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Why Management Commitment is So Difficult

Posted by admin on October 28, 2015

There is a chance a change effort, such as implementing a plant-wide problem-solving process, can succeed without management commitment, but it’s a slim chance at best.  Sometimes things have gotten so bad in a plant that some individuals or a team take matters into their own hands because they realize things can’t get much worse.  It’s a do-something-or-die situation and they would rather try than just give up.

So if everyone acknowledges management commitment is so critical to the success of a change effort, why is it so hard for managers to give this commitment, even when they have agreed to take on the change effort.  Here are some of the common reasons we’ve experienced:

Not sure it will work – Sometimes the management team is not convinced the solution they have taken on will actually fix the problem.  They think it is worth a shot but are not totally sold on the potential success of the program.  But without their commitment, the program is highly unlikely to succeed.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Not sure they have the team horsepower – While the manager may think the program could help the plant, they may have limited belief that their employees can grasp the fundamentals of the change effort and actually implement it.  The manager may need to get the right people in place before attempting the change effort.  Or at least get more comfortable that the current players can implement the program.

Playing it safe – Making a commitment to a new program means putting your name and reputation on the line.  But in today’s environment with zero job security, many managers are worried about the negative impact if they go all in and the program fails.  So they hedge their bets and show the minimum amount of support so they’re not seen as an obstacle but not seen as a big supporter either.

Defensiveness – Many managers think that installing a significant change effort is a sign of failure.  They feel like it’s admitting defeat that the things that got them into a management position are no longer working.  So they secretly hope the change effort fails, especially if the program is being pushed on them by their superiors.  If it fails, the manager can say “There, I told you it wouldn’t work.  Things will get better if we just go back to what made us successful in the first place.”

Set in their ways – Change is hard in any aspect of our lives.  But even more so when you are trying to get others to change at the same time you’re trying to get yourself to change.  It takes considerable willpower to make this happen.  And frankly, most are not up to the task.

So while there are many reasons why managers don’t show commitment to the change effort, the result is always the same:  Employees sense the lack of commitment and decide that if management isn’t going to be committed, they aren’t going to be committed either.  And with every new program that fails to generate management support, the more jaded employees become.  When the next change effort comes along the less likely they are to pay attention, let alone get behind the effort.

So before taking on the next change effort, management has to look its collective self in the mirror and ask: “Are we ready to take this on and be fully committed?”.  If the answer is “no”, then don’t bother because it will only end in frustration for everybody.  If the answer is “yes”, then prepare to leave it all on the field.  There is no middle ground.