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Building Commitment for Change

Building Commitment for Change

Research suggests that the overwhelming majority of organizational change efforts fail – anywhere from 60% to 75%, depending on the study. If you’ve spent any significant time in an organization, I bet you can think of a change effort that didn’t make it! Perhaps you’ve even been in the position of leading or participating in a change that failed. Why is the failure rate of organizational change so high? What’s missing, and what can you as a leader do about it?

Here’s one way to slice it. Successful change takes four critical elements: commitment, clarity, capacity, and structure. Change projects fail because they’re missing one or more of these necessary components. In this post, we’ll deal with commitment. What is commitment, and what does it take to cultivate it?


Commitment means being dedicated to taking action to bring about a desired result. The important part of that sentence is “dedication to take action.” Commitment is not just about saying the right words. Even if I don’t know yet exactly what action, or how to take it, I am dedicated to putting my time and energy on the line to bring about change.

Commitment in this sense is internally motivated; it doesn’t come from the promise of a raise or a positive performance evaluation. I am willing to take action because I care about the result for its own sake. This level of commitment is crucial for successful and sustainable change. It is what fuels people’s desire to take initiative, keep things moving, and find ways around obstacles when they arise.

So, how do you identify the strength of your commitment to an individual or organizational change? Start by checking in with your heart. We commit to what we care about, and we care about what engages our hearts. For any given change, your heart might be engaged by the discomfort you feel about how things are now, or the yearning you feel for a different, better way. You might be moved by the exciting challenge of creating something new for for your organization or for your customers, or hold a passionate conviction that the results of the change will make a positive difference. Ask yourself, why is this change important to me? What do I care about here?

Without commitment, change is never started. Without strong commitment that engages our hearts, change is hard to sustain. Organizations generate lots of good ideas for change that make logical sense – some may get started, but they are unlikely to take root and grow unless both leaders and employees feel a strong sense of purpose and an emotional investment in the desired results of the change.

Action Steps: Building Commitment for Change

  1. Recognize that organizations do not commit to change – people do. In any organizational change effort, it is the responsibility of the leaders involved both to express and demonstrate their own commitment to the change, and create conditions that foster commitment within others.
  2. Be clear about the purpose of the change. Focus discussion on the intended results. Change for its own sake, with no clear purpose, just makes people cynical.
  3. Engage people’s hearts. Use stories to talk about how things will be different. Invite people to reflect on and talk about how the work they do contributes to achieving your organization’s goals, and how the organization’s change effort might help them fulfill their own personal commitments. For example, an organizational change focused on improved efficiency might support an individual’s commitment to developing greater work/life balance.
  4. Free people up to commit. In other words, understand that change takes time and energy. Don’t launch several change initiatives at once and expect that people will be willing or able to truly commit to all of them.
  5. Make room for the emotional impact of change. Allow people to express discomfort, excitement, fear, or sadness. Listen sincerely to feedback throughout the change process and make adjustments when you need to.
  6. Follow through. As a leader, make sure that you clearly demonstrate your own commitment to the change. Make sure that people have the resources they need. Keep the momentum going and see it through to the end.

Let me know about your experience building commitment for change in the comments below!

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