Commitment and team performance in times of change

How to Generate Commitment and Performance When Your Organisation Needs it the Most

Restructuring projects, such as those which arise in times of crisis, or are stipulated during M&A integrations, turnarounds and important strategic initiatives, are characterised by uncertainty. And uncertainty can be destructive. It dampens spirits, stirs up anxiety and kills creativity and productivity. No wonder, when the team starts to doubt tried and tested methods which seem to no longer work, when new rules apply, and responsibilities change. No wonder when commitment is lacking and team performance is as low as ever.

Human nature is programmed to reject changes at first. The reason for this is that our brain is fundamentally lazy. We avoid effort where we can, we stick to our habits and routines. As they’re tried and tested, they allow us to reduce risks and increase (in the Darwinian sense) our chances of survival. Changes bring about fears of loss, which create a strong emotional barrier. This unfortunately also means that, exactly when they need unrelenting engagement, managers often get only restrained enthusiasm, or, when things are going badly, even downright opposition.

“Never change a running system. We don’t want to risk breaking what (still) works,” is the argument made by those who oppose the change. If the reasoning behind the change and its value aren’t sufficiently conveyed or transmitted, groups which previously couldn’t stand the sight of each other may even team up against their new common enemy: “the restructuring.” The good news is that engagement, effort and commitment can be induced. The emphasis here is on leadership.

Commitment sustains itself

Once a high level of commitment has been achieved, it sustains itself. Commitment boosts self-esteem, increases job satisfaction, raises energy, and releases employees’ full potential. We need commitment, especially in difficult times, when speed is key and the focus on numbers provides a necessary distraction from whatever problems we’re grappling with.

If you want to encourage commitment in your organisation, start by answering these 7 questions:

  1. Are you an effective leader?
    Leadership means, among other things, countering uncertainty, spreading hope and daring to take risks. You won’t have a floodlight to light up the dark jungle trail you’ll be stumbling down when executing your restructuring project, but at most a flickering torch. Leaders have a specific goal, and their vision inspires others to follow them. Tell your team that’s following you in the dark about the more pleasant, brighter path which the trail will lead to, painting a picture of your goal and the success which awaits you at the trail’s end.
  2. Are you visibly burning with enthusiasm, and is the fire strong enough to set others alight?
    A fish rots from the head down. If your employees aren’t enthusiastic about their work, you might be the reason. The best management tool is sometimes a mirror. People only burn with enthusiasm about something when they see that the person who’s responsible for it does too. If your flame starts to flicker and the heat of your passion begins to cool down, your followers will notice immediately. Employees instinctively sense when their leader’s engagement declines. So, invest your personal time in the restructuring, discuss it often with your employees, make it consistently clear how important this work is and celebrate even small wins with those involved.
  3. Do you know Simon Sinek?
    Then I’m sure you impart a purpose that drives everyone in your organisation: This is why I get out of bed in the morning, I want to make a difference here. Your employees don’t care about working for your organisation, they want to be part of a mission, experience progress and pride, grow. If Martin Luther King had communicated with less pathos, for example saying “I have a strategic plan” instead of “I have a dream!”, he’d never have had such a lasting impact on so many people until today.
  4. Are your employees empowered?
    I have no time for talk about agility being the solution to all problems. However, all companies must be able to react quickly to changes in order to stay competitive nowadays. You won’t get agility with micromanagement. Employees need to be free to make decisions, so the organisation can react quickly. Give your employees the chance to be influential. There’s no easier way to encourage commitment.
  5. Who takes responsibility for results in your company?
    Taking responsibility for results not only increases employee commitment, it also supports the right kind of thinking and working, moving away from sequential tasks and towards goal-oriented work. The responsibility that is given to employees says a lot about their competency and value to the organisation. Try giving each of your employees a sense of value and competency, and watch how commitment levels shoot upwards.
  6. Do your employees feel appreciated?
    What, specifically, do you do to help your employees grow? Do you use all means available to you: coaching, training, professional challenges, internal career development? This question is often immediately answered with “Yes, of course, I do all of that.” Do your latest appreciation surveys suggest, that 70% of the workforce are rather satisfied? Is European average good enough?
  7. Is progress being made quickly enough?
    You achieve commitment by making progress. On a small and a large scale. If you create momentum and keep it going, you’ll quickly progress and produce results. You’ll spur your organisation on with subproject successes, clever progress criteria and the right OKR management. Insist on daily progress, effective communication and smart leadership!