September 7, 2022
Why is it that some of the most meticulous, well-designed, and ambitious culture-change initiatives never seem to take off? Well, DEI initiatives don’t exist in a vacuum. They involve vulnerable, fallible, diverse people who have different needs, expectations, perceptions and capacities. While fear-based tactics and threats of punishment might force compliance, compliance will never foster true inclusion, unleash the power of diversity, or create incubators of innovation. Commitment does that.
So yes, you can’t force commitment (that’s just compliance with a smile), but you can encourage it! Keep reading and we’ll discuss some key characteristics of committed and compliant culture and give you some practical ways to encourage a culture of commitment across your organization.
Do your team members nod their heads through your kickoff slides, agree with bulleted lists of goals and outcomes, take the surveys, and still don’t seem totally on board? It may be that their head understands your initiative, but their hearts may not yet feel the importance.
Humans make decisions through a combination of cognition and emotion. While some routine decisions may appear to be purely cognitive (or even automatic), commitment is a choice that can’t be made without involving emotion.
Understanding the basic “why” of an initiative is an important first step, but your team can’t stay there. In order to overcome a compliance mentality and have your team be truly committed, you have to encourage them to feel the initiative’s importance as much as they understand its importance.
If you’re realizing that your team needs to feel, as well as understand, that importance of your initiative, here are some things you can try:
If your teams are struggling to be committed to change, it may be that they don’t understand the purpose of the changes themselves. This isn’t a change issue, this is a purpose issue, and the previous section is likely the culprit. Forcing others to change, especially in specific, constricting ways, rarely leads to lasting, impactful change. In fact, it may not lead to any change at all.
Compliant employees might follow new policy in order to keep their job, but it’s committed employees that change for good. They understand the purpose behind the changes in place and adapt their behavior to reflect those changes. They choose to change because they know why they need to change, but maybe more importantly, they also choose how they change. They own the change process. This is commitment.
You can help your team members choose to change when you:
When trying to convince your organization to back a DEI initiative, it’s easy to drift into doomsday territory. It may be tempting to rattle off a list of all the bad things that will happen if people don’t do what’s asked of them. After all, there’s a lot at stake! Fear-based tactics might force your organization into compliance, but threats, punishment, and shame won’t lead to committed teams.
A culture of rewarded vulnerability (psychological safety) is one motivated by positive outcomes. Team members are more likely to feel committed to an initiative that they know will benefit them. They will also be more likely to encourage their colleagues to follow suit. Shared goals will help unify your organization and foster commitment. But the shared goal can’t be “avoid X,” it must be “build Y.”
Committed teams that are determined to become sanctuaries of inclusion will consequently become incubators of innovation. That’s a true and powerful statement. Here are some ways to get your team motivated by the right kinds of consequences:
Compliant team members are careless team members. They’ll do what they have to, if they have to. Committed team members understand how their small, everyday actions impact what you’re trying to accomplish. They’ll infuse your organizational goals, as well as their own goals, into the fabric of everything they do. And you won’t have to ask them to do it. It’s part of who they are.
While you can’t force intentionality, you may try this:
Accountability is a large part of any successful DEI initiative. This doesn’t mean that it’s a comfortable or happily anticipated experience for everyone involved. Compliant team members won’t hold themselves individually accountable for their actions, and it can be difficult (not to mention frustrating) to feel like you’re constantly micro-managing behavior. Don’t fall into this trap.
While accountability doesn’t normally precede commitment, there are things you can do to prepare your organization to be accountable once they’re committed. Establishing an expectation of accountability early on will pay dividends in your cultural transformation journey later on. Try this:
Whether or not individual team members are solely responsible for your dysfunctional company culture (chances are they probably aren’t), there is power in taking responsibility for it anyway. Your team members will be more committed when they can recognize the personal impact they have on your organization, whether good or bad.
Here are some suggestions to encourage lasting commitment to not only your initiative, but also your organization as a whole:
If your organization is compliant, but not committed, to your current DEI initiative–don’t stress. With small, intentional changes on your part you can nudge them in the right direction. A key part of fostering commitment is meeting individuals where they are. Don’t punish them for merely complying, encourage them to understand and feel the purpose behind the initiative. Give them enough relevant options so that they choose to change. Motivate them with positivity and focus on goals with benefits that they care about. Teach them to act intentionally, hold themselves accountable, and see themselves as integral, impactful parts of your organization.
With a little bit of effort and authenticity during your cultural transformation journey, you’ll be well on your way to sanctuaries of inclusion and incubators of innovation. It all starts with commitment.