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The Four Steps of the Commitment Cycle

For commitments to be effective, they require an ongoing dialog between the customer/requester and the performer.  That dialog follows a closed-loop structure that proceeds through four distinct steps – Preparation, Negotiation, Execution, and Acknowledgement – in which each party has certain responsibilities.

1. Preparation

Requester:  Identifies the single best performer for the task and makes a specific request that includes the time, quality and cost, as well as the rationale for the request.

Performer:  Spends the time needed to fully understand the customer’s concerns.

2. Negotiation

Requester:  Makes sure the performer understands the request.  Negotiates and agrees to the conditions of satisfaction.  Understands and agrees to what the requester needs to do to enable the performer to accomplish the task.

Performer:  Makes sure they understand the request and realistically assesses their ability to execute.  The performer states what they need from the requester, anything, in order to accomplish the task.

Outcome:  The performer makes a promise which the requester accepts.  An explicit agreement is confirmed as to an outcome and due date.

3. Execution

Requester:  Monitors progress of work and delivers on any agreed actions to the performer.  If the requester becomes aware of a change in circumstances that relate to the agreed task, the requester promptly advises the performer and renegotiates a new agreement in good faith.

Performer:  Updates the requester regularly on progress.  If the performer perceives they may break the original agreement, they promptly notify the requester of  the change in circumstances and renegotiate a revised agreement in good faith. If needed, renegotiation occurs before the original due date has passed.

Outcome:  At the conclusion of this phase, the performer assesses that the task is complete and makes a delivery to the customer.

4. Acknowledgment

Requester:  Assesses the performer’s work against the terms  of the agreement and provides feedback and rewards (when appropriate).  Any lessons learned for improvement for the next project are articulated.

Performer:  Inquires about the customer’s satisfaction and solicits feedback.  Any lessons for improvement are incorporated for the next project.

Outcome:  The requester declares the work is satisfactory (or not).  Note: It is up to the requester to determine if the task is done, not the performer.  The loop is closed; the commitment cycle is complete.

Commentary

The commitment cycle outlined above is straightforward, even obvious.  Unfortunately, however, it is rarely followed and commitments are weak or non-existent most of the time.  Requests are poorly articulated.  Clear agreements are replaced with statements from performers like “I’ll try my best” or “I’ll put a top priority on this”.  Sometimes tasks are just “assigned” without any commentary at all from the performer as to their ability to perform.  Often dialog breaks down during execution, especially when things go wrong.  Deadlines slip without acknowledgment and renegotiation.  Deliveries are “slid” in without announcement and acknowledgements are rare.  A lack of attention to the four stages of a commitment cycle results in enormous waste in an organization’s productivity.  Even more important, interpersonal relations are strained and trust declines.

Organizations that embrace the culture and practice of making effective commitments will save costs and outpace their rivals.  CommitKeeper is a software tool that guides users through the four stages of a commitment cycle and reinforces best practices.

Speaking And Acting With Intention

What does it mean to speak and act with intention?  Intention is defined as “a determination to act in a certain way.”  It’s assumed that we all generally speak and act with determination.  However, the sad truth is that real intention is often lacking in our everyday interactions.  Most people speak without intention; they simply say whatever comes to mind.

Our communication can be lazy, not mindful, vague, or loaded with generalizations.  Communication is sometimes inauthentic; meaning is deliberately shaded; not saying exactly what you mean.  Speaking with intention also involves a conscious attention to whether the receiver gets and fully understands the communication.  If the speaker is unaware or does not care what the receiver hears, there is a lack of intention.  Consider the business colleague who has gone to enormous pains to develop a plan that doesn’t excite him.  Even as he presents it, he is backing away from it.  He is doing what people do in organizations every day — saying one thing, meaning another.  The tragedy — and the waste — is not that his colleagues don’t realize it but rather that the presenter himself doesn’t realize it.  There is no real commitment behind his words.

When we act without intention requests are vague.  Delivery dates are assumed or proposed without confirmation.  Agreements are not explicitly obtained.  Due dates shift and derail without clear dialog.  Expressions of satisfaction with the delivery, or of dissatisfaction, are absent.  Closure is rarely achieved.

Even worse than these mechanical flaws, we are all familiar with the attendant interpersonal breakdowns.  Team members are silent about their cynicism toward a proposed request.  Real engagement is lacking, and there is little incentive for contributing any discretionary effort above and beyond.  People work on their favored assignments and leave other tasks to decay without any communication.  These behaviors inevitably lead to low trust and waste.

We have accepted this dysfunction for a long time.  It’s time to recreate our working relations around the foundational principle of speaking and acting with intention.  Speak with intention, and your actions take on new purpose.  Speak with power, and you act with power.

Acting with intention has observable hallmarks.  Requests are made to a specific performer with clear expectations stated as to level of effort and the desired due date.  These are “requests”, not assignments just doled out.  The performer responds explicitly with an agreement or a counter proposal.  A commitment is negotiated and forged between the two parties.  Clarity and transparency build trust between both parties.  The quality of the ensuing dialog between performer and requestor removes vague assumptions and instead forms clear and realistic agreements.  More specifically, committed action involves a certain grammar in a particular sequence.  Specific words used in conversation convey truth and create action.  These language rituals build trust between colleagues.

Our CommitKeeper software helps users become more mindful of the ways in which they are communicating, and  guides them in making and receiving commitments in the work situation in a more conscious way.  CommitKeeper helps users to speak and act with intention.

 

 

Leaders Manage the Team’s Conversations

Leadership is less about the qualities of the person at the top than we often think. Team leaders need not be heroic banner-carriers, nor clever manipulators, nor even creative visionaries.  To be effective, what leaders DO need to do is focus on the quality of the group’s conversations.

Dr. Fernando Flores has written: “Leadership is a phenomenon of the conversations of a team, not of an individual.  A team participates in a set of ongoing conversations among people who commit to share an explicitly declared mission and to coordinate actions to fulfill the mission.  The leader takes action to ensure that these conversations take place and that they are assessed by the team to be effective.  The leader is the person who is granted authority by the team to take care of these conversations in an ongoing manner.”

All initiatives result from a network of requester-to-performer conversations.  The quality of these conversations determines the success of the enterprise.  Leaders should pay close attention to who says what to whom.  What is the mood?  Which specific words are used?  What is the pattern of the dialog?

All collaboration begins in conversation, but results begin when one person makes a commitment.  People take action through language that follows a certain structure.  Collaborative action involves a certain pattern of responses.

Specific words, used consciously, articulate commitments, provoke true engagement, and invoke enhanced coordination.  Someone makes an assessment of the situation.  One person makes a specific request of someone else for a certain outcome.  A performer makes an agreement or promise to deliver on the request.  The requester acknowledges the delivery and expresses satisfaction.  Notice the different mood that is created between making a request and making an assignment.  Agreements are explicitly negotiated, and once made,  they have a much greater impact on personal behavior than directions or orders.

Words lead to behaviors.  Behaviors lead to practices. Improved practices lead to teams that excel.

 

Efficient Collaboration Requires Context and Structured Communication

Efficient collaboration requires context which email does not provide.  As noted by Simon Slade, CEO of AffiloramaSaleHoo and Doubledot Media: “Emails arrive chronologically, an inefficient and ineffective organization method. Project management systems allow updates to be made in an organized manner, by project, and employees can review recent posts when they’re ready to work on that project, rather than when their inbox dings, interrupting other work.”

The above observation begins to address the need for context, but it misses some other relevant points.  A more complete context would include more information than just the project name.  Due date would obviously be important, but additional contextual cues would include: who is responsible for the next task, who should the task be delivered to, where are we in the process of completing the task (i.e. are we in agreement about what the task entails, is the work in progress, has the task been delivered, has the task been accepted as complete), and who’s got the ball for the next action (i.e., am I getting back to someone else next, or am I waiting for someone else)?  Most project management systems do not include all these contextual parameters.

William Pearce, Co-founder of InboxVudu observes: “Email sucks because it’s too easy to miss them, and too difficult to remember to follow up if you don’t get a reply. During the working day, most business communication is best done over the phone, via team collaboration tools (which include instant messaging) or in person, and email makes it too easy to hide from these channels.”

The above statement recognizes several shortcomings of email as a collaboration tool.  Emails arrive haphazardly making them easy to miss.  Remembering to follow up is difficult.  Emails do not provide any structure to the work conversations.  Direct (i.e. immediate) communication via phone or instant messaging attempts to resolve issues with no hiding.  This instantaneous resolution of issues is obviously desirable, but rarely happens in practice as messages cannot always be responded to immediately.

So, combining the above observations about the need for context and structure, the ideal project management tool would have the following features:

—  Incoming updates would be structured, and they would provide context showing task, due date, where do we stand, and who’s got the ball.

—  Follow up would be immediately obvious in terms of who has responded and when, and who’s got the ball for the next action.

—  Asynchronous inputs could be captured in addition to direct (i.e. immediate) communication.

—  The entire task-related conversation would be captured in a thread tied to the task, not the person.

—  An archive of complete task-based conversations would be available for reference and review.

—  The system would be as quick and easy to use as email (i.e. no need for everyone on the team to learn a complex project management system).

If you would be interested in a project management solution that really supports full context and structured communication, check out CommitKeeper.