How to Cultivate Commitment to the Cause

(© iStockphoto/PaCondryx)

Cultivating a spirit of commitment versus a command to compliance reaps continuous rewards, especially in employee loyalty.

Compliant employees will do exactly what you ask. The employee value proposition with this relationship is simple and transactional. The employer pays the employee an agreed-on wage to execute agreed-on tasks. If the employee is internally motivated, then he or she will complete work exactly as asked. If the employee is not internally motivated, then the employer will constantly have to remind the employee of the rules, requirements and responsibilities. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a miserable way to operate a business. Thankfully, there is a better way.

When a leader is able to get a team member to commit to an organization, the employee value proposition is something very different. The team member not only does what the leader asks but also expends discretionary effort. The leader, in return, commits to the development and growth of the employee. This creates a cycle of commitment between the leader and the employee. The more the leader invests in the committed employee, the more the employee knows and can contribute. The more the employee contributes, the more committed he or she is to the business. That higher level of commitment translates to a greater contribution. The perpetuation of this cycle grows the business in exponential ways.

How does compliance play out on a daily basis? Employees generally do only what is necessary. Because selection is generally a weakness of the compliance-driven manager, most of the employees they hire are also compliance-driven and do not exhibit a trait of being internally motivated to do more. If the employee is doing only what they are told to do and only what is necessary, they are not looking for ways to further please the customer. If the manager is focused only on transactions and not on customer service and satisfaction, the employee is not thinking about serving the customers' true needs either. In this model, somebody is usually "chewed out" each day and turnover is frequent.

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Fostering Commitment

Commitment, on the other hand, looks very different. Leaders encourage employees to anticipate and meet guest needs, even when there is no procedure in place. It's more than just showing up at work on time in proper uniform. At a quick-service restaurant, this might be holding an umbrella over guests returning to their car in the rain, changing a guest's tire or driving for miles to return an item left by a guest at the restaurant. In return, the leader takes a personal interest in each team member, understanding opportunities for growth and the team member's personal and professional aspirations and dreams.

Leaders who coach for commitment instead of merely compliance invest more to prevent people problems rather than incurring the expense of having to solve people problems. Committed members of your team build the brand of a business. Compliant employees, at most, barely protect a brand. It may take more skill and intention to lead committed staff, but it is also a lot more fun. Committed team members create committed teams, and committed teams become winning teams. If you want to lead a winning team, seek commitment from team members rather than compliance from employees.

I have seen both of these employee value propositions in action. The first one reminds me of a summer job that one of my sons had a few years ago. He worked for a lawn care business where the boss required compliance and rarely received commitment. My son learned more from observing his behavior as an owner than he learned about maintaining lawns. Since we also were customers of this lawn care business, we had a unique perspective of understanding the owner as a boss and seeing the results of his management. Yes, it would have been far less expensive to cut out the middleman and have our son care for the lawn, but then he would have missed some valuable lessons.

Bob was the owner of this business, and he was not very selective in his hiring, which was his first mistake if he was expecting anything more than compliance from his employees. My son's training was a one-week experience as a ride-along with his manager, Barry. Relationship beyond that was nonexistent between Bob and his employees. He chewed them out regularly for failing to meet his and the customer's expectations, and firings were frequent. Bob's insistence to lead his employees by fear caused them to be disgruntled and demotivated, and it often showed in their work. They had no commitment to Bob, the customers or their work. My son was partnered, for the entire summer, with Barry, which was fortunate because he learned how to do things right. It also meant his days were much longer because not only did he and Barry take more care with the lawns they maintained, they often had to go back to other customers at the end of the day to correct the poor efforts of other employees.

One day, I had the opportunity to observe this in action. The lawn maintenance crew arrived for its weekly care of our lawn and did not know I was sitting on the porch. I watched as they mowed the small lawn and clipped a few shrubs. They were there less than 40 minutes. As usual, they placed the bill for service under the doormat. After they left, I looked at the bill. They checked the boxes for numerous tasks they did not perform. It would have taken at least two hours to do all of the things they claimed. Unfortunately, this is the common behavior of employees who work for a boss who requires compliance rather than nurturing commitment. Employees do only what they have to do, and sometimes only what they can get away with, so not only does the customer suffer—eventually, so does the business.

Rewarding Excellence

On the other hand, over the years, I have observed Chick-fil-A Operators who are masters at nurturing commitment. Their efforts are storied throughout the history of our company.

The stories include an Operator in Atlanta who has an extremely multicultural team with over 20 different nationalities represented. Understanding that the team needs to work together effectively, he makes a point of nurturing relationships by inviting them to his house for dinner. When their families visit from their home country, he often invites them to dinner as well. One of his employees from Kenya eventually became an Operator of his own Chick-fil-A restaurant. Operators have provided their own scholarships for team members (in addition to the Chick-fil-A Leadership Scholarship offered by Chick-fil-A), taken their teams on outings to theme parks and ski retreats, provided limousines for their team members on prom night and a host of other generous gestures to build the commitment level of team members. In return, team members have rewarded Operators with unprecedented commitment to guests.

Commitment starts at the restaurant level, but prevails throughout our business. Late one afternoon, an Operator called the warehouse at the Chick-fil-A corporate office for a badly needed equipment part. Not only did the warehouse employee quickly locate the part, she drove over 200 miles round trip that afternoon and evening to get the part quickly to the Operator. Twenty or more years ago, Hurricane Opal came up the East Coast. In its path, Atlanta suffered a great deal of damage. At our office, we lost power and fallen trees covered our three-quarter-mile driveway into our property. For the most part, Atlanta was shut down on this particular day. However, a Chick-fil-A Operator candidate had driven through the storm to make it to our office for his interview. One of our Human Resources staff knew the importance of being at the office to meet the candidate. Her husband drove her to the entrance of the driveway, and she climbed over fallen trees and debris for the three-quarters-of-a-mile trek to the building. By the time the candidate arrived, our fabulous grounds-maintenance crew had cleared the debris and trees, but the efforts of this employee to get to work had been nothing less than heroic.

So how do these investments translate into success? In Chick-fil-A's case, Operators have produced one of the lowest team member turnover rates in the industry. The Operator retention rate spanning nearly 50 years is 96 percent. The corporate staff retention rate has consistently remained at 95-97 percent over the same time span. Most notably, Chick-fil-A has experienced a sales increase of more than 10 percent almost every year it has been in existence. Commitment breeds commitment and produces phenomenal business results. Commitment among employees is a catalyst for growth—of the individuals and the business. Fostering people's dreams catapults the business into a whole new realm.  

Dee Ann Turner is vice president, corporate talent, for Chick-fil-A. Along with serving on the boards of The Kenya Project and Proverbs 31 Ministries, she is active with a variety of family-focused missions. Learn more at

Taken from It's My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture by Dee Ann Turner Copyright © 2015. Used by permission of Elevate Publishing (

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