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									                  Commitment vs. Compliance:
                Ten Reasons Why You Need Your
               Workers Hearts, Not Just Their Hands
                              By Mac McIntire, President, Innovative Management Group

           “It is difficult to be positive and enthusiastic about something of which you do not feel or believe.”


          Anyone who has worked with me knows that my Ladder of Commitment® model is the center-
piece of everything I do. I preach, teach and expound about the importance of individual commitment in
business and personal relationships. The ability to draw out or instill commitment within employees is a
management skill I believe every business professional should master.
          However, this premise was challenged recently in a management development program I was
facilitating for a company in the East. While discussing the Ladder of Commitment one manager puzzled
over whether or not managers needed the commitment of employees so long as they complied with the
policies and procedures of the company and performed to standard.
          “As long as an employee complies and does what I want, why do I care whether or not he is
committed? I don’t need his commitment, I just need his compliance,” the manager declared.
          A wonderful philosophical debate ensued over his statement. Some agreed with his view. They
felt the primary job of a manager is to ensure employees comply, stay within set guidelines and
boundaries, and perform the job as expected. As long as the employees do their job to standard and
maintain the proper behaviors at work, they didn’t care whether or not the employees were committed or
what their inner motivations or attitude might be. As long as the employees comply by looking like,
sounding like, and acting according to the requirements of the job, that is all a manager can expect from
          Other managers in the session strongly disagreed. They felt there is a significant and important
difference between commitment and compliance. To achieve great levels of performance managers must
go beyond mere compliance. Only committed employees, they said, will think and act for themselves,
doing what is best for the company when there are no rote guidelines or policies to follow. Only
committed employees can think outside-the-box and take the company to the next level.
          After a lengthy discussion, with both sides presenting compelling arguments, I had the group take
a short break. During the break I quickly flip charted my personal beliefs regarding why I think
commitment is more valuable than compliance. I had never enumerated these thoughts until this
discussion. When the group returned from the break this is what I told them.
          First, if employees perform out of compliance, rather than commitment, they do it because
they are told to, not because they want to. Therefore, managers who seek only compliance must enjoy
giving orders, and employees who only comply must enjoy taking orders. Unfortunately, order taking
workers are automatronic robots who simply go through pre-programmed motions. They are not sentient
beings who can think and act for themselves. But only sentient workers can react favorably to the ever
changing requirements of the business. Flexibility and agility are critical in today’s competitive market,
but compliant workers are almost always rigid and mechanical as they go about their daily tasks.
          Second, if non-sentient employees need managers to think for them, which is the case if
orders have to be given, then the employees can only act when the manager is around to give
orders. Therefore, managers who seek compliance rather than commitment from their employees
shouldn’t be surprised when their workers go out of compliance when the manager is not around. If
external pressure, rather than internal commitment, is the driving force behind the employees’ behaviors,
then the manager must be present to keep the pressure on the employees to ensure compliance.
Committed employees, on the other hand, keep the pressure on themselves, even when the manager is not
around, because they are internally motivated to do so.
          Third, if managers only need compliance from their employees there is no need for them to
create a productive work environment or quality of work life. If compliance is the only requirement,

 2004, INNOVATIVE MANAGEMENT GROUP, 840 Trotter Circle, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89107, 702-258-8334,      1
all a manager must do is reward people well or punish them well to ensure their compliance. Reward and
punishment are the only managerial practices that will have any affect on employee compliance.
         Fourth, employees who are not committed to something and who toil merely out of
compliance have to fake the behaviors they exhibit at work. Managers who force their employees to
comply with customer service standards of friendliness or courtesy will find customers are seldom fooled
by pseudo-customer service. People can sense if someone truly believes or feels something within. People
can tell whether someone is genuine in their service or merely complying to keep one’s job.
         Fifth, it is difficult to be positive and enthusiastic about something which you do not feel or
believe. Employees who are not committed to customer service, who only serve because they have to,
will find it extremely difficult to fake being positive or enthusiastic toward the customers
         Sixth, employees can’t fake it forever. If it isn’t in them it isn’t in them. Eventually they will
tire of the act. Compliant workers can never stick with bogus behaviors for the long haul. Only
committed workers – those who have it within them – can maintain the proper attitude and behaviors over
         Seventh, when a person is committed to something in one’s heart, certain behaviors and
actions naturally follow. When those actions don’t come from the heart, but rather from unnatural
compliance, employees must constantly and consciously think about their actions. They must try to figure
out how to act since they naturally don’t know how. Consequently, compliant employees behave
unnaturally throughout the work day, which must be very difficult and extremely stressful.
         Eighth, people cannot motivate others if they are not motivated themselves. They cannot convert
others if they are not converted themselves. Therefore, compliant employees cannot have a positive
influence performance-wise on other employees in any sincere or significant way. Compliant workers
seldom are cheerleaders for the company. Compliant workers seldom seek to help others, tending to focus
only on their own minimal level of compliance. Compliant individuals rarely try to raise the output of the
         Ninth, as the Ladder of Commitment shows, it is impossible to attain the commitment of an
individual without first gaining their trust, respect and confidence. The tangible indicator of trust, respect
and confidence is the degree of support one exhibits toward the individual based on these three attributes.
It is difficult to have trust, respect and confidence in someone who only complies out of a
requirement to do so. Compliant workers are not honest. They are not open. They are not true to their
own feelings and beliefs. And since they cannot be trusted or respected, they cannot be supported. This is
why compliance-seeking managers seldom are supportive of their employees and they almost always
harbor a belief that workers cannot be trusted.
         Finally, tenth, any manager who is interested only in the compliance of his or her employees,
rather than their commitment, does not fully understand the role of a manager. A manager’s role is
to improve the productive output of their employees by increasing the value and worth of the employees’
accomplishments. True value and true worth is achieved when employees reach the fullness of their
potential. This potential often is far beyond the level of full compliance with the manager’s dictated job
     Managers who garner the full commitment of their employees get far greater output from their
workers because the employees do the right things for the right reasons. They do it because they want to,
not because they have to. Employees who are committed to something in their heart, their head, and their
gut, far out perform workers who only comply out of fear of punishment or promise of reward.


Since 1990, Innovative Management Group has helped companies define their strategic focus, align their internal
effort, and gain the commitment of their workforce to achieve long-term profitability and growth. If you would like
more information about how we can help your company, please contact us at 702-258-8334, e-mail to, or visit us on the web at

 2004, INNOVATIVE MANAGEMENT GROUP, 840 Trotter Circle, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89107, 702-258-8334,   2

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