Think of someone who works for you – or who worked for you in the past – who is/was deeply committed to their job.

Now think of someone who is/was just going through the motions.

Easy, right? As a manager, you can instantly recognize the difference between commitment and compliance. But communicating that distinction can be tricky – especially when you’re talking to employees who sincerely think they’re doing a good job by showing up and doing what they’re told.

When such employees find out that you expect more, they’re baffled. When you suggest that they should be more like Bill or Sue if they want to get raises or promotions, they think you’re playing favorites. They demand that you tell them what to do differently, when the real problem is that you shouldn’t have to tell them in the first place.

Author and sales consultant Chris Lytle notes that it’s hard to explain what commitment looks like. So how can you paint a picture of what true commitment looks like?

The commitment continuum

He offers something called the “commitment continuum” to help facilitate this conversation. It works because it offers specific behaviors that demonstrate commitment instead of such generalities.”

Here what each level on the continuum looks like:

  • Noncompliance. Hopes it happens but not that much. Employee thinks they can’t or won’t be fired, or that “it’s no big deal” if they are.
  • Grudging Compliance. Would like it to happen. Will go along if it’s no extra trouble. Won’t volunteer extra effort.
  • Genuine Compliance. Wants it to happen. But if it’s not good enough, it’s not their fault. Employee thinks they are doing the best they can.
  • Responsibility. Needs it to happen. Is conscientious. Will go the extra mile unless it’s beyond their control.
  • Commitment. Will make it happen. Creates the structure needed. Owns it. Accountable. No excuses!

If the shoe fits…

A good way to use the Commitment Continuum, Lytle suggests, is to give the employee these descriptions and ask, “Where do you think you fit?”

There’s no guarantee that employees will see themselves where you see them. But that’s okay – because now you have a way to discuss that perception gap.  For example, you might say, “You believe you’re highly committed, but when I asked you to get three quotes from vendors on the last project, you only came back with two. You said the other vendors never got back to you even after you left multiple messages. But a truly committed employee would have kept after them until she got three quotes. See the difference?”


Source: RLI Webinar, Sales Manager or Babysitter? Five Ways to Create Sales Rep Accountability, with Chris Lytle. June 2018.

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