Do you ever feel like you’re just taking orders at work? Or perhaps that you’ve lost control of your to-do list? When the orders pile up it can be hard to even figure out where to start.
The truth is most modern ways of working aren’t straightforward so it can be difficult to juggle different commitments throughout the day. Knowledge work can be filled with mode switching, which we know increases cognitive load and makes it even harder to manage your to-do list. With all the talk of quiet quitting and the current economic headwinds, it can also be incredibly difficult to say No to requests, even when the request doesn’t align specifically to your goals or job role. So how does one take the power back and start to bring the chaos under control?
Our Digital Strategy and Transformation Enablement team has been experimenting together with TELUS’ framework for Commitment Based Management (or CBM) as a means to bring more order to our day. Since implementing CBM last fall, team members report a moderate to high rate of success in leveraging the tool during commitment conversations.
What is Commitment Based Management?
The concepts behind CBM aren’t new, in fact, they’ve been around for decades. The core of CBM is actually practicing the same stakeholder engagement that’s at the center of successful customer account management and agile ways of working. CBM is a prescribed approach meant to promote an unobstructed, bidirectional conversation between a customer (or requester) and a performer using 4 steps:
Prepare a request and make space to discuss it
Negotiate around the request to understand it clearly before committing; offer alternatives if it’s not possible to support a requesters ask due to constraints such as time or scope
Fulfill the agreed upon commitment
Confirm satisfaction with the fulfillment of the request
In general, being mindful about how you reach commitments can bring focus to solving the problem (not just implementing someone's suggested solution) while setting expectations appropriately, and avoiding rework later. Ideally, you can also manage priority trade-offs more effectively, especially if you have multiple commitments with a requester.
Sounds easy, right? Not so fast! For many people, new behaviours aren’t like a light switch, on/off. We generally need to condition our brains to operate differently until the new behaviour sticks.
Here are some tips from our team to yours that might help with reconditioning if you want to give CBM a shot:
As a requester, preparing a request doesn’t mean asking someone if they can commit to a request in passing. It means setting up a time to discuss the request and provide an opportunity for the performer to get clear on your request. It’s easy for a performer to say yes to a request when they’re distracted with their daily workload. Pro tip: If you leave a commitment conversation as a requester thinking that was easy, this should be a trigger to check back a little later on whether the performer needs to get clear with an additional conversation.
No Broken Telephones
Remember the game, Telephone you might have played back in elementary school? A group of children sit in a circle, one child shares a whispered word or phrase with the child next to them, then it's whispered around the circle until it comes back to the first child. The word or phrase rarely makes it back in its original form. Okay, we’re all adults now, but we’re still susceptible to the broken telephone challenge. The best way around this challenge is to make a habit of connecting directly, requester to performer. Be wary of scenarios where a request flows through an intermediary or third-party. Try to connect directly whenever possible!
Support Your Team
Adopting a new way of working isn’t just about how team members adjust to the change, leadership behaviours need to support the shift as well. People leaders can perpetuate the broken telephone problem by accepting work on behalf of their teams instead of doing everything they can to remove themselves from direct participation in the commitment conversation. When requests hit people leaders first, leaders should connect a requester with a person in the team who will perform the activity to have a commitment conversation, while offering to support both parties with any challenges that arise. Not only does this provide the opportunity for everyone to get clear together, it opens the lines of communication for direct feedback as work progresses, improving the chances of a favourable outcome for the request.
This doesn’t mean leaders can’t ask questions or present new context to consider within a commitment, but it should be presented in a way that leaves the decision on how to proceed in the hands of those who know best: the requester and the performer.
Support and Celebrate Each Other
Make sure to call out where you see CBM in action! Positive reinforcement always helps, but saying something out loud also helps cement the behavior for others who might not realize it’s happening right in front of them. At TELUS Digital, we have a rewards system we can use to send virtual high-fives, but we’ve had some success just calling CBM out live when it’s happening! Pro tip: This might feel silly at first, but tying our brains back to the framework really does help get everyone on the same page for how to structure the commitment conversation!
Similarly, take advantage of safe spaces in your team to remind each other of when CBM could be used to help clarify a request. Even though we try really hard to use CBM, some requests stumble through the front gate when we’re not paying attention. Yes, you can take a moment to reset and if you don’t have the clarity you need to move on request, you should unapologetically take a moment to step back and reset.
Given that mode switching and cognitive load are now features of knowledge work, implementing CBM for yourself or your team is one very feasible step you can take to improve team member engagement and start to navigate chaos. Just remember that like most changes, it’s not as simple as it sounds, so having the right support system in place is important! Hopefully these suggestions are useful to you - we’d love to hear how your team has tackled commitment conversations as well!