Engagement vs Commitment – Part 2.


A distinction I learned long ago that applies perfectly in the age of 76% employee disengagement in Australia, is the distinction between Engagement and Commitment.

A mistake I see most leaders and managers make is that they think they are the same thing. They assume that because there is an obvious commitment (for example, someone shows up to their job every day) that there is engagement.

But it’s obvious from the research that a person may behave in a way that looks like commitment while being actively disengaged.

As a leader, if you are interested in increasing the level of engagement in your people (and given increased engagement means increased sales and profit I imagine you are) then it is critical you are aware of the difference and learn how to use this distinction.

Because if you are having commitment conversations without first ensuring engagement is present, then you are focusing on the wrong end of the equation and heading toward a future of diminishing returns.

As a leader, you need to be listening for engagement,
always looking for opportunities to inspire a “yes”.

Think of your close personal friends, people you love to spend time with. When there is an invitation to join them, it’s likely you’ll find a way to make it happen. You are inspired, engaged and will go to great lengths, no matter how busy you are.

But do you respond the same in all of your relationships? If your partner of 15 years or your mother or distant cousin asks a favour, you may need to work at being engaged in their request, even though there is an assumed commitment.

The assumption leaders and managers make that because there is an explicit commitment, there must be engagement, and this is why many organisations are suffering from disjointed and dysfunctional communication channels. 

People are talking at each other, rather than listening for each other, assuming buy-in because they’re in the same conversation, on the same team, or focusing on the same problem.

While it’s fair to expect a level of BYO buy-in as mentioned in Engagement vs Commitment – Part 1,

the opportunity and responsibility of being a leader of people is influencing performance and outcomes through deeper engagement.

What I find, however, is that most leaders are having commitment conversations without engagement and wondering why things aren’t changing as quickly as they hope or expect.

When you’re asking your people to go further, stretch beyond their fears, do things they’re not naturally good at or something they haven’t done well before – these are all commitment conversations. You’re asking them to take action.

But if you are having a commitment conversation without first creating and ensuring engagement, your people might promise you all the right things, even be well-meaning about their promises, but they won’t have what they need to fulfill what you’re asking or expecting of them.

Creating engagement means:

  • Being curious about how the other person sees the world.

  • Learning what opens them up to being more courageous and what shuts them down, defending their position.

  • Tailoring your questions to their communication and behavioural style (ie speaking their language, not yours).

  • Checking understanding without judging if they don’t understand.

The art of leadership and influence is knowing when you are in a commitment conversation and being present enough to know if engagement is also present. And if it’s not, learning how to create it before you continue asking for the commitment.

Leaders and managers are always delighted and surprised at how much easier their job is, and how much more their people want to do and can do when they learn and apply this distinction.

Bringing the best out in people requires being in a continuous dance between inspiring engagement and asking for commitment, knowing they are two very different types of conversations, but often play out simultaneously. 

The next time you want one of your team to take on more responsibility, complete a project quickly, fulfil the expectations of their role, try intentionally creating engagement before you launch into a conversation that asks for their commitment.

Your awareness of where the conversation is at any point will assist you in mastering this nuanced skill of leadership – influencing the thinking and behaviour of another such that they want to contribute more, not because it’s an expected display of their commitment, but because they are so engaged they can’t resist.