidence of others in you, is likely to wane.
Commitment to something new means uncommitting to something old. And, if the change is big it often means uncommitting to something that you have been strongly committed to. Committing to a serious monogamous relationship or marriage? It means letting go of those free-wheeling days (and nights); letting go of the dishes in the sink, books in the oven, Chinese take-out in the fridge kitchen; letting go of the open toothpaste squeezed from the middle; letting go of the dirty clothes strewn around the apartment or the laundry basket overflowing. It may mean letting go of friendships, or professional relationships…it can even mean letting go of family.
As you get older, commitment to something new often means uncommitting to something that you have invested significantly in creating and/or sustaining. At work, it may be the systems, the processes, the structures, perhaps even the products and services on which you have built your reputation. In your personal life it may be your lifestyle, your friends, your leisure activities, or your home.
Commitment requires deep understanding. Each time you learn more, commitment is tested. If it passes, the commitment is strengthened. If the new learning breaks the commitment-building cycle it is time to work at either rebuilding, or to “cut loose.”
Commitment comes in different forms.
Compliance is one way to express commitment. You wear your seatbelt because you don’t want to get a ticket. You “follow orders” because you need the job, or you don’t want to get into a conflict with your boss. You perform your job “by the book” since you’ve seen how that gets others bonuses and promotions. You attend religious services regularly “to keep peace in the family.” You host family Thanksgiving dinner because “it’s become a tradition.” Commitment at this level is externally driven; remove the external driver and you would be doing something different.
Internalized commitment is much stronger. It is self-motivated, self-powered, self-reinforcing. It is also much more difficult to achieve, especially when the change is not one that you have initiated. For this reason, always consider whether the commitment needed for success can be a commitment of compliance, or whether it has to be internalized.
As difficult as commitment is to achieve, it always baffles me how many people assume that others will instantly commit when introduced to a change.
In organizations, the leadership team may take months building their understanding, commitment, and alignment to a change. It continues to strengthen as the project team plans the roll-out, establishing their own commitment to the initiative. Yet when the change reaches the front line the expectation is often that people will readily–and rapidly–let go of the old and fully embrace the new.
In our personal lives the pattern is much the same. Others come to us with changes they have been contemplating (or working on) for extended periods of time; the expectation is often that we will “jump on board.” We, in turn, do the same with others. There are all sorts of rationale given for avoiding earlier conversations. “I wanted to make sure that I was committed myself.” “I had to do the research so I could answer questions.” “I wasn’t sure how people would respond.” Etc. While these may be valid reasons for waiting to enter the conversation, they do not overcome the reality about commitment. It doesn’t just happen. If you get expressions of commitment when you first introduce the new idea, remember, it is only commitment to the idea. Time will tell whether it can and will develop into commitment to the reality.
What lessons have you learned about commitment? What does, and doesn’t, work for you when you in building your own commitment? What works when you are seeking the commitment of others? Comment below.