Leadership Skills – Lesson 6

The Big Picture

Make it your number one, above-all-else, priority to make sure each new employee knows that you as their employer understand the commitment curve. This means:

  • That you know what it means to someone to find themselves temporarily de-motivated.
  • That you won’t bail out of the relationship at that point, and neither should they.
  • That you show them what the processes are that you have in place to counter the commitment curve – buddy programs, informal or formal mentoring, or simply being able to go talk to a supervisor or colleague.
  • What is your Engagement Index and what can you do about it?

The new employee will not just be trying to do the job they’ve signed on for. They will also be building relationships with the people around them, getting to know how the organization works, getting to understand what is expected of them, working out lines of reporting and lines of demarcation, and a hundred other stressful, difficult things. In fact, this session acknowledges that things will probably get worse before they get better, but that your organization knows this and has put some supports in place for just those situations.

Most employees face a difficult adjustment period in the first few months of a new job. If you can recognize this, and help them over that hurdle, you have gone a long way toward building a strong relationship with that employee. When you are talking with employees, you may not want to call this a commitment curve. However, you do want them to understand and be able to cope with the feelings they have as they work through this. When your new hires get over the impact of landing a new job, the realities of their new position soon start to loom large. For most people this means facing a daunting learning curve as they meet and try to get on with new people, at the same time as they try to decipher a whole new culture.

This usually leads to an initial drop in enthusiasm, satisfaction, and commitment. In other words, the employee’s commitment curve will take a dip. What happens next is vitally important. Will they recover from this initial shock, will they bounce around for a few months trying to get their bearings, or will they leave? You want employees to quickly integrate into the new environment, so you want the new employee to recognize the impact and identify some things that can be done to address it. Nothing else you do as part of the orientation program will be more important than this. If it is done well, not only will the employee-employer relationship survive, but it will be stronger.

Stages of the Curve

Stage One: Uninformed Optimism

At the outset, the company will have a commitment level slightly lower than the employee, because as we’ve seen, employees tend to have an over-optimistic commitment at the outset of new jobs. At this stage employees are:

  • Happy about new job
  • Positive about this life change and themselves
  • Apprehension is balanced by optimism
Stage Two: Informed Pessimism

As reality starts to set in, employees begin to:

  • Question their ability to cope with the changes going on around them
  • Notice things that seem wrong or incomprehensible to them
  • Political issues, paperwork and procedures are difficult and hard to cope with
  • Resources and support promised at recruitment stage don’t seem to be there
  • Colleagues don‘t seem as competent as they did

As the employee experiences depressed commitment during the first few months, the company will strengthen its commitment to the employee by making its commitment more overt and providing support (training, mentoring, or simply listening and understanding).

Stage Three: Hopeful Realism

At this stage, shock subsides and the organization’s support mechanisms kick in. The employee makes some friends and allies and they begin to understand how the system works. Their social life settles down and they can make sense of procedures. Their work routine begins to appear normal.

Stage Four: Informed Optimism

At this point, the company’s and the employee’s commitment levels, if managed correctly, will converge to the point where the company and the employee’s expectations and commitment are mutual and equal. Characteristics of this stage include:

  • Some projects have gone through to completion
  • Success is beginning to build
  • Aware of the realities at this organization keep them from making naïve or unrealistic assessments of their company

The key to success is that the company is committed to the employees’ development, and by supporting the employee through the commitment drop, expectations will be aligned and the relationship will be strengthened. Key points to remember include:

  • It is to be expected that they will experience a drop in commitment in the first few months of their time with the company.
  • It is vital that this process is managed and turned around.
  • The company is aware of, and supportive of, the commitment curve process and its effects.

What can be done to bridge the commitment gap?

Awareness

Both parties should be aware of areas where expectations are mismatched with reality.

Communication

There should be free and open communication about expectation mismatches.

Understanding

There should be an agreed understanding between the company and the employee regarding the expectation mismatches and what can be done about it.

Action

Appropriate action must be taken by both parties.

What aspects of a workers job responsibilities/reporting structure/quality standards could cause an expectation mismatch?

Remember that communication is the first step to prevention!