When Carly Fiorina became the CEO of Hewlett-Packard years ago, she lamented that the culture had become one in which “anyone can say ‘no,’ but nobody can say ‘yes.’” How decisions are made is a significant part of any company’s culture. Like Ms. Fiorina, most executives wrestle with the priority of creating or changing their corporate cultures through the decision-making process.

Years ago, as a senior executive of a financial services company, I undertook that challenge myself. The CEO, who was semi-retired, had previously made all of the firm’s important decisions. He also seemingly defined “important” as almost all of the company’s decisions, although he never explicitly articulated his criteria. Additionally, when someone else made a “bad” decision (i.e. any with which he disagreed), he punished the decision-maker. Sometimes that punishment was financial. At other times, he quite literally ignored the executive to “send him a message.” This is an extreme example, but it’s also true. I still see executives marginalized in this irresponsible way.

After I had worked for about three months to implement the necessary changes, the CEO confronted me after one of the other executives, a former direct report of his and a new direct report of mine, had made what I agreed was a questionable decision. My response to that decision was to have a discussion with the executive to uncover his thought process and to ask for his post-mortem assessment. The CEO’s input to me was to bang his fist on the desk and tell me what I should have done. He added, “Rand, this is not a democracy.” My initial impulse was to respond in kind; I didn’t. Instead, I asked if we could meet that afternoon in his office to discuss the matter in greater depth. I figured we could both use a cooling off period. I also needed some time to craft an approach that would yield a productive discussion and a reasonable outcome.

I prepared as best I could. My approach to these kinds of sessions was generally to ask the other party a series of comments or questions, the answers to which would lead inexorably to the outcome I wanted. I started with, “I’m sure you believe that committed people perform better than compliant people, don’t you?” When he impatiently answered “yes,” I followed-up with, “Do you believe that commitment is voluntary and that compliance, or obedience, is not?” Again, he answered “yes,” but in a more curious way this time. I followed with: “I sense that we believe the same thing. I also sense that your problem is in getting there in a way that will preserve your options, not cede decisions to people who aren’t qualified to make them, and yet delegate those decisions that can be made at ‘lower’ levels to people who can make them effectively.” He responded with a resounding “yes.” We then dove into building a process for decision-making that would achieve all of those objectives.

Here are the issues: Most executives have a hard time letting go. They do, after all, get paid to make decisions. Most executives also have a hard time envisioning a scenario in which delegation can be accomplished effectively, so in the interest of time, they just make most decisions themselves.

The problem with that: People disengage. High achievers stagnate and leave. Good performers die on the vine. Mediocre and poor performers stay because obedience is just fine with them; they were “mailing it in” anyway.

Peter Senge of MIT’s Sloan School of Management created a continuum to describe people’s levels of possible dedication. On one end of the spectrum is grudging compliance. People do what’s expected and no more; they’re not really on board. In my experience, these employees may also subvert organizational direction and strategies in subtle ways that are almost impossible to detect. At the other end of the spectrum is true commitment. People really “want it.” They’ll make it happen. They’ll overcome obstacles with their energy and focus. Again, in my experience, you can see organizations with committed people; they’re crackling with electricity!

Commitment cannot be mandated; it has to be earned, just like trust. Here are some questions for you to answer: Relative to “commitment,” what does your organization look like? What have you done to create an environment in which people zealously commit? Do you believe it makes a difference? What are you willing to do about it?

Copyright 2012 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com