3 Third Principle: You’re Not as Committed as You Need to Be . . . Yet – Ruthless Consistency: How Committed Leaders Execute Strategy, Implement Change, and Build Organizations That Win



You’re Not as Committed as You Need to Be . . . Yet

You don’t get 100 percent results with only 50 percent commitment.



It’s a question I’ve asked thousands of leaders at the start of my presentations.

“One hundred percent!” “Totally committed!” “I’m all in!”

Everyone’s confident; everyone’s committed. Or so they say. When I ask them again at the end of the presentation, the bravado is gone. There’s an uncomfortable realization they haven’t been as committed as they thought they were—or need to be.

Good. Now they’re ready to change.


I want to test your commitment. I want you to test your commitment. Because it’s one thing to say you’re committed and another to be committed.

Think of a failed SCI you’ve experienced. Now, write down all the reasons why it failed. (Stop. Seriously, stop. Take two minutes to do this.)

(Were you committed enough to take the two minutes? Or did you automatically jump to this paragraph? I thought so. If you haven’t done it yet, take the two minutes now.)

Now, be brutally honest. Were you as committed as you needed to be to successfully execute that SCI?

Did you set specific goals? Did you regularly communicate them throughout your organization? Did you communicate why you needed to achieve them and how you intended to achieve them? Did you cascade the goals down the org chart? Translate them into individual expectations? Adjust your measurement and reporting systems to stay focused on them?

Did you provide your people with the knowledge and skills needed to achieve the goals? With sufficient resources—materials, budget, and time? With sufficient authority to make decisions and take action in support of the goals?

Did you provide them with ongoing feedback and guidance about their performance? Did you recognize and reinforce them for the right behaviors and right outcomes? Did you hold them constructively accountable when needed?

Did you redesign whichever processes needed to be redesigned in support of the goals? Revise whichever policies needed to be revised? Change your org structure as required? Invest in the necessary infrastructure—facilities, equipment, and systems?

Did you revamp your recruitment process to attract the people who could best help you achieve the goals? Ensure your selection process enabled you to reliably select the best candidates?

Were you committed enough to identify, examine, and align every touchpoint with your goals, so as to overwhelmingly tilt the odds in your favor? Did you persevere when the change wasn’t happening or wasn’t happening quickly enough? Did you determine why it wasn’t happening and what you needed to do differently to make it happen?

Were you committed enough to deal with the inevitable, ongoing, and myriad work pressures, aside from the SCI, without caving on your commitment?

Now, with all of this in mind, how committed were you to winning?

Commitment is best summed up by what I heard a famous football coach say many years ago: “There’s a big difference between the will to win and the will to do what it takes to win.” Exactly. And you’d better understand that difference. Many of us have the will to win. We love the feeling of winning. We want to be associated with winners. But do we have the will to do what it takes to win?


True commitment comes at a price.

Lindsey Vonn was willing to pay that price. Vonn is the most accomplished female ski racer in history. Over an unparalleled, 18-year career, she won 82 races, 8 World Cup downhill (season) titles, 5 super-G titles, 4 overall World Cup titles, and an Olympic gold medal. Wow! Yet what those numbers don’t speak to was the intensity of her commitment.

As a young child, Vonn was not particularly coordinated or physically gifted. Sports, it seemed, was not where Vonn would make her mark. Yet she possessed two crucial traits that formed the bedrock of her future success. She was very observant, always watching others to see what worked, what didn’t, and why. And she was willing to work harder—much, much harder—than anyone else.

By her own estimation, Vonn skied tens of thousands more slalom gates than any other young skier in the United States. And once she made it to the World Cup circuit, her commitment didn’t wane. She turned heads early on with her famously wicked training schedule. Vonn would train six hours a day, five to six days per week, year-round—far more than anyone else on the circuit—to improve her strength, agility, and endurance. Her personal trainer never had to push her to train. He had to push her to not overtrain.

But that was just one part of the formula. The science of physical training dictates that major exertion demands major recovery. Vonn’s recovery schedule included 10 hours of sleep and a 1-hour nap each day.

Her relentless desire to improve was also reflected in her approach to the technical side of the sport. For many years, she was the only woman on the US ski team who recorded how her equipment performed in testing. She came up with the idea of having a sports scientist shoot ultrahigh-speed video of her skiing to better understand the interactive effect of snow condi29tions and various equipment combinations on performance. She trained extensively with the Norwegian men’s ski team—which included the top two male skiers in the world—so she could study their dynamics and ski lines. All of this with the goal of finding the hundredths of seconds that can make the difference between success and failure.

Are you getting a sense of what true commitment looks like?

There’s more.

There’s fighting through unexpected setbacks with the unwavering resolve to come back even stronger. In Vonn’s case, that included ruptured knee ligaments, knee fractures, a badly splintered humerus bone, related nerve damage, a broken ankle, broken fingers, concussions, and what doctors initially feared was a broken back.

There’s more still.

There’s making a conscious choice not to do all those things you want to do because they would keep you from doing the things you have to do. From her early years through to adulthood, Vonn recalls missing out on school dances, sleepovers, friendships, fun events, weekend getaways, vacations, and just having a somewhat normal social life.

True commitment comes at a price. That’s what got Lindsey Vonn to the top. But—and this is important—her goal was not just to get to the top; it was to win more ski races than any woman ever had, than any person ever had. So her regimen remained her regimen even when she was at the top of her sport. No complacency, no letting up. Total commitment. Ultimately, when the cumulative effect of injuries finally forced her to retire, Vonn’s 82 race wins were 20 more than that of the previous women’s record holder, Annemarie Moser-Pröll, and only 4 short of tying the men’s record holder, Ingemar Stenmark.

To be committed, you don’t have to be a world-best skier 30whose training routine borders on maniacal, who suffers broken body parts, or who misses out on all the things you don’t want to miss out on. But don’t thump your chest and trumpet how committed you are when you’ve done only a small fraction of what’s possible.


A highly successful, mid-market company that likes to fly under the radar—let’s call it SuccessCo—has over the past 50 years become one of the largest real estate development and management companies in its state.

The company’s story is one of both evolution and reinvention. Originally a contracting company, SuccessCo expanded into various segments of the construction industry until it concentrated its focus on developing and managing commercial real estate and residential apartment communities. Over time, it became known for operational excellence, won multiple Workplace Excellence awards, and continually placed at or near the top of industry rankings for residential satisfaction. Its exceptional financial performance reflected all of that.

But that wasn’t good enough. SuccessCo’s Executive Team understood how easy it would be for complacency to set in and for the company to lose its edge. They determined that while operational excellence was important, it was even more important that the company develop a culture of innovation, one in which employees would be empowered to continually try new things to drive improvement and results.

Committed to achieving this, they assembled a guiding team—sponsored by an Executive Team member—to define, promote, enable, and support the desired culture. It was at this point that the Executive Sponsor—let’s call her Jada—asked me to help them structure the initiative, challenge their assumptions, and guide the journey.

Our first task was to select members of the guiding team, which we called the Innovation Team. It would have been easy to simply select people from different functions or locations to ensure we had appropriate “representation.” Instead, our priority was to select people who had the right traits and skills to be highly effective contributors: people who saw possibilities not just problems, who were doers not just talkers, who had strong interpersonal skills, and who were respected by their peers.

With the Innovation Team in place, we established a charter that outlined our purpose, objectives, goals, branding, roles, and team norms. We then developed an Operational Framework for submitting, evaluating, implementing, and tracking ideas. We wanted processes that were simple and easy, yet would give us the data we needed to learn and evolve. We created a Marketing Framework for communicating and promoting the initiative, and for recognizing and celebrating progress and success. We developed a Support Framework to make sure that every employee touchpoint, everything that shaped their experience, was consistently aligned with our objectives. To oversee our efforts, we established a Management Framework that outlined how and when the Innovation Team would meet to track progress, assess the three other frameworks, and make necessary revisions.

Before launching any of this, we conducted a minesweeping exercise by asking ourselves the question, “Why will this fail?” Anticipating what could cause the SCI to fail allowed us to identify preventive and corrective actions.

Instituting these frameworks, our focus in the first year was to create an environment that would educate and encourage employees, and have them feel comfortable submitting ideas. We wanted to build a habit of generating and submitting ideas, and create an expectation that this was the norm. One incentive that generated buzz was the offer to give every employee a week off at the end of the year if, collectively, they submitted over 100 ideas. At the same time, we set a target of implementing a modest number of improvements (25) in that first year.

What happened? As Jada observed, “There was a pent-up desire to improve things that employees saw needed improving. Over 150 ideas were submitted, and almost a third were implemented. We made tremendous progress that first year and saw evidence of real cultural change. Not only did people start thinking about how the business could be improved; they would approach their managers with their ideas. Managers were more open and responsive to those ideas. And everyone saw ideas being implemented. All of that told us the culture was starting to change.”

The Innovation Team played a key role in enabling the change, helping employees to craft and refine their ideas, coaching managers on how to constructively engage employees who approached them with ideas, and continually massaging ideas through to implementation when warranted. It was a good start, but only a start.

We discovered that some employees were reluctant to propose ideas that involved spending money. Those who received bonuses based on financial performance were naturally risk-averse. For others, it was simply the fear of feeling responsible 33for spending money that might not result in anything.

So the company upped its commitment. It not only budgeted $150,000 for the implementation of innovation ideas; it mandated that that money had to be spent in year two regardless of the certainty of the outcome. And spending the $150,000 would have no negative effect on bonuses. The only requirement was that each idea should reasonably be expected to have some impact on operational performance, the customer experience, employee engagement, or financial results. The message was that experimentation and innovation had to become part of the culture. Commit to the process, learn from the process, and the results will follow.

Removing the disincentives to spend money on innovation allowed employees the freedom to experiment and to learn. They discussed what worked, what didn’t, and why. Not only was the money spent, but we saw an increasing number of tangible improvements.

The process evolved. We created a category of ideas called “Just Do It!” that didn’t need to be submitted or evaluated; employees could simply act on them. Still, we kept track of those ideas so we could understand what was being done, what resulted, and how the culture was changing.

We actively sought input from employees about how to evolve the initiative. If the goal was to develop a culture of innovation, then we, the Innovation Team, needed to role model innovation in our efforts.

The following year, another $150,000 was allocated as must-spend for implementing innovation ideas. The year after that, it was upped to $300,000. Momentum grew, the results kept building, and the new culture took root. Innovation became a normal part of how SuccessCo did business. And, yes, the financial results justified the investment.

Why did this approach succeed while so many others fail?

“We approached it as a system,” said Jada, “a system focused on people. We took a comprehensive approach, so that everything was consistent with what we wanted to achieve. It wasn’t just a project.

“It’s important to be flexible and adjust as you go, and to listen to everyone involved. These initiatives have to evolve organically. They can’t just be top-down.

“We’ve seen a lot of improvements in the customer experience, employee experience, operations, and our financial results. But the biggest benefit is that we now have a culture where every employee is empowered to try new things. It’s super energizing. And having this kind of culture helps us attract and retain quality employees.”

Commitment. It’s not about holding motivational launch meetings, making big sweeping gestures, or pushing people through training. Pull back the curtain on any successful SCI and you’ll see a commitment that’s reflected in all the arrows pointed continuously in the right direction. You’ll see ruthless consistency.

You can’t be kind of, sort of, somewhat committed. If you are, you’ll fail. It takes intense commitment. The journey won’t be easy. Doing what it takes to win involves sacrifice. Often, you’ll feel uncomfortable. That’s how it’s supposed to feel.

How committed are you to winning? Your move.

•   You’re not as committed as you need to be . . . yet. And unless you up your commitment, your SCIs will fail.

•   Determine what your organization needs to achieve. Determine the level of commitment needed to make it happen. Then ask yourself, “Am I willing to do what it takes to win?”

* I use “winning” as a metaphor for “success,” for achieving your goals. It doesn’t mean there has to be a “loser.”