ATD Blog

Training That Yields Compliant, Contributing, or Committed Employees

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

ASTD members certainly understand the value of employee engagement. However, not all engagement is equally valuable. There is a huge difference in the impact employees make on the organization and mission if they are compliant, contributing, or committed. The best training inspires and enables commitment.

Three levels of engagement

Crossing the Secret of Happiness with Maslow’s hierarchy yields three levels of engagement: compliant, contributing, and committed as described in our book, First-Time Leader:

  • Committed. At the highest level are the people trying to do “good for others.” They care about the organization’s purpose and teach others as part of their own self-actualization.
  • Contributing. One level up from the compliant, contributors do things they are “good at.” They collaborate with others and help as they seek belonging and self-esteem.
  • Compliant. At the first level of engagement, compliant people “do no harm.” They show up. They observe. They focus on what’s “good for me” and meet the minimum requirements to satisfy their biological and physiological needs.

But at the other end of the engagement spectrum, there is the disengaged. At the lowest level, workers who are disengaged or engaged with the wrong things can hurt the organization. They don’t meet the minimum standards and distract others.
Implications for training and development

Certainly engagement matters. But it is only valuable if people are contributing and committed to the behaviors and efforts that move the organization forward toward its purpose in line with its strategic choices. Engagement with the wrong behaviors and efforts is just plain counterproductive.


It’s not enough to train people on what to do, or even how to do it. If they don’t buy into the why, they are never going to commit.

Pulling from Bryan Smith’s work in The Fifth Discipline Handbook, telling people what to do yields compliance at best. However, if you sell, test, or consult your way into persuading people to do something based on their own strengths, they are far more likely to contribute to others and to the organization.


At the highest level, co-creating a purpose-driven future is required to get people to commit to the cause. This is what separates the best training and development from the rest. Good training transfers knowledge and skills. The best training—like the best leadership—inspires and enables others to do their absolute best, together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.

And oh, by the way, this is true for all organizations whether they are associations, not-for-profits, start-ups, or part of the Fortune 100.

Click here to request an executive summary of First-Time Leader.

About the Author

George Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his experience as a business leader, consultant, and journalist. He progressed through sales, marketing, and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin-off as chief executive. Now he is a principal of CEO Connection and managing director of the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis.

George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), co-author of four books on onboarding, including The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, and co-author of a weekly column on, The New Leader’s Playbook.

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