Q & A with Geneca COO, Ken Pedersen

Posted by Ken Pedersen - 09 July, 2013

by Ken Pedersen

Geneca focuses on the human element when it comes to harnessing the capabilities of our project teams. Each morning, our team members gather in front of a “Wall Gantt.” The giant matrix of daily “task cards” shows each person’s commitments for the day. It also ensures that every task has ownership claimed by a team member from the project leadership on down.

The publicly-visible wall chart is just one example of Geneca’s emphasis on commitment -- from our employees and clients alike. In the end, we know task cards and other seemingly small steps add up to big results. In this interview, COO Ken Pedersen discusses the backstory to our approach and what it means for clients.

“It unleashes an amazing amount of human potential.”

What does it mean to be a commitment-based organization?

It’s important to first make a distinction between the definition of a commitment and the definition of an intention. An intention is “one day I hope to retire in Mexico” or “here are some tasks on my to-do list.” A commitment is a specific kind of intention; really, the strongest kind you can make. It is expressed as a pledge I make to some outcome that is under my control.

For example, let’s say I’m a sales person and I have a quota. I don’t actually control the client decision-making process; rather, I’m trying to influence a decision, but I can’t actually make a commitment because I don’t control that outcome. It is important I understand what that end aspiration is, however, and that I actually commit to certain behaviors that make up the best practices a salesperson carries out in building relationships and grasping a client’s needs.

Many organizations make a similar mistake when it comes to running projects. Managers heap too many responsibilities on teams that don’t have enough ownership of their outcomes. Leadership asks for “commitments” to outcomes outside the team’s control. Morale tanks, deadlines are blown and the project often fails.

As you learn to use commitment-making effectively, you get better at building clarity around what those goals are. Because you actually are making a pledge, clarity is essential. The extra effort in clarifying generates the right conversations. That is why we organize projects around commitments as the basic unit of work. We invest upfront effort to refine the commitment, ensuring clarity about when it is due and what counts as successful completion. Because team members play a central role in shaping these commitments, it releases an amazing amount of human potential. The results are undeniable.

How did Geneca create this unique approach?

It’s been a long road. Bits and pieces of the process have been around for many years, but we first started assembling a unified concept of the commitment-based organization around 10 years ago. The overall idea is simple, really: Build a shared vision, create alignment within the client’s organization and make and honor pledges on a daily basis. It used to be much more a top-down process. The transformation to a collaborative commitment-making process based on a shared vision of success is the twist that has unlocked its power as a builder of culture.

Team members appreciated it because they get measured on whether they “honored” their commitment. The team works together to support one another and hold each other accountable, and picks up the slack if someone falls behind. It’s incredibly effective.

What does this approach mean for clients?

The result we strive for are teams that are unafraid to stick their neck out and say, “Here’s what we are going to accomplish.” It takes some experience and skill to express a commitment. Having that skill engenders a cultural confidence in trying to help clients even when -- strictly speaking -- we can’t commit. We call this “taking ownership.” We don’t control the outcome, but nonetheless can make personal commitments to move the ball ahead on behalf of the client. This is one of the most powerful perceptions clients have of our teams. Because we “get” the outcomes they seek, we keep our eye on helping bring about that result even when it is not our job by the letter of the law. Many times, I’ve heard clients describe this approach as “a breath of fresh air.”


To continue the conversation, contact us.

Topics: Business, culture, Organizational Leaders, Work and Lead Better

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