The Importance of Commitment

Bill has been the CEO of a prominent financial services firm for almost a decade. He knows the industry and his company well, has a good amount of visibility in front of his people, and delivers powerfully-worded speeches that are capable of getting them motivated. The only problem is…they’re not. In fact, morale is down, performance is declining, and turnover seems to be increasing.

About six months ago, the company began the repositioning process. After years in the business, sales have been increasingly harder to come by, demanding more resources each year in order to make the same level of sales as the year before. A repositioning (a concerted effort to position the company, brand, products, and services in a new way so there are few or no substitutes) was determined to be the best way for the company to get in front of its evolving customer market without continuing the significant outlay.

The problem, however, is that Bill is not 100% committed to the new position. While he feels in agreement with some parts, he is not whole-heartedly behind the entire package. He pushes his personal feelings aside and does his job at promoting the new rollout. His lack of commitment to the company’s new direction, however, is felt despite his attempts to convince employees otherwise with his carefully-worded speeches.

The Disservice of Lip Service
Following is an excerpt from “The CEO's role in leading transformation,” an article written by Scott Keller of McKinsey & Company in the McKinsey Quarterly, 2007, on the topic of a CEO’s role in leading transformation:

CEOs who give only lip service to a transformation will find everyone else doing the same. Those who fail to model the desired mind-sets and behavior or who opt out of vital initiatives risk seeing the transformation lose focus. Only the boss of all bosses can ensure that the right people spend the right amount of time driving the necessary changes.

CEO buy-in to something as major as a repositioning is critical. As the quote says, you’re the boss of bosses; so, if you aren’t buying in to what the company is selling, the likelihood is no one else will either. Your reluctance will:

  • Prevent you from appointing all the resources necessary to successfully execute the transformation—a challenge not likely faced with initiatives receiving your full support.
  • Inhibit you from being able to motivate. Change requires hard work, dedication, and the ability to move fast. If the CEO isn’t 100% sure the changes being implemented are the right ones, his or her people will feel it, just as Bill’s did. Not only will motivation be hard, but doing anything ‘fast’ will be near impossible.
  • Thwart all efforts to build and retain a strong team. The simple fact is that when employees feel a discontinuity in the company’s management and vision, it makes them doubt their own position and future with the company. Looking elsewhere becomes a recourse.

All of these effects, of course, affect the bottom-line.

The Right Approach
If you find yourself in such a situation, address it as quickly as possible. Express concern with senior management and move to correct whatever issues concern you before the initiative is further carried out. And, if for some reason you feel the approach is completely wrong for the company, it’s your responsibility to voice it now. Carrying out an initiative without your full backing can only lead to potentially disastrous outcomes for the company in the future.