Commitment or Compliance…It’s Your Choice

I am grateful to Marcus Buckingham for calling my attention to Bob Woodcock and the material

Bob Woodcock

he posts at his website.

Here is an excerpt from a recent and excellent article that suggests the quality of Woodcock’s reasoning and writing skills, posted on January 21, 2011.

To read the complete article, check out otgers, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

According to author Daniel Pink traditional management methods are great if what you want from your people is compliance. The problem is that most of us in leadership roles  require far more than that in the new normal that exists in these post recessionary times. Without a committed and engaged workforce our ability to create sustainable business outcomes is severely challenged.

Pink has done some ground breaking work in identifying the true drivers of better performance in the workplace. It turns out that for simple, straight forward tasks the carrot and the stick work well as motivators. For roles that require algorithmic performance, the concept of “if you do this, then you get that” works as a performance motivator. However, if the task gets more complicated – when it requires some conceptual, creative thinking – those kinds of motivators don’t work. We’ve known for years that money is not the primary motivator of successful business outcomes. Science has shown us that performance, and personal satisfaction, come down to three factors:


Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed, to run our own lives. This is where traditional management methods actually get in the way of performance. In their book First Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman identified the differences between what great managers do and what conventional wisdom dictates. Their findings indicated that without fail the managers that concentrated on following had significantly better results than their contemporaries:

• Selecting for talent.
• Set expectations by defining the right outcomes.
• Motivate by focusing on an individual’s strengths.
• Develop the people on their team by helping them find the right fit within the organization.

Defining the right outcomes and focusing on the individual strengths of the members of your team will have a dramatic effect on the sense of autonomy that you engender. Traditional management focuses on setting expectations by defining the right steps for your direct reports. Regardless of what your leadership role is within the organization (leader of others vs. leader of leaders) when you establish what the target or goal is with one of your direct reports and allow them to determine the right steps to success are you provide them with the autonomy that drives both personal satisfaction and improved performance.

The shift from being an individual contributor within the organization to being a leader of others is a difficult one to make. Most of us that have made that transition didn’t get much in the way of training for our new role. We know what has worked well for us in the past and when it comes to crunch time we reach back to those experiences and apply them with our direct reports. Unfortunately much of what we did as an individual contributor has a negative impact when it comes to managing for results with others.

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that you cultivate a true sense of autonomy with your direct reports. It is important to remember that autonomy and accountability go hand in hand. Allowing your direct reports to determine what the right steps are doesn’t mean that you will be abdicating your responsibility as a manager to ensure that targets are met and successful business outcomes are delivered. It is imperative to the success of your direct reports that you have frequent check-in conversations and that you both monitor the progress to the end result. That doesn’t mean that you should look for a status update every time you talk with the person. Establish a schedule of follow-up meetings and stick with the schedule.
It’s been said that good people don’t leave the organization they work for, they leave due to a misalignment with their manager. That’s often driven by the fact that their manager has been determined to motivate them by identifying and overcoming what s/he perceives to be their weaknesses. The fact is that people don’t change that much. As a manager you are wasting your time trying to put in what you feel was left out. Focus instead on the individual strengths and try to draw out more of what was left in.

Strength based coaching plays directly to mastery. Each of us would like to get better at what we do. I don’t believe that anyone I’ve ever managed got up in the morning and started the day thinking about how they wanted to go to work and do the worst possible job they could. It was only when I began to understand behaviour that I could see how my actions were impacting both the personal satisfaction and individual performance of my direct reports. Once I was able to apply the science of behaviour and truly understand what the motivational drives and needs were for the various people I began to see the shift from compliance to commitment.

It truly is your choice to make. I can speak from experience on both sides of the issue and I have to say that I much preferred commitment from my direct reports. Your role as a leader of a group of individual contributors puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to the level of engagement within your organization. In most cases this group of managers is directly responsible for the business outcomes of 70% to 80% of the workforce. Give them autonomy, mastery and purpose and watch them shine. Have great conversations and focus on developing their strengths. That’s the way to improve performance

*     *     *

According to Bob Woodcock, “My role is to help companies manage their talent and improve profitability by better understanding, motivating and developing their people. It’s a combination of “gut” plus science creating better, more informed decisions. I do this by training leaders to align the capacities of their people with the organizations business objectives.”

For more information please visit



Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.