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Just One Thing


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich


In thinking about the opportunity that exists in each of those I work with, I’m ever seeking that essential and simple direction that will influence best practices. It presents both opportunity and unique challenges. Gladly, the diversity joins unused brain cells in the gambol toward more effective responses to both. The result has caused something of an epiphany—“a sudden intuitive leap of understanding”—but which more accurately represents a growing appreciation for accumulated knowledge and experience.

The sense that all have felt of being overwhelmed by both the sheer number and immediacy of the challenges we face tends to drive us in two directions. We are either stuck at START, unable to move toward any of the things facing us for an immobilizing focus on all of them at the same time, or we narrow our focus on one thing at a time until all are done or delegated. But the simple wisdom in the approach masks the tension that acts like an emergency brake on a car that just won’t release for having been so seldom used. It’s stuck, like us!

As those of you who read my columns have discovered, I am fond of the character Curly in the film City Slickers. His wisdom is summed up in one expression to the erstwhile cowboys who left the city and their reliance on its conveniences for a trail ride that loses its luster in the hard work of managing cattle on the open range and the grimy and spare conditions of the plain. It is, as he literally points out, one thing! Challenged by the simplicity of it and the anxiety it produces, Billy Crystal is finally driven to ask of Curly just what that one thing might be. Curly leads him on awhile, perhaps to emphasize the value in it, then pronounces it as though it were virtue from on high. “One thing,” he says. “Just do one thing at a time, and do it well and you’ll enjoy success at everything you do.”

“That’s it?” Crystal blurts incredulously?

Our tendency is to see the world as a complex society, unmanageable for its twists and turns. The unpredictable winnowing of order from chance seems far too intricate a puzzle for our daily portion of hours at work to solve. But much like the fox and the hedgehog as depicted in the well-known essay by Isaiah Berlin, there is a need to simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything we do.

But what does this concept have to do with you and the daunting task of preparing an organization for greatness? In his description of the “Flywheels and the Doom Loop,” Jim Collins (Good to Great) models the struggle that is necessary to the success of key initiatives. It is the persistence of a long obedience in the same direction that wins the day. Much like the hedgehog that curls into an impenetrable ball whenever the fox approaches, a single concept that is worked well is the answer.

We have learned that no matter how important or world shattering the end result, transformations do not happen overnight by the power of a single act. Rather, they succeed by the deliberate and focused application of a simple guiding principle—small steps, one at a time, decision-by-decision, push-by-push, of the wheel of progress.

In his effort to inform the method by which post-war nations could revive their industries, Edward Deming fostered the idea of small, continuous improvement, what would later be known as The Kaizen Way, the Japanese name for it. He reasoned that we are so used to living with minor annoyances that it was not easy to identify them or to make corrections to overcome them. Quite oppositely, he discovered these annoyances had a way of growing in size and complexity and eventually blocking the way to change. His breakthrough? Train oneself to spot and solve small problems so as to avoid more sizeable and painful solutions later in the process.

It seems all too simple. In fact, by itself the idea is little more than pleasurable to consider. But the bane of most middle managers, the “how to” in the method, is the deliverance of a dry match in the darkness. With success as the goal, it is necessary to reduce the first step to the smallest possible accomplishment. Once it has been achieved and you have tasted its nectar, it is appropriate to take another. Soon, you will recognize when next steps are automatic, effortless, and joyful. Don’t allow anyone to pressure you into a change of pace—up or down—if it doesn’t feel right to you, Deming urged. Just return to the mind of the hedgehog as you gain the confidence of a practice that works.



October 20, 2017 |

Critical Thinking


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



In all areas of endeavor it is easy to form expectations of the benefits to target groups. We expect students to learn, customers to appreciate the value in our products, societies to live by moral standards, and so on, but we seldom teach them “how” to do it. We are a society given to information transfer, but have little patience for the “process” that is necessary to learning. We are so invested in telling others “what to think” that we fail to teach them “how to think.”

This is a failing of advertising in general. It is, perhaps, with purpose that we avoid this critical element of the “sell” for fear that it will get in the way. For instance, why would an advertiser want to compare your desire for something with your need for it? The logic in such analysis would alter the sensitive math between seller and buyer. It might also better inform the rhetoric of politics.

Typically, we do two things when educating others: (1) we transmit content, and (2) we equip the object group with ways to understand and use it. Here, we are addressing “what to think” and “how to think,” the twin pedals of the learning process. The second of these is called critical thinking, and it is what singularly makes the difference in learning. Yet, it is a skill that is lacking not only in education but also in marketplace organizations.

In its landmark report A Nation at Risk, the National Commission on Excellence in Education concluded: Many 17-year-olds do not possess the ‘higher-order’ intellectual skills we should expect of them. Nearly 40 percent cannot draw inferences from written material; only one-fifth can write a persuasive essay; and only one-third can solve a mathematics problem requiring several steps.

Exposing the Method of Critical Thinking

What does critical thinking look like and how might we tie it inextricably to the information gathering and use model? The first to gain is the “mindset” that aids critical thinking. Let’s begin with “thinking” itself, which we are encouraged to in organizations, but allowed little time for.

Though a key problem-solving technique, critical thinking is hard to find among managers who are generally more comfortable with the traditional plan, organize, coordinate, and control. In truth, critical thinking is a simple method of self-questioning that reveals the logical path to productive ends and the winnowing of the subjective influence in most decision making. To use it requires that we adopt a mindset of critical thinking and then learn the simple tools that aid the practice of it. Simply, critical thinking may be described as “ … reasonable, reflective, responsible, and skillful thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.” Through critical thinking we are better able to ask useful questions, gather good data, analyze them effectively and form conclusions that serve agreed-upon goals.

The following are a number of the skills we might apply in critical thinking, as outlined by Raymond S. Nickerson, an expert of critical thinking. In each is the method of critical analysis that delivers the critical thinking model.

  • Uses evidence skillfully and impartially
  • Organizes thoughts and articulates them concisely and coherently
  • Distinguishes between logically valid and invalid inferences
  • Suspends judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence to support a decision
  • Understands the difference between reasoning and rationalizing
  • Attempts to anticipate the probable consequences of alternative actions
  • Understands the idea of degrees of belief
  • Sees similarities and analogies that are not superficially apparent
  • Can learn independently and has an abiding interest in doing so
  • Applies problem-solving techniques in domains other than those in which learned
  • Can structure informally represented problems in such a way that formal techniques, such as mathematics, can be used to solve them
  • Can strip a verbal argument of irrelevancies and phrase it in its essential terms
  • Habitually questions one’s own views and attempts to understand both the assumptions that are critical to those views and the implications of the views
  • Is sensitive to the difference between the validity of a belief and the intensity with which it is held
  • Is aware of the fact that one’s understanding is always limited, often much more so than would be apparent to one with a non-inquiring attitude
  • Recognizes the fallibility of one’s own opinions, the probability of bias in those opinions, and the danger of weighting evidence according to personal preferences

If the skills above are recognizable and familiar practice, you have discovered the power within. Make them your daily bread and you’ll increase your contribution to any organization and society.


October 13, 2017 |

A More Perfect Union


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



When was the last time you started a relationship with an organization at which you were given a written description of what you might expect from the organization? Whether beginning a new job or project we seldom benefit from a “resume” of the organization’s skills and talents for achieving the stated outcomes. Executive coaches often refer to this quality in organizations as “success dependencies.” The cloud in one’s mind usually reads something like this: What about this new organization is a clear demonstration of their ability to succeed after I get there, and what evidence do they offer to warranty the behavior necessary to the achievement they expect of me? Employers and employees alike are openly passionate about each other, but when it comes time to shake on the deal only one of them has paper in hand with the details of what he must do.

Oddly, for as common as are job descriptions and goal sheets (for individuals), they are seldom matched with the same from the organization. In fact, the psychological contract between employer and employee—a set of beliefs about what each is expected to receive and to give—may be the most unilateral of contracts. If, in fact, a contract at all, by what mechanism have we constructed this model of agreement in which the responsibility of one side is in writing, and that of the other is imagined, or worse, taken for granted?

Perhaps, we are carrying the artifacts of an earlier era in which the employee is assumedly less valuable to the organization than vice versa. What does that mean for the phrase, “People are an organization’s most valuable asset?” One can only imagine, and some have—enter the knowledge worker whose broad understanding of the comprehensive contribution necessary to an ever faster moving market economy is transforming the view of human capital. Clearly, absent real equity in the arrangement, organizations are at risk of losing good people for insensitivity to their responsibility in this important contract between employer and employee.

So much of our effort depends on the passion we develop for our work and our organizations. Whether written or just spoken about, our expectations and the passion that excite them, have a significant impact on how we think, feel, and act, no less on our attitudes toward work. In fact, not unlike the anticipation of flowing ketchup as we take in the smell of grilled hamburger, expressed expectations have a greater emotional effect than the actual meeting of them. Surprised? Think ahead a month or so to anticipated joy in the holidays and the actual results. Here’s hoping you are outside the curve.

In our efforts to form a “more perfect union” between employer and employee, consider three key elements in the model of engagement necessary to cooperative achievement. In everything be reminded to communicate, initiate, and adjust in your march to achievement.


Source: Integro Leadership Institute

October 6, 2017 |

Honor Cultures and the Customer


ROI by Frank J. Richl






By Frank J. Rich



Pride of ownership is a natural aid to the psyche of populations—one that encourages others in efforts to find their best behavior. Clearly, we can all benefit from more time spent in this pursuit. Our sense of belonging—to community, opportunity through education, our neighborhood, indeed, to each other—may depend largely on this pride of ownership. Buoyed by the implied standards that inform it (belonging), we craft a model of honor for the things we hold dear, that forms the psyche driving the day-to-day. Honor, as virtue, is not oft denied; we are somehow made better when the things we do, value, and practice are shared and honored by others.

However winsome a model on the surface, honor cultures bear a cheeky underbelly for the orthodoxy that often arises in it. The pert wisdom in joining with others in common ethic, according to social psychologist Ryan P. Brown in his book Honor Bound: How a Cultural Ideal Has Shaped the American Psyche, appears to have an inimical side; namely, a severe contempt for comments, and others, that do not share it. In short, our preoccupation with honor (as defined here) gives us over to greater scrutiny and sensitivity to, well, behavior, people, and things that do not meet the (self-formed) narrative of so-called “honor.”

The pursuit of individual rights may position all as judge over “rights” and the “appropriate” license to practice them—a predisposing and imposing view of all others as good or bad by how well they measure up to our standards. Clearly, the model poses a threat to free speech and to the “right” to speak one’s mind, even when motivated by a selfless desire to join a diverse population in the joys that diversity provides. According to Brown’s research, so purposeful is the honor culture in preparing a platform for violence, its statistical analysis reveals higher rates of domestic violence and school shootings in “honor obsessed” cultures. The honor culture serves antipodal results—a not too honorable culture, after all.

In answering the question, “What behavioral trait do kids need to be happy and successful?” Michele Borba, educational psychologist and author of the book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, offered empathy alone as the most beneficial trait. Simply, “understanding the people around us—kids and adults—better enables us to collaborate, innovate and solve problems,” she said. We are a nation of people with high anxiety and low self-esteem, giving rise to what Borba calls the “Selfie Syndrome,” among other things. The result is often increased narcissism in our model of behavior, the absence of a realistic self-assessment, humility, and empathy. So serious is the problem that studies show narcissism rates have risen roughly 60 percent over the last 30 years. Bullying, cheating, and general unhappiness are its common signs.


What does all this have to do with customers?

Customer data to grow the critical knowledge base necessary to serve customers with product and services better informs the buyer/seller exchange than ever before. What’s often lost is the perspective that the buyer (like the seller) is a human being with needs beyond the product or service offered. She/he is hurried, economically less endowed than their parents were at their age, emotionally less well adjusted, and wary of the impersonal nature of this information age. In short, the expectation that sellers are always trying to take advantage of us (Americans do not want to be sold), and that buyers are only interested in price as a value proposition (over 70 percent of all offers include a sale, discount, or promotion) leads to an unfulfilling end. What happens to us when we see a policeman approaching us? The fear, uncertainty, and doubt that fills us often leads to obsequious or defensive behavior that often produces a poor result. We tend to find the enemy when “the enemy” is what we’re looking for.

Sellers are mostly doing an honest job at finding product or crafting services that fill needs. At the local level, and without the funds to organize and automate, this is hard work. The customer is usually looking for himself in the things he wants, needs, or is in the habit of buying. That identity is revealed in the things they buy, or no sale is made.

When empathy is in the mix, both do better. We respect the effort the seller makes on our behalf and openly regard his product and service as valuable. The seller who enjoys people finds opportunity to learn their wants, desires, and habits to better serve them… and the emotional needs in the buying experience.

Every cookie that comes out of the oven is different, and for reasons that disappear the moment you taste the goodness in them.



September 29, 2017 |

Difficult People


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



OK, hands up out there! How many of you have chosen not to take action with a difficult person when you knew it was needed? How many have reacted to another in an angry or non-constructive way? You with your head down—why isn’t your hand up?

Everyone has done both of these things at one time or another. There’s no shame in it. However, if we consistently repeat the same mistakes over and over and end up paying the cost by becoming a victim, we’ve chosen the path to unfulfillment.

So, why do we do it? Why do we choose to be victims? And why is it important to know why we make this choice? Simply, if we don’t know what it is about “difficult people” that causes us to make a poor decision, it isn’t likely we’ll be able to grow out of the “victim” disorder. If we don’t change, we are going to be a consistent victim.

There are a number of reasons why people make bad decisions, avoid taking action, or take inappropriate action. Most have to do with avoidance, while the last is biological and has to do with our initial gut reaction to difficult people and our feelings of threat. Let’s take a look.

Low Self-awareness

If you lack self-awareness (i.e. you don’t know what your own reactions mean and why they occur), you are not likely to have success with difficult people. Not coincidentally, the first step in learning to deal with difficult people is to examine oneself.

It’s important that you look at yourself to identify which of the reasons apply to you. When you are aware of the reasons you choose to be a victim, you will be better prepared to make better, more rational decisions.

An impediment to awareness is “denial.” Have you ever said to yourself, “I can’t believe he said that?” It is likely that you have. What we are saying in those words is that our expectation of another does not match well with their actual behavior. One reason we fail to take action with difficult people is we don’t expect them to be difficult. We are caught “off guard.” Most normal people don’t go through life looking for trouble. But when it appears, unexpectedly, such as in outrageous outbursts, we have a tendency to freeze like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. We’re at a loss for words, almost disbelieving what is plainly in sight. We are incredulous over it.

Not only can we freeze up in such moments, but some difficult behavior is so outlandish that we remain stunned by it well after the fact, or we deny it or excuse it as an aberration.


Believe it! Even the best of people do difficult, hurtful, and unpleasant things to others. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. If you do, it may just get worse. We are, each of us, capable of the worst behavior imaginable. What keeps us from it varies—societal pressure, the law, moral suasion, inherent goodness, a positive life experience that recommends it, etc. Whatever works to bring each individual under self-control must be as apparent and available as a hammer to drive a nail.

Are you in denial? If so, recognize that people do hurtful, difficult things and that they are indeed real and are happening. To deny what is happening only serves to make the situation worse.


Even when we recognize that someone is being nasty, difficult or unpleasant, we may be reluctant to act because we fear getting involved. Or perhaps, you know that difficult person who argues about everything, and you are tired of him. We think, “If I say something, it’s just going to make matters worse.”

At times, you’d be right. There are times when making something of another’s rage is not only inconvenient, but also dangerous. Consider road rage. If we stop (or speed up) to confront another’s poor behavior on the road we might find ourselves on the receiving end of a weapon in the hands of a fool. The larger picture renders the issue trivial in most road rage incidents, so we go on our way hoping the angry “other” will cool down before hurting someone.

There has to be a happy medium here. We don’t want to jump on every little thing, but we must be prepared to confront real issues of poor behavior. We deserve better, and “help” is what the miscreant needs most. However, if we choose to continually ignore such abuse, we paint ourselves as victims.

Recognize that dealing with a difficult person in a constructive way doesn’t have to mean getting into an argument or a confrontation. Managers must be willing to make people accountable, and not only to agreed upon goals. We work with people, and their willingness and cooperation is necessary to achievement. We need to work at not allowing our dread of confrontation to keep us from taking control of difficult situations.

Bad Cop

Another reason people tend to wait too long to intervene with difficult people has to do with not wanting to come across as the “heavy.” This promotes a poor self-image, something we humans avoid like the plague. This is particularly true of managers who are sensitive to the need to use power sparingly in today’s workplace.

Get over it! We get paid to manage—so manage. Whether it’s someone not doing a good job or interfering with the work of others, or someone polluting the work environment, managers, indeed all stakeholders, have a responsibility to co-workers to act when necessary. You are, in effect, charged with ensuring the welfare of those in your care.

They’ll Do It

There is a tendency in organizations to think that the really tough problems ought to be solved by “them.” It is the great lie in all societies—commercial and familial. We expect it of our politicians, our teachers, our pastors, our bosses, and our parents. Perhaps, this is why 85% of families and 70% of organizations are deemed dysfunctional. If we allow one employee to make life difficult for another, there’s a fair chance that the “victim” will come to blame us, even though we aren’t directly involved. As managers and leaders, we are ultimately responsible for results—at all levels of participation.

Just as “intervening” need not bring about confrontation, stepping in need not make us the bad guys. There is something of value at stake for all involved; reasonable people can come quickly to an understanding of it.

Fight or Flight

The final underlying reason for mishandling difficult situations is the “fight or flight” phenomenon. It’s biological—all animals have it. It works this way; when we are threatened, our bodies react by sending hormones and neurological messages to prepare it to either run away (escape or take flight), or to stand and fight.

It’s these chemical changes in our bodies that cause things like sweating, elevated heart rate, or even shaking during or after perceived danger.

Unfortunately, those same chemical changes, while allowing us to make a quick escape, or a fight of it, also cause quick and destructive verbal responses. So, there’s actually a biological reason why you might speak or react too quickly when dealing with a difficult person.

Fortunately, we can choose not to be slaves to the “flight or flight” thing. We can learn to control ourselves, and even to react less aggressively when in difficult situations. Perhaps, what is most helpful is to accept that the term “difficult people” describes us all, at times. Try first to defend that person’s position, then consider what to do about his behavior. The exercise may give you the empathy necessary to clearing most misunderstandings, and the path to appropriate behavioral modifications.


September 22, 2017 |

Group Decision-Making


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Making decisions within a group can often be challenging. When things go well, they can go very well. However, when things go wrong, groups can end up mired in conflict. Some group members may fight for recognition and position, others may be over-critical or disruptive, while still others may sit quietly and not contribute anything to the overall effort. Because of this, groups can often spin out of control and make poor decisions, suggesting that decisions by individuals working on their own is a better approach.

When this happens, it’s easy to see why some throw up their hands in frustration and give up. But when a group works in effective ways, it really works. Groups that function effectively together can outperform individuals and make much better decisions.

But how do you make your group effective? How do you get all members to contribute and inspire one another to great ideas and solutions? One way is to “prepare” the group for success. This is a “tried and true” method, and is applied across the board in most decision-making. Good preparation makes good practice, and good results.

  • Set an agenda that requires interaction. Ask group members to speak of their experience with the meeting topic and how it might contribute to an understanding of the issues and the expected outcomes. Alerting them to the interactive exercise ahead will stir their creative juices.
  • Assemble those who would carry the initiative forward — that is, those who have both the skills and the inclination to contribute to the venture going forward. You’ll begin to see the workings of the team you’ve assembled and form a view of the cohesiveness of the group and any missing links.
  • Ask group members to recommend the talents of those in the room for assignment. Each ought to be given the opportunity to elucidate the special talents of group members. This prepares people for the selfless dedication to the other’s success that best informs teamwork.

The Stepladder Technique

The Stepladder Technique is another useful method for encouraging individual participation in “group decision-making.” This simple tool manages how members enter the decision-making group. It encourages all members to contribute on an individual level before being influenced by others. It results in a wider variety of ideas, prevents people from “hiding” within the group, and it helps people avoid being “stepped on” or overpowered by stronger, louder group members.

How to Use the Tool

The Stepladder Technique has five basic steps:

Step 1: Before getting together as a group, present the task or problem to all members. Give everyone sufficient time to think about what needs to be done and to form their own opinions on how to best accomplish the task or solve the problem.

Step 2: Form a core group of two members. Have them discuss the problem.

Step 3: Add a third group member to the core group. The third member presents ideas to the first two members BEFORE hearing the ideas that have already been discussed. After all three members have laid out their solutions and ideas, they discuss their options together.

Step 4: Repeat the same process by adding a fourth member, and so on, to the group. Allow time for discussion after each additional member has presented his or her ideas.

Step 5: Reach a final decision only after all members have been brought in and presented their ideas.

The Stepladder Technique is similar to the Delphi Method, another tool that’s often used in groups to prevent Groupthink* and to encourage participation. While both tools have the same objective, they differ in a few key ways:

  • In the Delphi Method, an objective facilitator or leader manages the group. In the Stepladder Technique, all members are equal.
  • The Delphi Method keeps members anonymous. The facilitator manages the flow of information, and members may have no idea who else is in the group. The Stepladder Technique involves face-to-face meetings, so everyone knows who the other members are.
  • The Delphi Method is a lengthy process, while the Stepladder Technique is much quicker.
  • The Delphi Method is often used for major decisions that need input from a large number of people. The Stepladder Technique works best with smaller groups that make a wide range of decisions.

Some groups can begin to lose their effectiveness and ability to make quality decisions if they have too many members. Keep your group small — four to six team members — to maximize effectiveness.

The Stepladder Technique is a step-by-step approach to help ensure that all members of a group participate and are heard. The technique allows shy, quiet people to present their ideas before other group members can influence them, and it allows everyone to hear many different viewpoints before reaching a final decision. All of this helps the group make better decisions. The techniques help curb worker ferment and eliminate fainéant members who fear engagement.


*Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s commonsense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion. This is what happens in the legislatures of most nations, where the unique view of parties divides people in the decision-making process into membership of a common view.

September 15, 2017 |

The Most Powerful Tool


ROI by Frank J. Rich







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.

September 8, 2017 |
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