Building commitment is an essential part of any change initiative and should be considered when developing the strategy to manage change. The Commitment Curve provides a technique that can be used to understand:
- What commitment is;
- What should be done to prepare for change;
- How commitment can be developed; and
- How commitment can be lost.
This guidance material describes the Commitment Curve and suggests ways in which it can be used to build commitment and manage change.
What is the Commitment Curve?
Conner and Patterson (1982) and later Conner, Harrington and Horney (2000) developed a model to show how an individual’s commitment to change increases over time. Individuals typically experience this commitment to change at different paces. Figure 1 illustrates the Commitment Curve model.
The Commitment Curve model (above) is shown as a grid with the vertical axis displaying the degree of support for change and the horizontal axis indicating the passage of time. The model consists of three developmental phases:
- Inform: This phase forms the foundation of support for the change. It prepares people for the change in behaviour that will be required to sustain the change. It consists mainly of making people aware of change and why it is occurring. It’s worth noting that this phase should be preceded by an element of agreement that ‘things need to change’;
- Educate: This phase focuses on ensuring that people understand what the change means for them personally. This enables people to begin making decisions about whether to accept or reject the change. During this phase, the stakeholders begin to understand how the change will directly impact them and their routines and it may be necessary to present information about the change that promotes a positive perception, and
- Commit Phase: The change is implemented during this phase. Everything up to this point has been preparation for the change. During this phase the change is acted upon and becomes part of everyday life for the stakeholders;
There are seven progressive commitment stages:
- Contact: Individuals have heard about the change.
- Awareness: Individuals are aware of basic scope and concepts of change.
- Understanding: Individuals understand the change impacts to the organisation and their functional area.
- Positive Perception: Individuals understand change impacts and benefits to them.
- Adoption: Individuals are willing to work with and implement the change.
- Embedded: The change is the way work is done – the new status quo.
- Internalisation: Individuals make the change their own and create innovative ways to use and improve.
Each stage contains critical junctures where commitment to change can be threatened or advanced. For example, if the organisation fails to build awareness of change, an individual or group may not support the change because of confusion regarding its purpose or intent. Similarly, if an effort is not made to generate a positive perception about the change, a negative perception may prevail resulting in reduced or no commitment to the change. This is how people “fall off” the commitment curve.
The stages of commitment may vary based upon the magnitude of the change initiative and the stakeholders involved. Some people progress quickly through the stages, whilst others are more resistant and take longer, requiring more support to fully commit to the future state vision.
How to use the Commitment Curve
The Commitment Curve can be used by project managers and change managers to track the status of a change initiative and to define the steps needed to move a change initiative through the various stages of the Commitment Curve.
One way of tracking where individuals are on the Commitment Curve is through the use of perception measures. The use of perception measures is based on the premise that employee perceptions/observations and beliefs influence individual and team performance (behaviours), which in turn impact business success and change. One way of measuring perception is by conducting surveys.
Figure 2 illustrates some different types of surveys that can be used to measure employee perception at different points in a change initiative.
Developing employee perception survey questions
Begin by seeking to determine what behaviour the organisation expects to see at each point of the Commitment Curve (Figure 3 shows an example set of expected behaviours for four of the stages of the Commitment Curve);
Identify and analyse the areas that are considered enablers of change i.e., the areas without which successful change will not be possible (see Figure 4); and
Based on the expected behaviours and the enablers of change, develop questions (see Figure 5) by considering aspects such as:
- what are the right questions to represent each point on the Commitment Curve?
- what enablers of change should be measured at a particular stage of the curve and how are these enablers best represented?
- are any questions repeated? What is the purpose of the repetition?
- have the questions been appropriately weighted? Questions should be weighted in terms of how important each question is towards achieving that point of commitment. Weightings may change depending on the organisation and the type of change.
Reporting Employee Perception using the Commitment Curve
Measuring employee perceptions and plotting this information against the Commitment Curve can be used to assist in:
- Giving an overview of employee commitment towards the change;
- Indicating how successfully an organisation is embedding change; and
- Informing discussion on where correction is required.
Figure 6 shows an example of how employee perception survey results can be reported upon using the Commitment Curve.
- In this example, survey results are calculated by converting positive perceptions answers i.e., employees that answer Agree/Strongly Agree to the questions, into a percentage. Results are mapped and analysed by considering:
- Average Commitment i.e., average percentage of agree/strongly agree on all questions pinpointed along the curve;
- Employee Commitment at each point along the curve i.e., percentage of favourability – agree/strongly agree – at each point of commitment curve; and
- Perceptions against each enabler of change i.e., percentage of favourability – agree/strongly agree – for each enabler of change.