Commitments not Commandments

Are you giving commandments from on high or is your staff making commitments for work they think is important?  I’ve been doing some consulting work for a non profit, mostly project management and business analysis. They have some SAAS software for managing cases that was purchased over 2 years ago but is only being used by a fraction of the staff. Almost all of the staff is collecting information via paper forms that is entered into a legacy system, exported, massaged in SQL Server, then uploaded to the cloud where it gets some final massaging.

There is a lot of duplication of effort and much opportunity for process improvement and reporting. We’ve formed a core project team and I’ve taken on the role of project manager. We are working together to figure out who does what and I’m asking for commitments from them, not telling them what they are going to do or when it will be due. I’ve found that working this way gets much better results than than giving orders.


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It all comes back to intrinsic motivation. Based on empirical research in the fields of psychology, behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience we know that the more control a person has over what they do at work, how they do it and when they do it, the more likely they are to have a personal stake in the outcome. The more engaged they’ll be and the more likely they’ll be to come up with innovative solutions.

Certainly it’s a lot more work up front, and it requires knowing the team at a deeper level. But the up front work pays dividends. The team feels more commitment to the project and the pressure to complete a task, if there is pressure, is internal not external. Working this way, one of the most important things I do is to ensure that no one over commits or gives an unrealistic time line. My goal is that the team can see the progress they make and that they succeed.

Bottom up is almost always better than top down. If you want to get the best out of your team, help them to see why the work is important, encourage them to take on tasks that play to their strengths, and be the coach that gets commitments instead of the manager who gives commandments.