Pinky worked for an engineering company after the end of World War II. Part of the overall recovery from the war that would ensure employment and curb inflation was the lowering of interest rates. Because Federal Housing and Urban Development mortgages and regulations opened the market up to almost anyone to own a home, a building boom ensued. Still today you can see the homes of the 1940s in neighborhoods and the countryside alike. Those homes couldn’t have been built without people like Pinky—sort of.
The engineering company Pinky worked for was tasked with surveying and establishing lot lines for new homes to be built. The subdivision had hundreds of homes. Each day would be just like the one before. Each morning upon arriving at the development, the boss would get out of the truck and look for Pinky, always still firmly seated in Surveying Jeep.
“What are we gonna do today boss”, Pinky would ask?
Normally the boss would give Pinky the same answer as the day before, but this day he didn’t have the time or patience.
“Dammit Pinky, he exclaimed! We are gonna do the same thing we did yesterday, and the day before that, and the God only knows how many days before that! Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
Pinky sat silent for a moment.
“Well alright then boss, Pinky mumbled. But if I kept up with all this like you, then I’d have your job!”
Pop Quiz! Which of the following statements best describes Pinky?
a) Pinky is a dumbass
b) Pinky is not committed to his job
c) Pinky is competent and committed, but hits the reset button each day at 5 o’clock and assumes that the “boss” exists to fill the gap left after hours.
Judging Pinky starts with how you define employee commitment. In some jobs, if you show up every day you are considered committed. In others, working towards improvement or making contributions to maximizing the organization’s profit margins mean the most. However, no matter which definition you choose, a commitment gap exists in all employee’s minds; yes even yours! The commitment gap can certainly be problematic if it is assumed to be too large by any subordinate. Let’s do some simple math to demonstrate:
Subordinate 1 Commitment = 50%
Subordinate 1 Assumed Superior’s Commitment Gap= 50%
Subordinate 1 Total Commitment= 100%- BASELINE COMMITMENT
Superior 1 Commitment- 80%
Superior 1 Assumed Superior’s Commitment Gap- <20%>
Superior 1 Assumed Added Commitment from Subordinate 1- 50%
Superior 1 Total Commitment = 110%
Subordinate 1 Total Commitment 100% – Superior 1 Total Commitment 110% = -10%
The reality is that this 10% deficit at the first level of management in an organization will compound and, if left unbalanced, will result in perceptions of lesser committed lower level employees to high brass executives. Oftentimes middle managers take the brunt of this commitment gap and overcompensate within their own jobs to satisfy subordinates and superiors alike. This creates rapid burn out and resentment towards subordinates. And in essence, if questioned by your superiors about those subordinates that have been letting you fill the gap and you know you’ve been doing so, you just self-implicated!
So if you have this problem at work, how do you fix it? Here are three starting points.
1. Identify what commitment is and how it should be displayed on each level within your span of control. If it is a simple hours worked metric, good. If it is a function of service, then determine a way to measure it. Always make sure that each employee understands what their contribution means to the end product.
2. Encourage co-workers who may be overcompensating to maintain balance to stop doing so. This is a corporate cultural issue that will be recognized and adjusted to whichever way it is being balanced by supervisors.
3. Don’t be scared to question commitment levels and understand that, as a manager, you will always have to fill a certain amount of commitment gap. The concern is keeping a net zero balance between all levels of supervision. Times of emergency and urgency will always require managers to be more committed. These situations are the exceptions, but slowly creep in to become the rule if not monitored through self-awareness.
Inevitably, there will be employees who, under any metric or understanding of their contribution, couldn’t care less about their perceived contribution. These people are poison to the well! Address the behaviors of these employees with them. Behaviors are learned, reinforced, and thankfully can be changed. Focus on the behaviors.
Pinky wasn’t a bad employee, just presumptuous about what slack his boss was taking up. Next time you have an interaction with “Pinky”, stop and think about how you can close the commitment gap. Just like a river eroding the banks, sometimes it takes a while to see its devastating effects and the damage can’t be reversed. In the case of the Grand Canyon, it’s not just the river eroding the banks deeper and deeper, but the weak canyon walls left behind that fall making the gap wider and wider. Commitment gaps in an organization will make other issues worse if left untamed. A unified, committed workforce can create advantages for itself so stop trying to fill the gap!