Commitment Conversations

Published on 13th January 2018 in Leadership

Why have Commitment Conversations?

Commitment Conversations support excellence in delivery. They create a culture of accountability and performance that is built when commitments are clearly and willingly made and met. Used effectively, they have a substantial impact on how we create clarity and increases the likelihood of delivery on promises we have made and that others have made to us.

The benefits?

  • Increases performance and the delivery of results
  • Creates clear accountability, regardless of formal reporting relationships

The Details


A Commitment involves both a request and a response. It is important to have complete clarity in both the request and the response. To ensure clarity in the request it must include some key elements which are highlighted in the example below.

Request for a Commitment

Context – why this is important “In order to achieve ‘W’”|
Clarity on who is asking, and who is being asked – I’ request that ‘YOU’
Clarity about what is wanted, by when – do X by Y
A request for commitment – “Can you commit to that? ”

If any of these elements are missing, or not clear, then you may not have a clear Request. Note – the request is for a Commitment to deliver, not for the task ‘X’

Responses to a Request
There are only 2 possible Committed responses to a request for Commitment:

Yes, I commit” or
No, I do not commit”

There may be a need for an intermediate step, in order to make a Committed response. Intermediate steps can include:

“Before I commit, I need clarification on…”
“I commit to responding by date and time”
“I decline, and counter offer to deliver V by W”

Many times you may receive Uncommitted responses, e.g.

“Leave it with me”
“I will try my best.”
“Let me get back to you on that.”
“I can’t promise, let’s see how it goes.”

If you accept responses like these which are not clear, it is hard to hold people to account for results. For example “I tried my best but I didn’t succeed – I did what I promised I would so why are you complaining?”.

Integrity in Commitments
Over time, you will build a reputation for your personal reliability (or unreliability!) in the delivery of commitments. Colleagues will form a view on whether you have ‘integrity in commitments’ i.e. whether or not you are likely to deliver what you say you will deliver. In order to consistently deliver on your commitments, you need to check that you can say ‘Yes’ to each of the following questions before you make a commitment:

  • Do I understand what the other person is requesting of me?
  • Do I have the skills and resources to do it?
  • Am I convinced that those on whom I depend will deliver for me?
  • Am I willing to be held accountable for non-delivery?

Note: this is framed as the questions to consider for the Performer i.e. the person delivering the commitment. However, the Customer (the person receiving delivery of a commitment) also has a responsibility to check that the commitment is realistic for the Performer on the outset. If you know that someone is making an unrealistic commitment to you, then having ‘integrity in commitments’ means that you should raise your doubts

Recap of Key Messages
1. Clear and intentional Commitment Conversations lead to higher levels of accountability, integrity, trust, performance and delivery of results
2. Commitment requires clear, mutual understanding of what is expected. This often necessitates clarification and negotiation
3. You must provide scope for the respondent to seek clarification and even to say “No, I do not commit.” A request for a commitment without any space for he Performer to decline is an “Order”. While giving an Order may be appropriate and effective at certain times, you risk coercing your colleagues and achieving reluctant compliance rather than commitment.



What next?
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