Are You Committed
To the Right Thing?
The word commitment is used quite often as a measurement in corporate settings. Is the company committed to the budget, to the plan, to the targets, to the deadline, etc.? This extends to employees as well. Are employees committed is code for, are they loyal or are they engaged? In our personal lives commitment is equally important. Are you committed to your spouse, are you committed to providing your children with a good education and the list goes on. Commitment is important, but equally if not more important is an assessment of who or what we are committing to.
"Commitment is important, but equally if not more important is an assessment of who or what we are committing to."
Recently, I met Kim Haagenson a Norwegian entrepreneur and social activist. Kim was speaking at Creative Mornings Oslo, a monthly event held in 172 cities in 63 countries. Each month one city gets to choose the topic and all chapters arrange their events around that topic. The topic of the month was survival. Kim spoke about the struggle that we all encounter in life. He believes in a simple formula:
Purpose + courage = Struggle
In his formula, struggle is an outcome and not necessarily a negative one. It is through our constant struggle that we learn and build resilience. Resilience is like a muscle, it only gets stronger through adversity. After several failed startups and a bumpy path, Kim now runs a successful business WeClean. In his case, it was through the struggle that he found his purpose, so the formula can be reformatted. Kim is a true socialist and has incorporated his belief system into his company. He believes that the highest paid person in a company should never make more than five times what the lowest paid employee makes. Not a formula for success in a capitalistic company that exploits low level workers to maximize profits.
At the end of his talk I asked Kim about his definition of success. He paused for a minute before sharing his story. Kim began telling the story of how he dropped out of school to pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur. He wanted to be a millionaire. He wanted to be rich and believed that starting a company was the best path to that goal. He struggled and had several failed attempts, but he persevered. When Kim was in his twenties he set a goal to earn one million dollars by the time he turned thirty. A lofty goal, but achievable. He was so committed to the goal that he announced to family and friends that if he did not achieve his goal he would cut off his pinky finger. This was the ultimate show of commitment. When Kim turned twenty-eight he was still far from his goal. To make it even more real he had a perforated line tattooed around his pinky finger as a constant reminder of the goal and his commitment.
When Kim turned thirty he had not reached his financial goal. With a pair of industrial scissors he followed through on his commitment and cut off his pinky finger. Listening to him tell the story was a bit unnerving for everyone in the audience. Kim explained that it is a very personal story and not one he tells often. As he held out his hand we could all see the stub where his pinky finger used to be. Kim went on to say that he never imagined how different things would be without the finger. He said it really limits his grip and his ability to do several things. This is an even more constant reminder of the struggle he committed to.
The real learning in the story came next. Kim went on to explain that once in his thirties he began to achieve the success he so desired. His company began to grow and he far exceeded his financial goal, but something had shifted. Kim along the way realized that there are more important things in his life than making lots of money. His wife and kids became his priority. They were sitting in the front row at Creative Mornings supporting him. His capitalistic goal was misguided and drove him to embrace socialism. Kim had realized that he had committed to the wrong goal and paid a dear price in cutting off his finger for the wrong goal.
The lesson in Kim’s story applies to all of us. While commitment is important, what we choose to commit to is even more important. Kim was so committed that he cut off his finger. Would people in your company sacrifice their finger in a show of commitment to your operating plan? Probably not, but if losing a finger doesn’t make someone question the goal, I don’t know what would. Before committing to a goal, be absolutely certain it is the right goal and one that you are willing to live with indefinitely.
Setting commitments individually or for an organization should not be done hastily. It is best done with the assistance of a professional coach or facilitator. This unbiased third party perspective can challenge an individual or an organization to answer the all important “why” question when making commitments.