Many organizations talk about Commitment, but do they understand what it means – for them? Business leaders need to carefully consider what this term means before selecting this as a core value.
The definitions offered in Wiktionary would suggest the following applies to the business use of this term:
- Promise or agreement to do something in the future.
- Being bound emotionally/intellectually to a course of action or to other people.
- The trait of sincerity and focused purpose.
However, BusinessDictionary.com would suggest the use of the term Commitment simply applies to the financial arrangement between a borrower and lender. If this is true, then clearly some organizations are addressing the core value of Commitment as long as they pay their bills on time – or collect money from borrowers in a timely fashion.
What do customers think the term Commitment means? What about employees? And are shareholders, suppliers and others aligned with the definition?
A recent study by professors at University of Illinois shows that businesses suffer when they are viewed as not keeping their commitment, even when they follow the perceived approval from financial analysts and the business community. One of the researchers, Matthew Kraatz, suggests “People ascribe traits to organizations and evaluate them as if they were people. Some are trustworthy, reliable and credible. Others are opportunistic, self-interested and shifty.”
What does the term Commitment mean to you? Your answer will be affected by your experiences and learning from your surrounding environment and the influences of local culture, reference groups, social class, family, economic variables, and various information sources. A person in Bangalore, India will have a different view of this term than someone in Boston, MA, USA. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that everyone has the same understanding of an important value like Commitment.
Let’s look at a few organizations that make reference to the value of Commitment.
At Bowe, Bell & Howell, a provider of mailing and document management solutions based in Wheeling, IL., they have included the phrase “Everything-Better Commitment” as one of their company values . It could be assumed that customers believe this company is constantly striving to make everything better, that’s in their control. Does this include helping the US postal service make everything better, which clearly plays a key role in their value chain? Do employees know their role in living this value, and how are they rewarded for fulfilling the promise of this value? What boundaries exist for them? How much should shareholders be willing to see invested in making everything better? The list could go on.
What are missing are some tools and guidelines on how to interpret this company value so that customer, employees, shareholders, suppliers and others know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Stories are a great way to explain the boundaries that exist around an organizational value. By highlighting examples of what employees have done to exemplify this value, and where they crossed the line, help give all stakeholders a clearer sense of what a particular value means to an organization.
Another example of an organization that highlights the importance of Commitment is FedEx. While the term Commitment is not specifically stated as one of their core values, the essence of this value is captured in their view of ‘Service’ which they have defined as: our absolutely, positively spirit puts our customers at the heart of everything we do. Only FedEx can claim the phrase “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” highlight the importance of storytelling in a short manifesto, with a few terrific FedEx examples:
“FedEx has an award called the “Purple Promise” that honors employees who keep FedEx’s delivery promise that packages will “absolutely, positively” arrive overnight. The Purple Promise award unearths stories like these: In St. Vincent, a tractor trailer accident blocked the main road going into the airport. Together a driver and ramp agent tried every possible alternate route to the airport but were stymied by traffic jams. They eventually struck out on foot, shuttling every package the last mile to the airport for an on-time departure. In New York, after a delivery truck broke down and the replacement van was running late, a FedEx driver initially delivered a few packages on foot, but then, afraid she’d never finish in time, she managed to persuade a driver from a competitor to take her on the last few deliveries.”
Now that’s Commitment in action!