What does commitment look like?

I had a conversation recently with a guy who was concerned about the level of “commitment” in his group. “It’s always the same people staying late,” he said. “The others just aren’t committed. We can’t accomplish everything we need to unless these other people step up and commit.”

Oh, dear.

There are (at least) two problematic assumptions here.

Assumption #1: Time at the office is an accurate measure of commitment

I can think of several reasons to stay late that have nothing to do with commitment. Here are a few I’ve run into:

One guy didn’t have any interests and friends outside work and stayed late to avoid going home to any empty apartment.

One woman’s marriage was disintegrating and she stayed late to avoid tension at home.

One guy stayed late because he wasn’t able to focus during the day due to constant interruptions. His boss insisted people be present for core hours. So this guy was at the office for 16 hours a day, but worked on his tasks after everyone else went home.

Another woman was using company assets to run a side business… and it was easier to hide it when people weren’t around.

Two people who were having an affair stayed late at work to be together.

There are lots of reasons to stay late at work, and commitment *may* be one of them.

The truth is we can’t divine someone else’s commitment from external behavior.

Assumption #2: Having people work late is the answer to getting work done

Oh, dear, oh, dear.

Extended periods of overtime are more likely to SLOW DOWN work than speed up work.

Rather than demand overtime,

  • Look at the universe of work for the department, not just individual work loads
  • Decide what to do and *what not to do* based on the mission of the group
  • Prioritize the work the group needs to do
  • Determine the level of quality required for work – what “done” means and what “good enough” means
  • Collect data on how people spend their time at work – not to beat people over the head, but to look at patterns that may be lowering productivity
    (Typical time-robbing culprits are: Multi-tasking, fragmentation, frequent interruptions, meaningless meetings, non-value adding corporate activities.)

    (Johanna and I wrote about how to do this in Behind Closed Doors if you’d like to learn more.)

    Once you’ve done the prioritized and identified time-robbers, ask the group to figure out how to get the strategic and important work done –without resorting to overtime. Chances are they’ll come up with some creative ideas.