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In 2004 I co-founded a digital strategy company that focuses on inbound marketing (i.e., getting clients found via the Internet). My team consists of independent contractors that work virtually throughout the US as well as in other countries. In talking with Joan Blades, I learned that we worked under a high-commitment workplace model. At the time I didn’t really know what that was. The business structure was initially created out of necessity. But indeed, that is how I have worked, in my company as well as a few prior corporate and entrepreneurial assignments. So how did I figure this out? Below are five guidelines that set me on the path, and that I still follow today.

1. Think Like an Engineer

I worked in a variety of corporate jobs before becoming an entrepreneur. Some assignments were routine; others innately required high-commitment work teams. These were often assignments that required fixing or creating something. In order to do that I had to assess the root problem or goal, determine requirements to make it work, understand the environment, materials, or systems I was working with and associated workflows or process. If you think like this already, guess what? You have the capacity to be a great engineer! The point is you have to think completely out of the box, not beholding to existing norms, while retaining the elements of what is required to reach the end goal of satisfying the customer (whether internal or external to the company).

2. Bet on People All Day Every Day

Now just because you think like an engineer doesn’t mean you can do everything. That’s where I learned to learn from my colleagues, contractors and employees. No matter what their title, they often had been doing their jobs longer than I had. Or had expertise far deeper than mine. As a result I came to believe people are an organization’s greatest asset. It may stand to reason that capital is the greatest asset, and that is truly essential, maybe even number one. But if you have capital, and can’t get the right people for the task, it is useless. If you have the right people, and little capital, things can get done.

3. Empower People to Do the Job

I recently received the greatest flattery when one of my long-time go-to contractors told a new contractor that ‘Cynthia stands up for her people’. Over time I created great rapport with people up and down stream from my responsibilities. This was a vital asset in clearing pathways and creating workflows to resolve problems so the team can get the job done. But I also incorporated the team into the solution, taking advice and crafting something that works for everyone (that is the job of a manager in a high-commitment team). I also freely and liberally recognize success. That may take the form of simple recognition, recommendation for a promotion, dismissing them during the day for an unexpected family need (not necessarily an emergency), or surprise team event they all have an interest in. High-commitment teams, whether all highly skilled, or mixed levels of staff, must be on equal footing as a team to contribute.

4. Trust People to Do the Job

I am not a micro-manager, and a person who is such may find difficulty shifting to a high-commitment team model. Prior to an assignment, the requirements are discussed, questions answered and information supplied. After that, status updates are employed to make sure all is running smoothly. Finding good candidates for the high-commitment model can be challenging as well. The ability to do the job is important, but ‘soft’ skills are just as crucial, namely:

  • Collaborative, a sharer of information and not a hoarder
  • Likes to plan their on work tasks/steps
  • Confident and passionate about their work and the industry
  • Highly motivated and deadline oriented
  • Accountable
  • Respectful
  • Self-motivating
  • Lifestyle along with financial is the reward

5. Establish Metrics to Measure Work Performance

Metrics are important for the manager, the team, and the client. Expectations should be clearly established ahead of time, and not set up as a ‘gotcha’. This is one way to help you as the owner or manager feel confident in trusting the team. It also helps each team member feel confident that they are on the right track. Continually evaluating metrics, whether simple or complex must be established.

What are your thoughts? If you are on or initiating a high-commitment team share what is working for you.


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