Developing and maintaining the commitment of your collaboration partners depends on the commitment of the participants.  The commitment of the participants then depends on the acceptance and implementation of the suggestions of the partners and especially the front line participants.  The commitment of the senior leadership is displayed through the implementation of the suggestions for improvement from the front line participants.  While the focus on the two areas, internal and external silos, is important to the collaboration, the focus areas provide the target for development of commitment.  The commitment of the participants in the collaboration is the objective.

I believe that you should take a top-down and then bottom-up approach to the development of commitment.  Let me explain what I mean by this.  In order to get started you must gain the buy-in from the senior leadership, this is simply a fact of business life.  This commitment from senior leadership will start with the promise of the benefits that can be achieved and is critical to starting the collaboration initiative.  This however is only the beginning of gaining and maintaining the commitment required to maintain the collaboration objectives and benefits.  In order to truly achieve the objectives and benefits you will require the commitment from the front line participants.  I strongly believe that one of the key ingredients to success in your collaboration partnerships is the participation and commitment of the front line participants. 

Participation is the first step to acceptance of every partner in the collaboration initiative.  Participation can be directed or ordered by the senior leadership of the partnerships to get started.  This direction to participate however direction to participate does not make collaboration or encourage participation.  I really don’t see how you can achieve a level of collaboration without the combination of participation and commitment of the front line participants.  This combination is the foundation of successful collaboration and must be nurtured and maintained through the commitment of the senior leadership.  Senior leadership must provide a bit of fire to encourage the full participation and commitment of the front line internal and external partners.

Senior leadership can provide this fire first by encouraging the participation of the people rather than directing or ordering participation, and second by accepting and implementing changes suggested by the front line.  This can be achieved by implementing a review and improvement team that is made up of the front line workers and charging this team with evaluating and defining and implementing improvements to support the collaborative network.  However, its not enough for the leadership to implement this improvement team, the leadership must also show their commitment to the program by encouraging and implementing the improvements.  I don’t think that the improvement team should include a senior leadership member, however there must be regular review meetings with a senior leadership review board to discuss and approve improvement initiatives.  This is an important aspect of the improvement process and demonstrates the commitment of the senior leadership to the program.

The commitment and participation of the front line employees can be a fragile achievement initially and should be nurtured by the leadership of the entire collaborative partnership network.  In addition to the fragile beginnings, the commitment and participation requires continuous attention to ensure and encourage the continued commitment.  This is definitely not a once-and-done task but is very much a critical ingredient to the success of both your collaboration partnerships and your collaborative continuous improvement program.  

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have your started or are you in the midst of an institutional change initiative?  What are the key traits you have identified as required to support the initiative?  Have you contemplated the name or phrase for the person leading your initiative?