HOW TO GAIN
COMMITMENT AND DE-COMMITMENT
How can you obtain emotional commitment?
Good products priced properly allow you to make a presentation, but it is
usually insufficient to obtain the crucial order. Job related competence may
allow you to get the interview, but it is usually insufficient to obtain the
Logical arguments may win the minds of your Board of Directors but if you
fail to win their hears will they really support you?
Stanford University sociologist Jeffrey Pfeffer has written a book which
nicely blends academic research and practical advise. (Managing With Power:
politics and influence in organizations. Boston:Harvard Business School Press,
Pfeffer focuses on techniques to obtain emotional commitment.
One obvious way of gaining commitment is to do favors for others.
Ill scratch your back and then you scratch my back.
It probably works better in reverse. You can build commitment by having
others do favors for you! Says Pfeffer:
"If a person complies with my request for a favor,
self-perception will tend to cause that person to think he or she likes me--why
do a favor for someone you don't like? A cycle may begin, in which I do you a
small favor, and you feel obliged to repay me. But the very act of your doing
something for me helps to commit you to me, and thus further cements the
Pfeffer cites the case of Jimmy Carter's successful win of the presidency in
1976. His strategy was simple: to build an outsider's campaign, recruit
outsiders to run it for you. In 1974, Carter approached Democrats who had lost
their primaries and asked for their help. This group became the core of his
campaign. As Carter himself states:
"Contrary to what many people assume, the most effective way
to gain a person's loyalty is not to do him or her a favor, but to let that
person do one for you."
One of our clients worked with us to utilize this technique in building up
his consulting practice. He would approach contacts and ask them to critique
his business plan, make the plan better, and to refer him to others whose
advise he could obtain. He didnt try to sell. He tried to ask for favors.
Through this process, he incorporated new ideas into the plan, making the
entire program stronger. More importantly, as highly placed people began to
assist him they became committed to his ideas. "During my first five years
in business, I never asked a soul for business. But I sure did ask for
The same principle also applies to job hunting. One of the axioms in
networking is "Never Ask Anyone for a Job." Such a direct question
puts both parties at risk of being embarrassed. A more effective way is to
enlist the supports of contacts in your effort to decide which career option
makes the most sense of you. Let them help you make a decision. And then watch
them help you implement it! For example, here is a script used by one of our
"At this point in my career, I feel like I am at a fork in the
road. One option is to continue down the same road as I came from. But there is
another road, slightly off from the main road I have been traveling. I'm
looking for your help to help me think through which option makes the best
sense for me."
Notice that the focus is not on asking for job leads. The focus is on
strategic direction. But once someone points you down the road strategically,
they are also emotionally committed to helping you implement it successfully.
Letting someone help you commits that person to you. Once people have
invested their time, they will not want you to fail-------it would make them
Moving People Out of Commitment
Getting commitment is a vital management task. Of equal importance of
Again, appeals to logic to reverse course may win the mind. True
de-commitment means the previous behavior is broken at both a conceptual and
emotional level. You have got to manage both. This is particularly true for
CEOs who are trying to get their Board to reverse course.
Pfeffer suggests that one way to do this is to suggest to people that they
were not REALLY responsible for their past decisions--they faced external
pressures to act as they did.
They were responding to the situation at the time. But now the situation is
different. They are free to do something else.
Notice the absence of attack on the individual. The focus is on pointing out
how external conditions have changed. For example:
In the movie Twelve Angry Men, eleven out of twelve jurors vote to
convict a young man accused of murder. How can the lone hold out get those
jurors to change their minds? He argues that the evidence does indeed make the
defendant appear to be guilty, but the defense lawyer did a poor job. Voting
guilty is a reasonable thing to do. Given the poor job of the defense attorney,
would the other eleven commit to spending one hour to discuss the case?
Because of the way in which he frames his request, the jurors are not asked
to admit they were wrong. He shifts the focus from the guilt to the poor job of
the defense lawyer. They only have to agree to talk for an additional hour.
Their commitment to talk is an agreement to examine the evidence in more
detail. There is no attack on the jurors.
Direct attacks almost always fail to produce genuine change in commitment.
We were asked by the owner of a company to achieve a behavioral turn-around
of the firms best salesman. He was an affirmative action law suit waiting
to happen. The company did not want to terminate its top producer, and the
salesman knew it.
Threats of legal action and personal liability were shrugged off.
How could we get him to change his behavior?
We knew we could never achieve the turn-around by attacking the salesman. We
stressed that his past behavior was entirely appropriate or even
cute given the kinds of employees the company had in the 1960's and
1970's. But the circumstances have changed and new behavior is required. Notice
the absence of attack on the individual. The focus of our talk was the
Having the CEO take that approach give us the leverage we needed to help the
Dr. Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of Stybel
Peabody Lincolnshire. Since 1979, the focus of the firm is helping companies
achieve smooth transitions for very senior executives: retained
search, coaching, and retained search. Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire is a strategic
partner of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. There are twenty six
offices in six countries to serve AIM members. Contact Maryanne Peabody at
781-736-0900 for more information or visit the website, The Board of
Directors Career Resource Center at stybelpeabody.com.