Consensus Is Not Commitment

Getting consensus is good — but commitment is essential.  I have seen leaders who spend all their time getting their team to reach consensus, but fail over and over again to get the commitment necessary to really move ahead.  They fool themselves into believing that having consensus is the same as having commitment.  Nothing is further from the truth.

My recommendation:  Go ahead and build consensus, but understand that you’ll have to do more than that to achieve commitment.  Learn the leadership steps that hone in on commitment–real commitment.

The #1 Problem in Leadership Development

It’s the fallacy that if someone understands the theory, or the practice, or simply what to do, that he or she will do it. We see it all the time: People go off to seminars on how to be more effective as leaders, and yet when they return to work, their behavior does not change. The instructor may be entertaining, the subject interesting, the theory intriguing, and the practical steps very clear, but it takes more than knowing what to do to get behavior change.

The key is to tap into a person’s rational self-interest. It’s what effective coaching is all about. And it takes insight, feedback and accountability. It’s why unacceptable behavior so often goes unchanged even after a bad performance review, or a leadership development seminar.

The Best Answer to “What’s Your Strategy?”

I like to ask CEOs what their business strategy is.  Sometimes I get a crisp, clear response, but often the answer either is a bunch of words without clarity, or something along the lines of “We have a whole strategy…it’s in our strategy document.”  If you want your organization to be sharply-focused on delivering your strategy, and to be fully engaged and energized to make it happen, then you need to have a very clear strategy statement–one that you can repeat, and can easily be repeated by others.

There are a number of ways to do this, even for very large and complex organizations.  Here are three examples:

  1. Concise strategy statement:  “Our goal is ________, and we’ll accomplish that by focusing on two things: _________ and __________.”
  2. Rallying cry:
    • Canon: “Beat Xerox”
    • Komatsu: “Encircle Caterpillar”
    • Nike: “Just Do It.”
  3. Strategic theme:
    • Wegmans: “Every Day You Get Our Best”
    • General Electric: “We’ll be #1 or #2 in every business”
    • FedEx: “Absolutely, positively overnight.”

These approaches are very common with large companies, and they are not just marketing slogans — many, if not most, were developed primarily for employees.  I have seen CEOs effectively use all of these at all levels of organizations.  There are two keys to using these effectively:  First, make sure the statement is unambiguously clear.  You may have to provide explanations or context, especially when first using the statement.  Jack Welch provided clear and cogent reasoning behind his strategy statements, especially during his frequent visits to management development sessions–people knew that #1 or #2 meant that if a business didn’t achieve that status, GE would sell it off.  Second, use the statement over and over and over again, not just once or twice.  Show people that you are being both focused and consistent.

The Essence of Building Accountability

Instilling accountability is very important.  It is the fast track to commitment, performance, and people development. Unfortunately, way too many leaders, managers, and supervisors see accountability as making people responsible and “holding their feet to the fire.”  They see it as a way to control and manipulate people, focusing on blame, mistakes, and negative performance reviews. They take the attitude that the individual is going to come up short, and they’ll be there to point out the shortfall — as if this helps anyone.

The most effective leaders, managers, and supervisors have a different perspective.  They understand that the point of accountability is to help people succeed and grow. These leaders are no less demanding, but they act as accountability partners who help make sure all their direct reports are successful.

How are your managers using accountability?  Is the focus on shortfall or on success?  What are you doing to strengthen your accountability system?