Interview: With The Authors of The Power of Strategic Commitment
The Big Red Tomato Company was recently given the opportunity to interview two of the authors of the new book the The Power of Strategic Commitment: Achieving Extraordinary Results Through Total Alignment and Engagement By authors Josh Leibner, Gershon Mader and Alan Weiss.
I got the opportunity to ask some questions, via their publisher, so I figured that I’d ask Josh and Gershon to share their thoughts on why Strategic Commitment is important and what as a leader you can do about about it, in just 8 questions.
2. Why did you choose to write a book on commitment?
For more than 50 combined years we have worked with organizations around the world on improving their performance.
We have seen re-engineering efforts, restructurings, mergers, acquisitions, reductions-in-force, and many other flavors of large-scale initiatives – all aimed at improving organizational performance.
In so many cases these initiatives didn’t go well or didn’t live up to their potential. They didn’t produce the desired results and didn’t bring about the changes that were desired, usually in terms of both business results and people engagement.
There seems to always be a common factor – that even the most successful and experienced leaders don’t know how to create a sound, ambitious strategy and simultaneously build a strong and authentic platform of ownership and commitment to their success.
In so many cases leaders treat strategy and commitment/engagement as separate arenas – the former for business-minded executives and the latter for HR to address.
We saw a difference between these organizations and those who understood the importance of – and were successful in marrying – the two (strategy and commitment) and generating an environment of total ownership and commitment for the success of their strategy.
In our work we have been able to teach and coach leaders and organizations how to generate an environment of total alignment and engagement toward their strategies. And, we’ve repeatedly seen extraordinary results being produced in such environments.
So, we decided to write a book about the power of Strategic Commitment.
This is not merely a book about commitment. It is a book about the marriage and integration of Strategy and Commitment.
3. Why is now the right time for such a book to come out?
The current economic environment provides a true test of leadership.
In these times most organizations are facing scarce physical resources – budgets, expenses, travel, headcount – so leaders have to tap into, and unleash the human resources – the loyalty, ownership and commitment of their people.
This can be a hollow slogan in good times. But in challenging times this is a defining factor.
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to do it well; it just requires courage and foresight. But unfortunately many leaders don’t rise to the occasion in these times, when they are most needed at the helm, to inspire, lead and drive their troops.
Some leaders believe that the way to deal with these situations is to hide in their office and wait for the storm to pass. Yes, we see this all the time and we are shocked ourselves. This leaves employees uncertain and afraid – even paralyzed by the fear, which undermines performance.
Others make the mistake of thinking that a gloomy external environment inevitably leads to lower morale, less productivity, and general malaise. This is not true at all. People don’t have tolerance for phony cheerleading, but when executives have realistic, thoughtful, straight conversations about the opportunities and challenges of the current conditions, with conviction about how their organizations will emerge stronger than ever, people respond well to that, and they want to give their all to that effort.
Even in the cases where it is necessary to reduce the workforce, doing this effectively – with respect and a commitment to do right by those leaving and those staying – can actually increase loyalty, commitment and a desire to succeed. We’ve seen this time and time again.
Our book, The Power of Strategic Commitment: Achieving Extraordinary Results Through Total Alignment and Engagement, gives leaders and managers the insight and practical tools for how to be strong, authentic, effective and inspiring leaders in good and bad times. That wake up call and manual for how to do it are very necessary now. That is what our book is about.
4. Cynics might say that it’s common sense that committed employees are more motivated and how the business delivers its objectives. What would your response to this be?
There is a difference between understanding commitment and generating it. Most (not all) executives do in fact believe in the need for commitment, but many don’t know how to gain it; they don’t know what makes their people tick so they focus on the wrong things.
They focus on the content of the strategy – getting the objectives right and communicating them.
But, any strategy is only as good as people’s relationship to it. The most accurate and well-crafted strategy will fail if people’s ownership and accountability toward it are weak. On the other hand, an adequate strategy is much more likely to succeed when people truly feel a sense of ownership and commitment toward it.
Leaders need to focus also on the context of the strategy – creating an environment of authentic and courageous communication and ownership.
They simply don’t know how to do that, or they underestimate the importance of doing that. As a result people around them don’t address the real, uncomfortable issues, and instead of authentic commitment they get compliance.
Our book provides an inspiring and practical framework, not merely more theory about commitment.
5. How long did the book take to write and how did you work together on the project?
The book itself took us about a year to write.
The initial seeds of the book were sown in a 24-page white paper we self-published in 2006 entitled “Strategic Commitment: Creating the Organizational Environment that turns Apathy, Compliance and Defiance into Exceptional Performance.”
Between 2006 and 2008 we published several articles in well-known publications (see below for some of them) about issues related to Strategic Commitment and these all were received with very positive feedback and resonance.
We had wanted to write a book about Strategic Commitment for some time. But in late 2007, in one of our meetings with Alan Weiss (who we met in late 2006) we all decided to write the book together. We created an outline and started the process of pursuing a publisher.
With respect to the actual process of writing the book, the three of us crafted the initial outline together, then Gershon and Josh wrote a deeper outline for each chapter one at a time, Alan turned each outline into a first draft of a chapter, then Gershon and Josh worked with that draft to get it close to a final draft for submission. We then all signed off on each part.
The original ideas and frameworks for the book came from Gershon and Josh. Alan, who has extensive corporate consulting experience was very excited about this collaboration, but acknowledged our subject-matter-expertise regarding Strategic Commitment. Even though Alan is a more experienced, known and accomplished author (he has written more than 30 books) he was very generous, supportive and aligned with our content expertise. The process, as a result, was quite smooth and enjoyable.
6. In your experience, what increased rate of return (ROI) can organizations which follow a Strategic Commitment programme expect to gain versus ones that don’t adopt such a programme?
First of all – there is an entire chapter in the book about the ROI from The Power of Strategic Commitment
We judge the ROI of organizations who have taken on the program of Strategic Commitment in three ways:
First, in gains in specific measurable business results. This means clear improvements in the business metrics used such as: Revenues, Profits, Customer Satisfaction and loyalty, Quality measures, and Innovation.
At the outset of any Strategic Commitment engagement the senior team of the organization aligns on the extraordinary results they are committing to achieve by generating an environment of total alignment and engagement and we track those throughout the process. There are multiple examples in the book of such results.
Second, Gallup has done an enormous amount of research on this topic, and has concluded that a .25 improvement (on a 5-point scale) in their Q12 Engagement metric leads to measurable improvement in organizational performance.
We have our own version of surveys that parallel the Q12, and in most cases, the increases we help organizations achieve far exceed the .25 Gallup declares as significant.
Third, is feedback from our clients; what they report and say to us. We have partnered with the vast majority of our clients repeatedly over many years – some as many as 15. In fact, we refer to our clients as “partners for life.” And in their words, the benefits to their bottom line have been dramatic, sustainable and worth well beyond the investment of time, energy and money they made. They are often eager to speak on our behalf, give references, and be featured in our publications and web site. And, many are in our book.
7. The book provides a call to action to HR leaders to Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way. Why do you think HR leaders hold the key to the success of a Commitment Program?
Human Resources is exactly about humans – the people in the organization. Their mandate, whether they live up to it or not, is to ensure that the human capital of the organization is in great shape, and that means the traditional benefits and administration items, but also the levels of ownership, commitment, engagement, morale and productivity.
HR leaders can be key to the success of a commitment program, if they accept the mantle of responsibility and step up with the requisite courage, conviction and strength to be a true partner to the CEO.
Many say they do that but in fact they don’t. They are afraid to do be leaders and coaches, and remain the administrators or bureaucrats who consume themselves with the typical administrative HR activities.
Those that do step up make an enormous contribution. They hold themselves as “commitment coaches” and as such they make sure to be more tuned in to the day-to-day, “hallway” conversations permeating the organization. They are willing to take on the bold role of guiding, counseling and coaching the CEO and their peers in walking the talk, addressing context issues, and being the kind of leaders people want to follow. And they act as guardians and ambassadors for ensuring the organizational culture is one of total alignment and engagement inside which extraordinary results are achieved.
8. After reading the book what is the next action any Chief Executive or business leader should take?
The book is filled with insight and practical applications, including checklists, scorecards and surveys on how to generate an environment of total alignment and engagement; how to lead from the front, build a strong leadership team, engage the middle managers and generate an environment of honest, authentic, courageous and effective communications and trust. Based on this insight the CEO should start applying practical practices to their day-to-day leadership of their organization.
The CEO can take on specific changes in their own leadership style and approach.
They could meet with their head of HR and share their insights and devise a comprehensive plan of how to use the learning of the book to get the senior executive team to the next level.
They could share the book with the entire senior executive team, or better give a copy for everyone to read as background to a conversation about how to take the organization to the next level. In the book there is a Strategic Commitment Scorecard designed for exactly the purpose of assessing your organization (we also have this on our website in a self-scoring format). The CEO and his senior executive team can fill out the Scorecard, and ask each of their direct reports to do the same. Then sit down and discuss the results – graphing the group results showing the high-low ratings is also a good way to see the degrees of divergence within the group. Discuss the areas of greatest weakness, and ask, “Do we believe the areas we are weak are significantly affecting the performance of our organization?” If the answer is no, ask yourself (as the leader of the group) if that is an a) honest answer, or b) a politically correct answer. If you believe there is hesitance about being honest within the group, or if people feel the need to “round the corners” on their communication, that is your first indication of the need for a more open, honest environment.
If a CEO decides action is required, he should consider an impartial – but highly committed and competent – partner and coach to help guide the group through the process of improving the senior executive team dynamic. It is very difficult for a business leader to facilitate these kinds of discussions – oftentimes the hallway conversations pertain to the leader’s behavior or management style, and it is almost impossible to stay centered and open when listening to direct, honest feedback.
The list above contains some of our immediate advice to CEO’s after they read the book. But our advice is also that – once the CEO decides to go down the path of generating Strategic Commitment (in whatever manner) he should be prepared for a tumultuous – and highly rewarding – adventure. Once he begins he must not go back. Going back, not following through or failing can generate more cynicism, resignation and stagnation then before he started.
As Jack Welch said,
“If you teach a bear to dance, you better be prepared to keep on dancing until the bear wants to stop.”
You can buy The Power of Strategic Commitment: Achieving Extraordinary Results Through Total Alignment and Engagement directly from Amazon.
Articles written by Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader:
· Are Executives Sabotaging Your Strategy? – Workforce Management
· Leadership Traits that Erode Commitment – Workforce Management
· Chief Commitment Officer – HR Executive Online
· Getting Buy-in – CoreNet Leader – Download the article here