Unpacking the Value of Commitment

Our business is values driven. But it’s one thing for our values to be on our website, and quite another for us to live them out. In this blog, Fergus Bailey unpacks the value of commitment.

Our whole of company meetings are an opportunity for us to build a shared understanding of our values. At our last meeting in December 2023, we spent time discussing commitment. As a business we express commitment as:

We give our all to each project, no matter the size. We are committed to continuous learning and staying at the head of our fields so our work can enable better public policy outcomes.

It’s no surprise that, as with all abstract, amorphous concepts, everyone’s understanding of what commitment is differed slightly. Some people expressed it as a “failure to commit is failure to communicate,” while others said, “we need to have a clear idea of what done looks like.” For other people, expressing commitment means “being able to have awkward conversations”.

Since that meeting I have been reflecting on how each interpretation fits together, and what commitment looks like in my day-to-day life.

To me commitment requires something more substantial than motivation, or hard work, or even execution of a task. I think that commitment drives these aspects: it is the motivation that ensures we do the hard work and execute the tasks. Commitment underpins our work; it provides a base from which we can do our work well. In other words, it is not transient or temporary; instead it is the permanent, enduring factor driving and sustaining our concerted and concentrated efforts over time.

I think that this permanent and enduring value derives some of its unique power from the thing being committed to. By committing to something that is itself permanent and enduring, our ability to sustain our appreciation for it is buoyed by its non-transient, non-temporary nature. For me, that permanent and enduring thing is people.

The groups of people I commit to in a work context can be separated into three scales: micro, meso, and macro.

  • Micro scale: I am committed to my colleauges
  • Meso: I am committed to our company.
  • Macro: I am committed to our clients, and the diversity of stakeholders they commit to.

However, these commitments are interwoven and co-constitutive: my commitment to my colleagues cannot be disentangled from my commitment to clients, and my commitment to clients cannot be untwined from my commitment to the company. Knowing that my work might help improve a disability helpline’s stakeholders, reduce a colleague’s workload, or contribute to the company ecosystem all stem from the same place: a commitment to making a positive difference for people.

Commitment is more than just goodwill. As was pointed out to me early on at ARTD, “plenty of people have good ideas, but not everyone can follow through on them.” It’s the follow through that makes a difference. It’s that permanent and enduring factor. Working at ARTD, I know that if I have a good idea, and can demonstrate my commitment to it, the company and my colleagues will support me to make that contribution. The supportive atmosphere allows us to elevate good ideas to good actions, to make that commitment. We are committed to each other and to our broader vision, and that shared commitment creates a dynamic that lets us commit to clients with our actions as a team.

Sixteen months ago, I came to work at ARTD. As I was straight out of university, many of my early tasks were small and straightforward. It would have been easy to let my attention slip. But the significance of each element of our work, no matter how small, was clear to me from the outset. On my very first day, I was notetaker for an interview where a stakeholder credited the program we were evaluating with saving their life. I could immediately see how our work was important to this person, evidenced to me by their willingness to tell us something so personal. The person mattered, our work mattered to them, and so ensuring I took notes as thoroughly as I could mattered to me. In that moment I wasn’t committing to note-taking or even ARTD, but to the person in front of me.

When support and trust are the norm and you can see and feel the importance of the work, committing comes pretty easy. Having that strong base also helps get us through challenging moments. And for when tiredness and endless Excel spreadsheets blur the mind and dull that feeling, I’ve got a little reminder to bring me back to that appreciation.

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