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5 Reasons Why a Culture of Compliance Is Hurting Your Team

5 Reasons Why a Culture of Compliance Is Hurting Your Team

By Ashley Caywood

As a leader, I’m sure you’ve had those days. The ones where it feels like no one is doing their job and you say to yourself, “If everyone would just do what I tell them to, everything would be great.” 

Perhaps that feeling may ring true in the moment, but what you’ve described is a team that runs on compliance rather than on commitment. 

But what’s the difference? Compliance is the result of a team adopting a process simply because they’ve been instructed to do so. They’re taking orders, whether or not they believe in what it is they’re doing. In contrast, a culture of commitment is the result of a team feeling supportive of a course of action.  

If you currently find yourself leveraging compliance more often than commitment, here are five reasons you may want to reconsider that strategy:

1. Compliance requires a lot of inspection. 

If people are doing things because they’ve been told to, then they may view NOT being told to do something as an opportunity to simply…not. This means that you’re constantly going to have to be vigilant, ensuring that everything is on track and as you intend it. And when you’re not there to force compliance? Good luck…

2. Compliance makes it difficult to inspire your people. 

There’s a reason that grassroots efforts can gain traction and inspire change. People like to feel like they’re making a difference. An important part of that is allowing them to be part of the process. If your team feels like they’re unimportant cogs in a wheel, it’s going to be that much more difficult to inspire them. And uninspired employees are not usually tenured employees.

3. Compliance doesn’t breed trust.

 If you constantly have to inspect your team’s work, they’re always going to be looking over their shoulders wondering if and when they’re being inspected. Compliance naturally pits “you” against “them;” undermining or even fully preventing a bond based on trust. It’s hard to imagine meeting your business goals without trust, right?

4. Compliance inhibits creativity. 

You’re smart, right? You had the brains to think up a brilliant business idea, and the courage and fortitude to follow through with it. However, the fact is that you don’t know everything and you can’t do everything. Sometimes there’s a better, smarter, more creative way you could be doing something, but you just haven’t thought of it. Chances are, your team has lots of ideas to make your business more efficient or more competitive. But if they think their role is to simply execute your orders, they’re not likely to share their strokes of brilliance with you. And then your business is limited to thoughts and solutions that come from only one brain—yours. 

5. Compliance keeps you at the center of your business’s day to day as “chief problem solver.” 

In our experience working with leaders, we’ve never heard one of them say, “There just aren’t enough problems for me to solve.” In fact, on the contrary. The number one frustration we hear from business owners is that they’re so busy fighting fires, they don’t have time to work on moving their business forward. What’s one way through this? Creating commitment rather than compliance. 

If your team believes in, supports and maybe even helped create a process, they’re naturally going to follow through at a higher success rate. That level of buy-in is going to ensure that they’re moving in the direction that YOU want them to move. They’re equipped with the thought processes that inform your decision-making process, and they’re using them to solve problems on their own as they pop up—whether or not you’re there to enforce it. 

So, the next time you’re having “one of those days” where you want everyone to “just do what you tell them,” take a moment to reflect. Is that really what you want? Do you want your team to rely on you to direct their every move? Maybe it would be better to collaborate with them to create alignment on processes and procedures, inspire them to take ownership within their roles and trust them to follow through. 

Does this mean you allow your team to be fully self-directed? Of course not. You’ll need to model the behaviors you’re looking for and frequently check in to ensure the team is moving forward in the right direction. Occasionally you may need to step in and redirect a team member or a process, but with a lot of trust and consistency, you’ll eventually find that commitment leads to a happier and more motivated team—which leads to a happier and more balanced you. 

Ashley Caywood is founding partner at, empowering petcare entrepreneurs to take control of their business so they can continue to pursue their passion. Zolvy provides targeted solutions for the behind-the-scenes challenges facing business owners every day. In addition to her work with Zolvy, Ashley is founder and co-owner of Roscoe’s Bed + Bark in Portland, ME, the city’s first 24/7 supervised dog daycare, growing it to seven figure revenues in less than three years. Ashley holds an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Boston University.