Five Steps to Building Commitment for Change
Taken from an article by Merle Switzer, Captain, North Central Division, Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, Sacramento, California
Building commitment for change is fundamental to successfully implementing change, but all too often it's a process that is ignored. A survey of the literature indicates that 65-85 percent of change initiatives either fall short of initial expectations or fail outright. One reason is that change agents often fail to build a proper foundation for reform by taking the time to convince others that change is needed.
Commitment is to change what prevention is to risk management. Those familiar with risk management know that prevention is vital to a successful program. The same is true of change. Without commitment, change cannot occur. Following the five steps is a real example of how one US police station commander built support for a voluntary adopt-a-neighbourhood program.
Step 1: Identify Whose Commitment Is Needed
- Who are key people whose commitment would help bolster the chances of success? In particular, who are the "peer leaders" – individuals others will watch to see how they weigh in on the coming change.
- "Who among those who would be affected by this change could either help our plan or derail it?" The stakeholders including those who would be affected by the change, could help make the change happen, or could pop up with the power to derail the change.
Step 2: Determine the Level of Commitment Needed
First, you need to determine how committed they are to the intended change. Talking to them, getting the opinions of others, making a judgement. Either individually or during organised sessions.
Second, you need to determine what level of commitment you need from specific people. People usually fall into one of four categories:
- those who resist the change,
- those who let it happen,
- those who help it happen, and
- those who make it happen.
Step 3: Estimate the Critical Mass
After identifying the key employees and determining their level of support for the change, determine how many of those people are needed to implement the change. The number of committed people required to make the change happen is called critical mass.
Unfortunately, there is not a specific formula for figuring out critical mass. The nature and scope of the change is a key factor in making this determination. A change that is relatively simple and uncontroversial will need a lower critical mass than one that is complex and far-reaching.
The better one knows the people who will be affected, the easier it will be to determine the critical mass. Open discussion with staff that will be impacted will provide useful information about how receptive they are toward the change.
Step 4: Get the Commitment of the Critical Mass
It's important to assess how to get the commitment of the critical mass and develop a plan accordingly.
One chief of police makes it his practice when building commitment to ask key people what it would take to get them to a 75 percent level of commitment. Based on the answer, he will then take the steps necessary to grow commitment in that person.
For example, if one person says that if he or she had a better understanding of the reason for the change and how the change will affect him or her, then the chief needs to provide more information to that person. For another it might be seeing the process at work in another agency. If so, then the chief may want to arrange a visit to another agency. The key is to understand what it will take for staff to buy in to the change and take steps to meet those needs.
Step 5: Status Check to Monitor the Level of Commitment
Status checking refers to creating a monitoring system to identify progress in gaining commitment. One way to do this is ask for volunteers to sign up to participate on a trial basis. Who signs up and how many can be a good gauge to determine commitment.
California State Parks uses a tool called the Commitment Ladder. A ladder is drawn on a piece of paper. Each rung up the ladder represents a greater level of commitment, starting with resistance to the idea on the lowest rung and going up to strong make-it-happen type of commitment at the top. Distribute copies of the Commitment Ladder for a specific change to employees, and then ask them to put an X on the ladder in the field that represents their level of support. The ratings are anonymous and turned in prior to a break. While employees are on break, leaders can tally the ratings to see if people support the change. One benefit of this method is that after the break a leader can share the results. If the results are less than hoped, the leader can ask for feedback on how the idea can be improve to generate more commitment.
IDEAS in Action
Consider the following example of building commitment for implementing an adopt-a-neighbourhood program as a way of enhancing community-policing efforts. The idea started with the station commander talking with members of the captain's advisory committee (CAC), several members of which were peer leaders representing different teams. Here are the steps the station commander took to generate commitment:
- Sent members of the CAC to visit other agencies that had similar programs
- Worked with the CAC to develop a short paper on how this might work in their area
- Announced the program and provided a written overview of the program
- Put up a sign up sheet to allow staff to adopt a specific neighbourhood
- Invited officers from another area to attend briefings, talk about their experiences, and answer questions from staff
- Invited citizens to attend briefings and explained what it would mean to them for an officer to adopt their neighbourhood
- Approached specific employees and asked what it would take to gain their commitment
- Created ownership by facilitating meetings with participants who volunteered to identify specific things they could do make the program work and identify what resources would be needed to support their efforts
When the first sign-up sheet was put up, about 10 officers signed up to adopt a neighbourhood. Soon more than 20 officers had signed up, providing the necessary commitment to get the program off to a good start.
Building commitment takes creative IDEAS, time, and energy from those who would steer organisational change efforts. However, it is absolutely essential to success. A little effort up front helps leverage the odds in your favour and lessen resistance from those who would oppose the change.