Using Commitments to Manage Across Units

By Donald Sull and Charles Spinosa


A company’s installed business processes are typically designed to execute routine activities. As such, they can have great difficulty handling novel initiatives, particularly when it requires coordination across different business units. Such cases are often better handled by a new framework that views the organization as a nexus of personal promises that employees make to each other. As defined by the authors, a commitment is a promise made by a performer to satisfy the concerns of a customer within the organization. “Customer” and “performer” refer simply to roles: An individual acts as a customer when making a request and a performer when fulfilling a request. In committing to a customer, a performer promises to fulfill the customer’s “conditions of satisfaction”, that is, the specific terms (such as cost, timing, and quality) required to meet the customer’s needs.


In general, the most powerful commitments are public, active, voluntary, explicit, and motivated.


Moreover, effective commitments tend to arise out of ongoing discussions between the customer and performer that proceed through four basic steps: preparation, negotiation, execution, and acknowledgment.


Subjects Covered


Business processes, Business unit, Commitments, Communication in organizations, Leadership, Operations management, Operations research, Organizational learning.


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