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Compliance and Commitment

Compliance and Commitment

I’ve always been intrigued by the difference between compliance and commitment. They are simple contrasts that make consultants into heroes because so many senior people don’t grok the difference.

Of course, that’s assuming the consultant understands the difference.

Compliance works only so long as the authority is present, has a big stick, and demonstrates willingness to use it. That’s why on any interstate highway the average speed is at least 10 miles above the posted limit, until there’s a police car in sight. That’s why Prohibition closed 80,000 New York City saloons, only to see 130,000 speakeasies take their place.

The threat of reward and punishment branded by hierarchical leaders (the title printed on their business card and the size of their office—and often, ego) is effective only so long as they are present, can effectively provide carrots and sticks, and have a recent history of doing so. But the problem with mere compliance is that it is entirely reactive. That is, very few people will voluntarily come forward with innovation and ingenuity, and will often even refrain from prudent warnings. Compliant organizations are dull, conservative, and poor competitors in volatile times. (Do law firms come to mind here?)

The military might seem like the ultimate compliant organization, but assaults and defenses are far more effective when the participants are committed to the cause, not merely ordered to charge or resist. Do you prefer people who are ordered and monitored to be dealing with clients, or people who truly love being with them and helping them? Do you want people meeting quotas, fearful for their jobs, or people finding new business because they’re so attuned to providing value to others?

Poorly run organizations—most airlines, newspapers, banks, to name a few underachievers—demand compliance with rules, processes, and policies. Truly outstanding organizations—Apple, Fedex, Amica Insurance—create evangelists among employees and customers alike.

You can’t demand evangelism. You need people committed to the cause. That’s not so difficult, really, unless, of course, you’re insecure and don’t really believe in the cause yourself. That’s when you try to order the troops to attack from the rear, they’re unsuccessful and stream by you in retreat, leaving you to face the enemy all alone.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 2

  • Alan Weiss

    August 3, 2011

    Maybe we need a “commitment officer”!!

  • Juan Llanos

    August 3, 2011

    Brilliant! As a Compliance Officer trying to innovate in a world of dullness and mediocrity, I cannot agree more with you. Fantastic! Thank you for your crystal clarity and eloquence, Alan.

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