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People usually reassess their priorities only after some personal upheaval-an illness, a divorce, the loss of a job. But with the right framework, you can think through your preferences long before crisis strikes.
tween the things we value most and the way we actually spend our time, money,and attention. It may be a crevice or a chasm,but, in either case, the gap raisesquestionsabout how we managethe differencesbetweenour professed valuesand our actualbehavior. Consider caseof Nick,the CEOof a health careproducts comthe pany. (The identities of all the individuals discussed this article in have beendisguisedto protect their confidentiality.)He turned the organization around after it was taken private by a leveragedbuyout firm and has a successful managerialtrack record in a range of blue-chip and entrepreneurialcompanies. is highly regardedby He the private-equityinvestorswho own his parentcompany.But there
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is a huge gap between what Nick caresabout and what I cludes a computer-based exercise that lets students simhe is actually doing. One of the besttimes in his life, he : ulate personal commitments and track what kind of outcomes they may create -think the Sims discover the told us, was when he and his wife took sabbaticals and volunteered for a year with an organization that helps I meaning of life. In the following pages, we'll take a closer immigrants -a causethat matters greatlyto Nick, asthe son of immigrants. He missesthe time he and his wife spenttogether that year. "Thesedays,givenour schedules, we're lucky to spend more than one weekenda month together:' he says.Nick also questionshis professional impact. "At 50,I know I havefive-maybe ten-good work yearsleft:' he says. "But I'm dribbling my life awayworking in a businessthat I'm not passionateabout and that mayor may not make me rich." Nick is consideringseveral careeroptions. He could take a different CEOjob; headhuntersdo call with offers. i Ifhis companywere sold atthe right price,he could retire I early. He could teach at a business school.Or maybehe I
look at this framework and describe how it can help midlife and other managers in their quest to narrow the gap between their deeply held values and their everyday activities. Let us be clear, though: We can't --and won't -try to tell you what the content of your personal commitments should be. We won't suggest that dedicating yourself to social service is better than making partner. Both are laudable goals. We do hope to help you improve the process by which you manage your personal commitments, whatever they may be.
First, let's define our terms and illustrate them in the busicould work full-time at the nonprofit where he and his ness domain. Managerial commitments are actions taken wife volunteered. Although Nick feels dissatisfiedmost in the present that bind an organization to a future days, believesthat anychangemust wait until he comhe course. When most people think of managerial commitpletesa major product launch at work and perhapsuntil: ments, they immediately call to mind dramatic actionshe seeswhat happenswith his equity.He sayshe is way Boeing betting the company on the m, for example, too busyto do anything right now aboutthe gapbetween or Oracle acquiring PeopleSoft to build its position in aphis values and his working life. He's been"too busy" for plications software. In the corporate world, executives severalyearsrunning. Perhapsyour first instinct is to give Nick a thorough I manage such commitments systematically. No responsishaking. But the truth is, many successful people feel i ble CEO would launch a new product or a make a major acquisition without first conducting methodical research a similar disconnect between their daily activities and their deepestdesires -and a similar inability to do any- and tracking progress against quantifiable goals. This is thing about it. We becameinterestedin that disconnect Business 101.Yet the most binding commitments in business are often so mundane as to be almost invisible. almost by accident.Since 1997, have been teaching we a course at London BusinessSchoolon leadingstrategic A $-Q!r!Qan~'sQDgoing investments in refinin~ an~existing te£!!!!ology, fo~ample. can cumulatransformationsin organizations. The conceptualcorner- ~nd~an stone of the course is commitments-the investments, tjvely lock it onto a technological trajectOry from wli1Ch public promises, contracts,and so on that bind an organi- lt ~ hard to esca~. An organization that concentrates its sales efforts on its key customers can become dependent zationto a particular way of doingthings.Thecourse, and on those clients, limiting the firm's freedom to pursue the research that underlies it, analyzes how historical commitments can create inertia that preventsorganiza- other clients and other business options. Taken together, these kinds of mundane commitments can prove as bindtions from respondingeffectivelyto changesin the coming as the big bets, yet they rarely receive the same level petitive environment. It alsoexploreshow managers can of scrutiny from managers. commit to newbusiness opportunities and therebytransA similar logic applies in our personal lives, where our form their companies. most binding commitments are frequently the result of Over the years,many of our midcareerand executive day-to-day decisions too small to attract our attention. students borrowed the course'sframework of commitThere are exceptions, of course. Individuals periodically ments, inertia, and transformation and used it to think make dramatic commitments, such as changing jobs or systematically about their personaland professional comgetting married. And people who choose certain publicmitments.This happenedenoughtimes,and with enough service careers, such asthe military and law enforcement, interesting results,that we incorporated into the course may make the ultimate commitment by giving their life a session managing on personalcommitments.It eveninDonald N. Sull (email@example.com) is an associate professor of management practice at London Business School. This is his fifth article for HBR. Dominic Houlder (dhoulder@ london.edu) is the associate dean of the Sloan Fellowship program at London Business School and an executive coach.
to a cause they believe in. For the rest of us, however, our most important commitments are the result of mundane decisions we make about how to allocate our money, time, and energy. Becausethese decisions are individually small, it is easy to lose sight of them, and when we do, a gap can grow between what we value and what we do.
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Do Your Commitments
Match Your Convictio
i you might want to spend more time together at the beach.Don't be afraid to jot down a value, scratchit out The first step in managing your commitments is to take if it doesn'tsoundquite right, and try again until it does. a quick inventory of what matters to you. (For a helpful Thereis no "right" number of values,but mostpeoplefind work sheet, seethe exhibit "Tiling Stock:') You probably that it takes at leastfive to coverthe multiple dimensionsI have at least a vague sense of what you value most, but it's of their lives (for instance, professional, family, social,reimportant to clarify those themes from time to time. This ligious,and individual). If the number creeps beyondten, exercise lets you check whether you are putting your you're probably not focusingon the highest priority valmoney (and your time and energy) where your mouth is. ues or the most critical ones.Youmight want to askyour A systematic inventory of where your money, time, and spouseor partner to do this stageof the exercise, You too. energy are going often reveals surprising gaps. can then comparenotes and explore the significanceof Using our work sheet, list the things that matter most any differencesyou havein what you value most.Finally, to you in the first column. A few tips: It's crucial that you it's important to write what you honestly value rather avoid overly vague nouns, such as"money" or "family," and than censoringyourself or imposing judgments about instead use more specific gerunds and phrases. "Money," whether you should want somethingor not.This is not an for example, might be articulated as "providing financial exercisein what you (or others) think you should value security for my family;' "earning enough to retire early," or but in what reallymattersto you. "making more than my business school section-mates." The secondstep is to look closely at how committed It's worth spending the time to get the language right. you are, practically speaking,to the items listed in the "Children;' for example, might be broken out into a few first column. The evidencehere will not be in any dramore specific values, such as "raising well-educated, matic actions you may have taken. Such momentous morally responsible children" or "enjoying time hanging events,you will recall,are comparativelyrare in personal out with my kids." These are two different values that life, asthey arein business. Rather,the evidencewill be in have distinct implications for how much time you spend the smaller, more mundane commitments we all rouwith your children and what activities you do with them. tinely make that can collectivelylock us on a courseof acIf you wrote the former, you might value spending time tion. Youcan make the exercise concreteby taking stock together on community service; if you wrote the latter, of whether your daily investmentsof money,time, and
Mind the Gap
I WHAT MAnERS
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Ann Montgomery is a management consultant who has
income that support each of her values. The hours noted in column three represent the time Ann allocates, out of total waking hours in a week, to support her stated values. And the entries in column four denote the quality of the physical and mental energy Ann devotes to her values. Values receiving her peak attention get a tt+:'Values receiving her attention when she's lessenergetic get aIt_:'
what she values
and what she actually does day to day. She used this work sheet to take inventory ues in column and energy in column of her situation. She listed her valmoney, time, listed
one and assessed how much
she spends on each. The percentages two represent the portions
of Ann's household
MONFY 35% mortgage, utilities, and home maintenance 8% trombone lessons, soccer camp, orthodontia 12% variable expenses-bottles of merlot, food at Trader Joe's
15 hours "routine"-being a taxi service, cleaning up after kids, monitoring
5 hours nagging and pestering kids 5 hours "quality"- having meaningful parent-child conversations, helping with homework
15 minutes worrying about Fidelity statement 15 minutes fantasizing about Nasdaq at 10,000 y(
Spending time on activities that recharge my batteries (reading, writing, exercising, one-onone time with friends, and vices I'm not going to admit to) ~
Not much-gym fees, books,merlot,occasional dinnersout, treats
5 hours exercising
5 hours reading
0 hours writing
Ji 'M alWh~ ~I~ 7n~;;;;'~, ,
Maintaining close relationships-Alex (spouse), Mom, siblings, friends
2 to 5 hours
to the church-community
0 hours on community
as well as money
10% (darned if I know)
energyare aligned with your values.Let us look at each categoryin turn. Money. Over the past year, how much money have you spent on eachof the valuesyou listed?To answer this question, you can draw on the data you collect for tax purposes. "Dining out:' for instance,maybe a line item in your Intuit spreadsheet that jibes nicely with the value "spendingtime with friends?'A word of warning,though: Youwill haveto make somejudgmentcalls.Yourpersonal budget categoriesare unlikely to map directly to the values you listed. Sometimesthey will not correlate at all, and the expendituresshouldbe listed in a miscellaneous "other" category.Othertimes,yourpersonalspending will map to your valuesin waysthat aren'tobvious.By taking a big mortgage on an expensivehouse in a tony neighborhood, for example,you also buy access good public to schoolsfor your children. Your expendituresmay correspond to more than one value,so you may want to split them across several values.Youmayalsofind that much of your moneyis allocatedto long-term,fixed investmentsa mortgage or a retirement savings account,for instance. Youmay preferto assess yourdiscretionary only spendingsuchasthe amount you spendon memberships health I to clubs or golf clubs-and leave a review of long-terminvestments for another time. Or you may discoverthat your fixed expenses-for instance,the amount you're spendingon your summerhome in Nantucket-are what most need to be reviewed.(By reducingyour fixed costs, you alsoreducethe effort requiredto coverthem, freeing up time and energyto pursue other alternatives.) However you resolve these accounting issues,the next step is to convert the expendituresinto a percentage of your householdincome and plot the percentages againstyour ranked values.(For a sample, the exhibit see "What Matters Most: A Work Sheet")Do the most important values get the most money? If not, there is evidence of a gap betweenvaluesand commitments. Time. Many people find themselvesrunning short of time more often than they run out of money.Time is a scarceresourceand one that inevitably gets depleted. By contrast,cashcan increaseovertime if returns on investmentexceed costof capital.In the pastweek,what the have you done with your approximately 112waking hours? Again, considerthe values you listed, and try to map last week's hours againstthem. (If last week was atypical, pick the most recentweek that you find representative.)As with your money,allocateonly thosehours that clearly support your stated values, and use the "other" categoryto accountfor the difference between total waking hours and those explicitly accountedfor in your analysis. Everyoneneedssomedowntime, of course, so you may want to include a value like "recharging my mental batteries?' alsoaskyourself,at what point does But spendingthe afternoon watchingcollegefootball on TV move beyond healthy rejuvenationand into the realm of
wastingprecioustime? (Evenreasonable couplesmaydisagreeon this one.)Are you dedicatingthe most hours to the activities that are of highestvalue to you? Wasthere a lot of time you could not accountfor-time that wasnot beingusedto ends that you careabout? Energy.Physical,emotional, and mental energyis another scarceresourceand, like time, one that decreases with age.An hour spenton an activity when we are fresh and fully present in the moment representsa greater commitment than an hour spent when we are exhausted and distracted.Do the hoursyou spendwith your partner, for example,generallycome at the tail end of a 12-hour day and a six-dayweek? Was your mind plotting Monday's PowerPoint presentation during church or synagogue?On the work sheet,denote those values that, on average, receiveyour peak attention with a "+»and those that tend to get your leastenergeticfocus with a "-:'
Why the Gap?
Onceyou've filled in the work sheetas we've described, you should end up with a fair analysisof the alignment between what you value and how you commit your money,time, and energy.The basicidea is to identify big gaps-stated values that receive little or none of your scarce resourcesor a singlevalue that sucksa disproportionate shareof money,time, and energyfrom other values.If your valuesand your day-to-daycommitmentsare closelyaligned,we congratulateyou: Many peoplefind it difficult to strike and consistentlymaintain this balance. Gaps between your commitments and your convictions can develop and widen with time. Understandinghow thesegapscanemergeis helpful in preventingthem from growingtoo large. Sometimes gapresultsfrom a reluctance commit the to time, ,energy, moneyto what we value. A professional or or personal failure, for instance,may shake your confidenceand leave you gun-shyaboutmaking new commitments.Or perhapsyou just havean innate, PeterPan-like desireto remain in the world of potentiality for as long aspossible.Of course, there are times when keepingyour options open makes perfect sense.Youngadults, for example,experimentwith alternative careers, lifestyles, values,and relationships-which is often painful for parents to watch, generally embarrassing retrospect,but actuin ally a prudent discoveryprocess. A much more common reasonfor the gapis that people are entangledin commitments they madein the past. We have observedan analogousphenomenonin corporate strategy. usethe phrase We "activeinertia" to describe managers' tendencyto respondto eventIle mostdramatic changesin their competitive environment by relying on and acceleratingactivities that worked in the past. Like the driver of a car with its wheels stuckin the mud, executives notice a change in the environment and step on 87
» MANAGING YOURSELF
the gas. Ultimately, they end up digging their organizations deeper into the quagmire. The ruts that lock people into active inertia are the very commitments that led to their past successes that have now but hardened: Strategicframes becomeblinders, selectedprocesses lapseinto routines, relationships turn into shackles, resources becomemillstones,and oncevibrant values ossifyinto dogmas. Many of us are bound by personalcommitments we willingly made in the past that no longer fit. They deplete our time, money,and energyand limit our freedom even if the commitments are no longer aligned with what we currently value. Katherine,the chief executiveof a midsize nonprofit company, received offer to run an a private firm. After 20 yearsin social service, Katherine was attracted by the new challenge as well as the generoushealth care and pension package,the company car, and the higher salary, which would come in handyassheand her husbandput three children through college.In the past, Katherine had derided people who joined the for-profit world as sellouts. She and her husband,a political activist and community organizer,had consciously avoided what they consideredthe trappings of material life, including flashycars,elaboratehome renovations,and expensive vacations.Katherine'shusband was livid when shebroachedthe subjectof takingthe job, reminding her of what their friends would say.(Her husband'sidealism was what had attracted Katherine to him in the first place.) Katherine's children, who had unsuccessfully pestered her for years to buy them ipods and PlayStations,accusedher of hypocrisy.Although Katherine cravedthe financial securityand new challenge,she felt trapped in a web of commitmentsshe herselfhad woven. Some of us experience"commitment creep:'We often commit ourselveswithout really thinking about what we are taking on. It is very easyto sayyes to new commitments without reflecting on the long-term costsof honoring the implied promisesor the potential conflicts that may develop with existing commitments. Overcommitment is the bane of peoplewho face many good options. ConsiderHannah, a successful New York entrepreneur, who promisedto spendmoretime with her London-based partner.Around the sametime, shealsoreceivedan offer from a large West Coastcompetitor to buy her start-up companyat a juicy valuation.The deal wasstructured as a five-year earn-out, however,and required Hannah to moveto SanFrancisco run the combinedbusiness. to The net resultis that sheis spendingevenmore time airborne,
pectatio! home.Fr who can into adu cess rem peers,P! practice' back, an others' " This those a
after tt time \' Ravi,it for his at hor Ravi r
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tom between two major, conflicting commitments she madesimultaneously. The implicit nature of manyprofessionaland personal commitmentsalso causes them to sneakup on us unnoticed. Relativelyfew personalcommitments- marriage or religiousvows amongthem -are explicit and public. Recall Nick,the healthcareCEOdescribed earlier.His major commitment is not' contractual; he has never signed an employment agreement.Rather,his senseof obligation arisesfrom the implicit promiseshe made to Jerry,his company's chairman and principal investor. Nick has worked in senior roles in two of the companies Jerry bought. For more than a decade,Nick has beenreinforcing an unspokencommitmentto act asJerry'sright-hand man, which has now left him feelingtrapped.His reputation, identity, and stockoptions are as much at stake as if his commitment had beenformalized. Creepingcommitmentsoften seemespeciallybinding because they lackthe explicit boundariesand exit clauses commonto legaldocuments. Anything you do to honor a creepingcommitment will be understood asa reinforcement of an earlier promise or historical commitmentwhether that is your intention or not. Other people'sexpectationscan also prevent us from committing our time, money,and energyto what matters most to us. Many of us measure our successagainst
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Do Your Commitments
external benchmarks.Someof us remain prisonersof expectations set by our parents, long after we have left home. Fromchildhood on,"success"means pleasing those who confer grades,jobs,prestige,and promotions. Well into adulthood, through collegeand graduateschool,success remainsa function of the esteem receivefrom our we peers,professors, and recruiters. In the corporate world, practicessuchasformal project reviews, 36o-degree feedback,and annual appraisals increaseour dependenceon others' assessments us. of This is fine, unless our values begin to diverge from those of our colleagues. When Ravijoined a Wall Street investmentbank just out of college,for example,he cultivated a reputation for beingthe first in,the last out, and the hardestworker in the hours between.He relishedthe nickname his colleaguesgave him -"the Marine." But after the birth of his first child, he wanted to spendmore time with his family, which baffled his colleagues.To Ravi,it was simple: He wanted to continue to be praised for his work ethic, but he alsowantedto spendmore time at home. By relying onQth~or_v~dation and praise, Ravi relin-qu[Shed them the power to set hISpnonto ties. As he discovered,~~~ing the kevsto others can be ~roblem if they're driving someplaceyou no lon~er
Moreover, some values generate less positive reinforcement than others and, as a result, tend to attract fewer resources. Consider caseof Ian, a successful the director at a global management-consulting firm. During his u years at the company,he moved quickly through the ranks of consultant,manager,partner, and director, garnering a string of exceptionalperformance reviews alongthe way. Although Ian highly valued the hours he spentwith his family, he found that most of his time and energywere devotedto servingclients, developingjunior consultants,and building the firm. When Ian examined the source of this discrepancy(ever the consultant,he useda fish-bonediagram),he discoveredthat he had become addictedto the positive reinforcementhe was getting at work-which his home life couldn't match. At the office, he explained,"my colleaguesand clients respect me,and my reviewsareglowing.At home, I'm luckyto get a sullen grumble from my teenage daughter and an exhausted kiss from my wife when she gets home from work:' Following the principle that "what getsmeasured gets done:' Ian began tracking the hours he spent each week with his wife and daughterand comparinghis performance week after week. Ian was pleasantlysurprised to find that this simple exercise focusedhis attention on the hours he spent at home,and the weekly comparison provided a gentle hint that he needto do more of it. Our historicalsuccess meetingcommitments breeds in the expectation-in our bosses, colleagues, friends, and family -that we will deliver more of the same. Look at Lee, a corporate tax attorney specializing in the energy
industry, who is at the top of her pr<?fession. chairs She prestigiouscommittees, publishesin leadingjournals,and attracts high-profile clients who want her advice on thorny issues. Lee has alwaysloved a professionalchallenge -in fact, her desireto seekout and solvethe hard problemshas driven her success. after 25yearsin the But field,Leetold us,shehad becomeincreasingly bored with her work and longed for the intellectual excitementthat characterized the early part of her career.Shewasreluctant, however,to scaleback her lifestyle. Perhapsmore important, the prospect of tackling a completely new endeavor-at age 50, no less-seemed daunting to her. "I almost wish I hadn't beenso successful law;' shetold in us, "because then I wouldn't feellike I had somuchto lose if I fell flat on my facetrying somethingnew?' The penny dropped at her 25th law school reunion. One-hundredor so of her contemporaries were all benchmarking themselvesagainstone another.The inevitable success stories- Leewastelling them,too-were like spells that she now wanted to break. Sherealizedshewasfeeling unfulfilled in part becauseof the companyshe 'was keeping:Sheworked all day with the lawyersand staffers in her firm. And becausemuch of her time outside work was spent on professional service,she associatedwith many of the sameattorneys on eveningsand weekends. During her reunion, Lee recognized that her concerns about maintaining her current lifestyle had a lot to do with her wanting to keep up with her peers.To make a change, Lee cultivated friendships with acquaintances outside her immediate circle who sympathizedwith her aspiration to do something new and had themselves made major careershifts.Shealso cut in half the amount of time she spentattendingprofessional conferences.
Most people who undertakethe self-exploration process we're describinghere find that it's relatively easyto identify their own values,somewhat more difficult to analyze the gap between their valuesand the way they actually live, and harder still to analyzethe reasonsfor this gap. But the hardesttask of all is doing somethingabout closing the gap.Aswe know from organizationallife, change is very easyto talk about and extremely difficult to pull off. The force of inertia is everybit aspowerful in our personallives as it is in most organizations. The most common catalystfor seriouschangeis a personal or professional crisis, suchas the death of a loved one,a personalillness,a business failure, the lossof a job, or a divorce.No one wishesfor crises;they drain not just money,time, and energybut often health,confidence and reputation. But crisesdo push some people to deliberately reexaminetheir commitments. Annette was an independent consultantwho worked within a network. Although shewasputting in more and 89
» MANAGING YOURSELF
more hours,shefound that shewasspendinglessand less Crises prompt people to clear their diaries. During time on projectsthat really engagedher imaginationand the six months that Annette was home caring for her advancedher skills.Shewastrapped by layersof old commother, she had handed over most of her clients to colmitments,someof which had crept up on her unnoticed. leagues, leaving her with a largely empty calendar. That Never wanting to disappoint a client, she invariably deallowed her to rebuild her professional life step by step, livered excellentwork, on time. Her clientsand colleagues taking on new commitments. expectedmore and more of the same.Yearsof profesCrises help to break the cycle of success. We noted sional success left Annette with little freedomto dehad earlier that many successfulpeople feel trapped by their vote herselfto the things she really caredabout. very success.A failure in the workplace, while undoubtThen her mother wasdiagnosedwith terminal cancer, edly painful, can also be liberating. Once you and the pec)and Annette'spriorities changed. the top of her list was At pIe around you see that you failed, but that the failure neiensuringthat her mother got the bestpossiblecaTe. Next ther killed you nor destroyed your many strengths, it was spending quality time with her mother in her final becomes easier to change direction and take on new chalmonths. Further down the list were her commitmentsto lenges. When Annette returned to the workplace and clients and associates; manycases, in thosecommitments began to remake her commitments, she focused on crehad to be abandoned.Annette's mother's illness lasted ative and stretch assignments rather than leaning on old for sixmonths and,like anycrisis,consumed considerable ways of doing things. time, energy,and money.But it also created advantages It's harder (and braver) to make new commitments and both obviousand unforeseen.Specifically: rethink old ones when we are not facing a crisis. Which i:, Crisesforce people to figure out what really matters. why time-outs -sabbaticals, executive education courses, In the end, all crisesare reminders that we are not omor any other catalyst for breaking the thread of a narranipotent or immortal and that we cannotafford to ignore tive -are so important. Such breaks confer some of the the things that really matter to us. Her mother's illness
benefits of a crisis -particularly some time to reflect, art
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»Our most binding commitments are frequently the result of day-to-day decisions . too small to attract our attention.
and death sent a message Annette: She had to make to the most of her own life. That meant committing herself only to those professionalprojects shefound interesting and challenging-not entering into the samekinds of engagementswith the samekinds of clients usingthe same kinds of Powerpointpresentations where only the names change.It also meant spendingmore time with the people who matteredto her most, including her equally harried partner and her estranged father. Crisesforce people to make choices.While somepeople fail to commit because they feel trapped by promises they've alreadymade,others simply avoid making commitments altogether. A crisis will often demolish our commitment-avoidance strategies. lossof a job, or an The unexpected denial of promotion,canbe the catalystfor ex'" ploring what we really want to make of our working lives. Crises can nullify outdated commitments. A crisis in one's personallife is analogousto a force majeure contract clausein a legal document-all previous promises are nullified becauseof unanticipated or uncontrollable events. The peopleto whomAnnette had previouslycommitted her time and energy,for instance, understoodthat caring for her mother took precedence over earlierclaims on Annette'sresources. slatewasclean. The 90 excuse break old commitments,and a chanceto clear to the diary -without exactingthe high costs.That being said,it would be wrongto suggest changingdirection that is easy, evenif you're reasonably certain about where you want to go. Peopletend to encounterthe following pitfalls when attempting to remaketheir commitments. The Great LeapForward. Somepeopleend up making unrealistic commitments that are bound to fail -great leaps that cannot be made.Thesecommitments can be very enticing; they're noveland exciting for a while. But they are also very risky. Suchcommitments can provide an excusefor failing to make or keep more mundane commitments. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance,are discouragedfrom pledging that they will neverdrink again;they are encouraged take it one day to at a time. Or considerMaria, a Brazilian who receivedher undergraduate and MBAdegrees the United States in and stayedto work as a marketing executivein a large consumergoods companyin the Midwest. After more than 15yearsin the States, wasanxiousto spendmore time she with her agingparents in SaoPaulo.Shequit her job and moved to Brazil without lining up a new position. Although she enjoyed spendingmore time with her parents, she was deeply frustrated by her inability to find
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nev call me doi
a position of comparable responsibilitywith a world-class company.And shemissedthe United Statesand her friends more than shehad imagined. Thlocompanies 18months and later, Maria decidedto return to the United Statesand concluded that she would have been better served by taking a one-year posting in Brazil with a multinational to test the waters professionallyand personally. The Go-it-Alone Fallacy. Remakinghistorical commitments is not a solo sport; after all, these are promises others rely on. Social organizations -families, churches, companies, and communities, for instance -are held together by the promisesembedded in individual members' commitments. Undoing these commitments can dis..I rupt organIzatIons and undermine individuals' credibility. As the world changes around us or as our values evolve, we need to renegotiate existing commitments with those who would be affected by thesechanges, not try to make unilateral moves.For example,Susan, higha poweredLondon-based executive, wantsto scalebackher professional obligations to spend more time with her preschool-aged children. To do so,shewould needto talk with her bossand her colleagues about how to reduceand restructure her workload. Evenmore daunting,in Susan's eyes, the prospectof discussing is with her husband,Donald, how this changein commitmentswould affect their family and financial responsibilitiesaswell asthe couple's overalllifestyle. Most important, shewonders, who would get to make the final decision? The Clutter Trap. We fall into this trap whenwe are not systematicallyundoing old commitments as we take on new ones.As a result, so many promises-new and oldcallout for our time and other resourcesthat we may meet none of them or simply fall back on what we were doing before. Many of us have experiencedthis in our professional lives when we attend management meetings that add new items to our to-do list without removing existingones.Takenasa whole,the agendathat emerges canbe impossible.Let us look at Margaret,a seniorexecutive in a large Europeanfirm, who realizedshe couldn't make new commitments to what she knew had to be done becauseof existing clutter. She had objectivesfor
more than 50 different key performance indicators at work. Scramblingto achievethose objectivesprevented her from taking on new ones.A good rule of thumb for avoidingclutter is to abandonor renegotiatean old commitment for every new one you make.Margaret, for example, scheduled an hour a month to cull her diary, cancelingmeetingsas higher priorities arose. The final assignment the coursewe teach on leading in strategicchangein organizationsinvites studentsto state the commitments they will make (or remake) after the programends. are alwaysstruckby the diversity of apWe proachesthat different studentstake to this assignment, even after sitting in the same classroomfor a semester. This is why we are not offering you hard-and-fast rules for making or remakingyour commitments.No suchformula is possiblefor a processthat is, by its very nature, highly idiosyncraticand dependenton individual circumstances. But you can managethe gap between what you value and what you do by periodically and systematically reexaminingyour valuesand the way you allocateprecious resources. Suchan exercisecan help you take control of your future commitments so that past commitments won't take control of you. ~
Reprint ROSO1H; HBR OnPoint 8770 To order, seepage 119. 91
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