From Compliance to Commitment – What’s underneath it?

May 24, 2010 // 5 Comments » // HR Insights | Leadership Infusion | Stories Retold | Team Intervention

Hierarchy of Commitment

Hierarchy of Commitment - ConversationCircles

Two recent news and current affairs got my attention.

For one, I read with interest this morning news about a man who has been arrested in connection with a power blackout at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino last Wednesday. He is believed to be a disgruntled engineer employed by a subcontractor of MBS.

The other, the passing of Dr. Goh Keng Swee. His story, past speeches, his contribution as 1st generation founding fathers, political achievements and driving many government’s nation building initiatives into the modern Singapore today, were widely reported over the past weeks. One such report quoted his last speech before he retires from politics; Dr. Goh said (quote): “You are coming into this. You are joining a holy order and your job is to build on what we have done, not treat it as a pinnacle, but as a foundation to make it better”

I thought the two reports have put both Commitment and Condemnation into perspective…

If Commitment is the pinnacle pursuit of our Human Capital work, have you ever ask what it takes to reach there? What comes before that? How do we know?

In 2005, I facilitated a teambuilding program for a group of 30 staff from a not-for-profit organization that has several establishment such as healthcare, pre-school and family-care centers. The leadership team faced tremendous challenges to embed the values of commitment and sense of ownership with the team. At the end of the two-day session, when we all sits in a circle and I drew the Hierarchy of Commitment on the floor with white-chalk and asked:

“For a question that I do not need an immediate answers but your deep reflection on where you think you are on the level of commitment to this very organization that you call home. Where are you?”

I invited the team to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, spent about 3 minutes of silence in the circle.

We spent the next 45 minutes debrief with tears, laughter, confessions and affirmation. When I left the group, many still continue their conversation in small groups, in pairs and in self deep thoughts.

Are you ready to talk about Commitment?

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5 Responses to “From Compliance to Commitment – What’s underneath it?”

  1. I really like this hierarchy of commitment as a way to articulate energies that are always in the room, embedded in a conversation–sometimes in very oblique ways. Making the different relationships to a particular topic obvious helps to give a group a way to understand the dynamics they are dealing with, especially if people can state their position without shame or judgment. I am curious, Allen, how you would integrate such a strong triangle into your Conversation Circles. Let’s chat about that.

  2. Allen says:

    Firstly, your observation ‘sometimes in very oblique ways’ was definitely spot-on as the people in the circle struggled to have clear view of the hierarchy. For a while, people tended to jostle for positions to have a clearer view…an inconvenience for the participants I took for granted!
    In our Asian context, it is never easy to get people to state their position or opinion in a social setting…least the commitment level to an organization. I intended the hierarchy at the end of the session to help the group to be “disturbed”, to begin to ask oneself question that may see change in the future.
    I remembered when Margaret Wheatley shared the conversational circle here in Singapore some years ago, one of the exercise was having a talking-peace placed on a piece of paper with a question. The group member who would like to respond to the question will have to ‘make the move’, leaving the seat to the center, take the talking-piece and share his/her thoughts.
    I would integrate the hierarchy into a conversational circle with similar effect. I would draw the basic hierarchy of commitment in the center with a few chalks, state the Intention, Check-In and set the agreements. When the group members are ready, they will go to the center, draw their ‘position’ along the hierarchy and maybe state their relationships to the hierarchy using a statement and why…I see this also as a way to co-create the hierarchy to suit the current environment and relationship the group themselves are experiencing rather than the ‘theoretical model’ that we have provided.
    I would invite more thoughts on this discussion…thanks a heap to Christina for this excellent question!

  3. Inge says:


    the hierarchy of commitment was soooo real…it is happening everywhere, and when you made it into a triangle, it make sense since we easily fall into non-commital or condemnation..

    I see ‘commitment’ comes from your heart…it is the voice of your soul, calling you, to your true mission in life..we all have our own mission..

    I see ‘commitment’ as the ‘thing’ that moves in Kurt Lewin’s theory: unfreeze – movement – refreeze. the most challenging part is the unfreeze make people ‘move’…that’s where commitment taking its part…

    and my commitment is to always come back to this site :)

  4. Allen says:


    As always I am thankful for your encouragement and support for the work we do here at ConversationCircles. Your desire to learn has served as a reminder to me about commitment.
    Though my journey has just begun but it has been a tough and lonely walk so far…even socially misunderstood at many times. When I look at my three little angels faces late into the evening, I do questioned myself am I on the right way…and each time God says THIS IS THE WAY!

    With your love and support, I will strive on for sure!

  5. Inge says:

    Many times we forgot what is actually in our heart…be calm, listen to our heart..and there we found our true commitment – commitment that drives us passionately to love and be loved

    I believe CC has one true commitment – it is genuinely developing people and motivating people to find their commitment, not only in work-life, but deep in their life.

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