Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Why Commitment Would ALWAYS Matter






Don't yawn.




I know that organisational commitment is often overlooked in the plethora of Management-related themes because it is considered passé or simplistic. More 'important' themes such as employee engagement, organisational effectiveness, culture and leadership tend to dominate serious discussions.




In fact, I don’t think I  have  seen  any  articles recently, at least  in  the past couple of months, which have solely focussed on commitment. I do admit that I hadn’t given it much thought...until recently when it struck me that one of the most over-looked reasons people tended to stay in companies or exit was due to their commitment levels.




Now in this fast-paced era of globalisation, whereby the employment relationship continually evolves, making both the company and the employee self-seeking in terms of one party’s obligation to the other, employee retention and talent acquisition have become more important than ever.







This is because when seeking to retain the talented professions, there are no guarantees that they would stay for a reasonable period, no matter how well treated the companies believe them to be. Given that such uncertainty exists, companies would need to ascertain the factors that could influence employee retention.



And organisational commitment is one of those key factors.



It may  interest  you  to note  that  there is empirical evidence in organisational behavioural science, as shown by renowned researchers, Meyer & Allen (1997), that commitment is also associated with higher productivity, reduced absenteeism and reduced turnover.



Surprised? I kid you not.



The researchers defined commitment as the "psychological state that characterises the employee's relationship with the organisation". They were convinced that this state has implications for the decision to continue membership in the company.




I believe that these academic musings are evident to professionals in their careers.


A little more than decade ago, as a post-graduate student at the London School of Economics & Political Science, I found this theme of commitment so interesting that I proceeded to do some commitment-related research* at a international oil giant in Lagos, Nigeria. The survey I undertook was based on a small sample but I was excited to be able to draw a correlation between fulfilment of the organisation's obligations to the employees, (implications of the "psychological contact"*), and levels of commitment. My 'findings' were not new, given that a large body of work had already been documented by seasoned professionals in the field. Nevertheless, it was interesting for me to move away from theoretical discussions to practical outcomes.




But I digress. Pardon my musings. I simply wanted to explain that not only was the theme of commitment relevant then, it is  still vital to a productive work environment today. It is thus important to discuss it in detail.





The 3 Types of Commitment



Meyer & Allen (1997), drawing upon earlier works documented by other researchers, proceeded to simplify the construct and listed three types of organisational commitment:




1) Affective Commitment




According to the researchers, this refers to the emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the company. Here the employee feels 'part of the family'; he revels in the company's successes and is impacted by its failures.


I believe  that this type  of  commitment could easily be visible in family-owned businesses, which are somewhat of a proud legacy to be passed on to future generations.



You may even notice it in large organisations whereby for certain reasons, ranging from a high degree of perceived organisational support to ownership of  innovative processes which spearheaded the company to great heights - think of the late Steve Jobs and his influence on Apple's success - the employee  becomes 'attached' to the company.



Therefore, when you see a long-serving executive, who had started his career as  a young, enthusiastic  adult, fighting back  tears during an emotion-laden farewell speech, you can be assured that he displayed this type of commitment for a long time. 


According to research results, the strongest correlation with positive outcomes of organisational commitment, (such as reduced turnover, improved job performance, etc.), were associated with affective commitment. Now critics might state that correlation does not explain causation but they would miss the point. The link, at the very least, would provide insights useful in building a culture of transparency that would promote commitment.



Logic thus dictates that employees who display affective commitment are likely to stay and would go the 'extra mile' to make the company a success. Moreover, they become enthusiastic cheerleaders of the company, are passionate about its operations and proud of its accomplishments.



This is a no-brainer - any company worth its salt should strive to retain such professionals.

 


2) Continuance Commitment






Here the employee is aware of the costs associated with leaving the organisation, thus he stays.


Now it is evident that the term 'lifetime employment' is rare these days. Few people stay in companies for longer than seven years, (not to talk about a decade or two), without moving on to bigger or better opportunities. Reasons for exiting are varied so this type of commitment is somewhat paradoxical. 



A note to Management however - don't go rejoicing that you've  'boxed' in your employees who cannot leave  just yet.  True, they may stay because of a bad economy, fear of loss of entitlements/benefitsfinancial pressures or other reasons. But don't expect them to go 'over and beyond' in their roles; in fact they become disengaged or 'tuned off' in their duties. And as Forbes contributor and consummate professional,  Victor Lipman  has explained in an eye-opener of an article, the actively disengaged employees are likely to incur significant losses unless you address the sources of their dissatisfaction, disillusionment or malaise. And only your most trusted, perceptive managers and supervisors would be able to get to the root of the latent discontent.



So in essence, Mr. CEO, you would  need  to ensure that the employees who  display  this type of commitment  are   more fulfilled in their roles; otherwise it  really is counter-productive to continue to retain them.



3) Normative Commitment

This refers to the feeling of obligation to continue employment in an organisation, so once again, the employee stays.


Obligations could mean contractual, moral or legal requirements. As stated earlier, for a family-owned business, it could mean sustaining a legacy. The employee could also stay because a guaranteed income is essential to providing for a family.





In this case, I believe that the employee does what is required of him. Unless there are elements of an emotional attachment to the company, duties could be carried out in an almost 'mechanical' manner. He is unlikely to do any 'favours' and may simply go through the motions for a salary each month.



Interestingly, the personality traits of the employees could also influence the quality of work produced. Some, even though obliged to stay, might cherish the job because it's their guaranteed 'meal ticket'. As has been explained in this Wikipedia article, highlighting the commitment “model” of Meyer & Allen (1997), such employees may also stay because they are morally obliged to do so, perhaps to repay the 'debt' of being trained by the company. So I believe that they actually go the extra mile. Then there are those who resent the fact that they cannot leave and may simply do the minimum effort  to get the job done.


This type of commitment is tricky to manage, as one cannot readily discern the motivations of certain employees.




Don't try to 'control' commitment levels



It is one thing to ascertain the type of commitment employees display, (which is no easy feat), and quite another to influence it.



Because commitment is above all, a psychological state and thus 'personal' or subjective, simply asking employees about their commitment levels is not likely to be effective. In fact, unless there is a sustained culture of empathy, effective communication and transparency, vis-à-vis managing the concerns of employees, (which is linked to trust in the organisation), they are unlikely to confide in the company's executives. Some may view attempts by Management to engage in dialogue with deep suspicion.






Therefore, rather than obsess about how to get workers to display affective commitment, (the most desirable of the three types), I recommend that Management should work on issues which favourably impact their employees’ perceptions. These include fulfilling perceived obligations, (i.e. providing opportunities for growth via training and development and ensuring a stimulating work environment), as well as promoting fair outcomes and quickly addressing concerns. Such perceptions, over time, would naturally lead to higher commitment levels, as well as favourable attitudes and proactive behaviours.


What should be noted is that affective commitment cannot be bought, manipulated or mandated. However, just like trust, it can be cultivated.




Conclusion



So this year and beyond, here is one New Year's resolution worth keeping - incorporating the important theme of commitment in your business strategy.






It still matters a great deal in the organisation. Not only does it influence the decision to stay or exit a company, but as mentioned earlier, it also drives productivity and performance at the workplace.


And Management - this should be one of your priorities this year for greater organisational effectiveness. 



Do you think that commitment is still relevant at the workplace? Kindly tell us your opinions by posting your comments below.


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Notes:

*My post-graduate research, which covered the themes of "psychological contract" and "organisational justice", examined their impacts on employees' attitudes; (of which affective commitment was the marker); and employees' behaviours, (of which organisation-directed "citizenship behaviour" was the marker).


These themes were mentioned in my blog's first article on communications strategy and corporate image. View it  here.


N:B-

First image courtesy of Thewet via freedigitalphotos.net. Animation courtesy of gifgifs.com. Second image courtesy of Sattva, via freedigitalphotos.net. Third, fifth and sixth images courtesy of Renjith Krishnan, via freedigitalphotos.net. Fourth image courtesy of Sheelamohan, via freedigitalphotos.net.