Goals vs. Commitments, Again… Because Jessica is Committed to Making Us Discuss This Further.

Jessica Lee Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Jessica Lee, Leadership, Performance

I had this back and forth conversation last week with Laurie Ruettimann over at Punk Rock HR on this notion of goals versus commitments. Let’s rewind and revisit the chat:

  • Microsoft has employees establish commitments rather than setting goals.Commitment
  • Me?I like the positioning of it – commitments seem to tie back to an employee’s values and therefore, it feels deeper. More meaningful. Goals are transactional. They’re set, then accomplished, then you get another one.
  • Laurie? She feels that work is a transaction, and commitment is something she’s made to her husband and the cats she has adopted. Employees aren’t paid to commit, and companies don’t make commitments to you as an employee, Laurie feels.

It’s an interesting discussion. And Kris Dunn jumped in the conversation too last week. First, I get that it’s hard to make the argument for commitments over goals as an HR pro, especially when you think about having to lay someone off, for example. You take an employee who is committed, deeply committed. Then you have to make financial decisions for your organization and let some staff go. Particularly for individuals who have demonstrated commitment to your organization – it’s heartbreaking, right? And if you’ve done R.I.F.’s, you know what that’s like. (“I’ve given so much to the company.” “How can you be doing this to me?” And to think I had to answer those questions in my first HR job – at age 20! What were they thinking? That’s another post for another day.)

But on the flip side, I also know what it’s like to not be committed. Me. Yes. Let’s not be naive about this – I’ve had bad days, and bad runs. And you won’t get the best out of me when my mentality is that I’m just showing up and doing what I need to do to earn a paycheck. I promise you I’m ineffective when I’m not committed and distracted (including with wandering eyes). You can’t have an organization full of noncommittal Jessica’s – trust me. There’s no moving forward. There’s no progress. So let’s talk about commitment a bit further…

I’m not normally an academic human resources wonky type – but this article landed in my lap right after Laurie and I took our different positions on goals versus commitments. And, I was interested in reading the piece just based on this one line: studies have shown a positive correlation between employee commitment and job performance. And then it got better as I read on. The study breaks down five different forms of commitment at work:

  • work ethic endorsement
  • career commitment
  • affective organizational commitment
  • continuance organizational commitment
  • job involvement

The journal piece went on to discuss commitment as one of the key factors for organizational survival and growth, and a key factor to become a learning organization. And I buy it. 100%. Think about it – without commitment – how does an organization innovate? How does it pull itself from the trenches? Organizations are made up of people – and when one has a tough day or tough week at work – isn’t it going to take a commitment to bring them back the next day to try it again? Breaking down AIG, and Wells Fargo, and untangling Freddie Mac and Bear Stearns, and salvaging GM and Chrysler… none of that is going to happen overnight, nor easily. It’s going to take some serious commitment – to your given craft, to a product or industry, or simply out of a desire to be part of an effective organization – and really, to bettering America. (Sorry to pull that card!)

Commitment, we need. When you make a commitment, it’s closer to your core. And when I’m recruiting people, I want someone who is committed in any of those five ways, to the values of my organization, and not someone who is just there for a transaction – create a widget, then earn a paycheck. Goals are transactional. Commitments are lasting. Commit not to an organization – fine. Commit to their ideals, mission and values. Commit to being a certain kind of person. Just commit – because now is definitely the time for commitment.