By Frank J. Rich
Agreement may be the most powerful device known to mankind. Most everything we know is formed of it—treaties between governments, laws within them and contracts of all kinds, marriages, and the terms of life. Even the oddest of partnerships is formed by agreement, such as a nut and bolt, a bottle and cap, a horse and carriage, etc. We’re getting carried away; you see the point.
The logic in agreement reveals “disagreement” at its root. We come together over differences, or no effort could be measured by the process of agreement, or by agreement itself. Most distinct and disparate positions and things must find agreement to coexist. Metal has no natural affinity for plastic, yet they can be bolted together or fused to form a better result for both—one providing unique strength, and the other light weight and color adaptability. The plastic and metal combinations on an automobile are examples, each contributing uniquely to deliver a better result—lighter, more durable, and fuel efficient.
For the most part, agreement produces a better result. It is the purpose in diplomacy, preventing or stalling a bellicose alternative, at least until livable terms can be worked out. Agreement reveals another important element; that is, the desire for harmony. It is, unfortunately, not always accompanied by the will for it, thus leading to strained relationships. Simply, agreement is the forming of relationships… between people and things. It is not only necessary to a world in constant change, but also vital to it.
A more useful way to see agreement is as: 1) establishing joint vision, 2) the end product of an effective conflict-resolution process, or 3) and, as the foundation for success of any new team, partnership or relationship. This is true whether it is with your business partner, colleagues, work teams, joint ventures, or your company and its employees or customers.
Collaboration, the coordinated activities of people working together, is the foundation of any accomplishment. Successful collaboration is like dancing; often we have different ideas about the steps in the dance. These differences can lead to greater synergy or to breakdown. Because agreements define how we coordinate, excellent results depend on clear agreements. The art of crafting effective agreements is the lever that increases the potential for desired outcomes.
There’s an important distinction between agreements for “results” and the familiar “agreements for protection,” which are negotiated from an adversarial perspective. The latter shifts the focus from what you want to create to what can go wrong. They foster an adversarial climate in new relationships, when you desire collaboration and joint vision. Protective agreements have diminishing value in our complex transactional milieu. When agreements focus on results our attitude turns decidedly positive. We are no longer looking at what can go wrong, instead, focusing on what are the right results.
The effort at forming agreement is toward building a partnership for performance. This is simply the outcome we hope for, plan for, and the mechanism by which we achieve a win-win-win for employee, employer, and customer. Agreements are necessary to any accountability system—we cannot reasonably expect of another what we have not agreed to. They are also key foundational elements to the measurement of agreed upon goals against performance. They are the glue to high-functioning organizations. And, they encourage a learning attitude, a trust-based environment, creativity, and a “we culture.”
Learning the Art of Agreement
In forming agreements, we must know where we’re headed; what we hope to accomplish by them. This is the intent in agreement, or why it is formed. The process of agreement might take any number of approaches, but all must include the following, beginning with intent or setting goals.
The next step is to define the area(s) of responsibility and the attendant duties in them—the roles of all stakeholders. This is necessary to forming the vital commitment to results that must be made by both parties.
Measurement metrics are next—the things that make agreement less ambiguous and more real.
- What areas of responsibility do I want to influence?
- How will I know the job is being done?
- What will good performance look like on each goal?
Judge the competence of the stakeholder(s) and their commitment. The first helps match the appropriate leadership style to their needs; the latter is the all-important measure of willingness.
Match the leadership style to the needs of the stakeholders whose performance you wish to partner with. A self-reliant achiever, for instance, requires a different leadership style than the disillusioned learner. Poor matching can risk the loss of commitment in stakeholders.
Be certain to put time stamps on expected outcomes; open-ended commitments have little emotional content, resulting in a casual approach that produces a similar outcome.
Agreement is necessary for those whose performance and alignment is productive and secure, as well as for those tangential to the organization. Encouragement is “condition blind,” but it is important to register both the commitment and willingness to improve performance. Without these, no partnership is formed as the parties are unequally yoked, pulling in diverse paths.
The opportunity in agreement is the “like heartedness” that produces extraordinary results. It’s a multiplication effect, and the thing that empowers teams.