Managing by Agreement -
The New "MBA"
A Challenging Time for Organizations
The Source of Dissonance and Conflict
Productivity and satisfaction depend on "clear" hearts and "clear" agreements. When the heart or the agreement is unclear, conflict and compromised productivity follow. When I think of entering a new business or personal relationship, or a conflict resolution process I think of a continuum:
Number one is the context organizations operate in - there is no shortage of the potential supply of dissonance and conflict. Number two consists of the traditional ways people manage their emotions such as visualization, "time outs," dealing with it "tomorrow," exercise, nature, yoga, etc. (One quick, elegant, scientifically documented method called "Freeze-Frame" has been developed by the Heartmath organization. www.heartmath.com.)
The new MBA takes care of number three!
The Management Opportunity
The 2000s seem much different than the 1990s. Changes include the presence or survival of dot.com mania; Knowledge Workers; The End of the Job; Downsizing or Rightsizing: Reengineering; Self-managed Organizations; Flattening; Technology; Telecommuting; Huge Bull Market; Stock Options; Free Agency; Brand Me; The Learning Organization; Merger Mania; Golden Parachutes; Executive MBA's; Employment Litigation; Project Orientation; Work as a Primary Community; Reliance on a "Work Family;" and The Virtual Organization.
These changes have generated significant conflict and dissonance in organizations; and great opportunity. Unfortunately, most managers (like most people) are conflict adverse - they don't engage (most avoid) conflict until it becomes acute. By then the costs of conflict are staggering: paying professionals; lost productivity; opportunity cost; loss of the benefits of continuing relationships; and the emotional cost that eats at the fabric of every organization's spirit.
When managers do engage with conflict they often only deal with symptoms. They resist getting near the real source of dissonance. To stop the staggering loss of resources managers would be well served to learn the skills needed to "manage by agreement." The organizational benefits that flow from the competence to prevent and deal with conflict are huge. The ability to resolve conflict and form effective working relationships impacts the core of every organizational function - teaming, managing, partnering, customer servicing, producing, innovating, learning, collaborating and diversity. I believe that the failure to proactively develop competence in dealing with conflict is a form of mismanagement! Conversely, knowing how to develop effective working agreements is a fundamental competence for managing anything.
How MBA Works
Managing by Agreement (The New MBA)
The Power of Agreement
= Results Beyond Expectation
Workplaces have become our dominant social institution, the arena in which we create, produce, and provide, not only for each other's material needs, but also for each other's social needs within our "work families." In the 21st Century organizations will not only serve their mission, they will also be a very important vehicle for taking care of human social needs. MBA contains easy to use tools that create partnership and shared commitment in all forms of organizational relationships.
Managing by Agreement creates covenantal relationships that are based on shared commitment to ideas, issues, values, goals and management process. Covenant is the true source of real teams, and is a key ingredient for having a "Work Family" which provides a source of the richness and fulfillment we seek. With covenants in place results beyond expectation follow. When you start a new project you will have the tools to put in place a road map that reminds you of your mission, and the route to get you there. If you're deep in conflict MBA provides a 7 Step Process to Resolution.
Since technology enables capacity far beyond human capability, and regulation lags far behind what people are doing, we need processes that allow us to define how we will work together. Managing by Agreement provides a dynamic context that advances change in organizational cultures. Agreements provide the context that promotes collaboration, teaming, learning, change, and continuous improvement. The new MBA provides standard practices through which desired changes can be identified, clarified and implemented. Individuals and groups are legitimized as they learn how to address their unique needs and concerns. The result is empowerment, teamwork, increased productivity and self-management. Here is some greater detail:
The Art of Agreement
Productivity and collaboration are a function of effective explicit agreements! All productivity, and all satisfying professional and personal relationships result from collaborative action. We collaborate with others in language by forming agreements. These agreements are express (spoken or written) or implied (assumed.) We often have conflict because we did not take the time, and we never learned how, to craft effective, explicit agreements. This is a skill we were never taught, even though it is fundamental and a foundational life skill.
The cause of wasteful, expensive conflicts are implicit, inartful, incomplete agreements that do not express a joint vision, and do not solidify relationship in the process of crafting the agreement. This often happens because the process of negotiating an agreement is seen as an adversarial process you try to win, as compared to a joint visioning process that expresses an inclusive vision of desired outcomes, and the road map to those desired results.
Agreements impact every aspect of organizational life including:
You can learn how to craft elegant agreements using a 10 element Agreement Template. They can be used with yourself as goal setting tools. They can be used to foster covenental partnerships with colleagues, bosses, support staff, suppliers, joint venture partners; clients and any collaborators. The key is articulating joint vision, how you will produce desired outcomes, standards to evaluate your results, and who you need to reach your objectives. MBA is a simple way of planning and implementation that generates a high level of buy in because it is empowering, inclusive and highly participatory.
The Ten Elements are:
Getting to Resolution (GTR)
Conflicts, differences and internal "chatter" pervade organizational relationships. No matter how good the agreement, conflict and differences will surface. The ability to prevent destructive conflict (dissonance that gets in the way of productivity,) and always move toward resolution and agreement is a critical core competence. Resolution and a new agreement that articulates the resolution increases productivity and returns everyone to optimal levels of output and satisfaction.
Resolution restores the ability and desire to take action, coordinate action and see the productive benefits of our collaboration. GTR enables effective collaboration by allowing everyone to focus on productive activity, not the conflict.
The 7 Steps of the Resolution Process include:
Step 1. Developing the Attitude of Resolution
The ten principles of the new paradigm hold the values that make up the attitude ofresolution. This attitude is the place of beginning, a critical first step This will not happen at once. It will take time to change the way you think. This is the foundational step. The goal is internalizing the principles.
Step 2. Telling Your Story
The second step is telling your story and listening to all stories, including yours. It is about understanding and being understood, one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that Dr. Steven Covey inspires us to cultivate. If you learn to listen with a careful ear and honor everyone's story about a situation, you take a big step toward getting to resolution.
Step 3. Listening for a Preliminary Vision of Resolution
The third step is to start thinking about a resolution that honors all concerns in the situation. It is about shifting from the desire to win and get your way to a vision that everyone can buy into. It comes from a sense of fairness. This initial vision may change as you gather more information and learn more, for everyone.
Step 4. Getting Current and Complete
The fourth step demands saying difficult, sometimes gut-wrenching things. It is about articulating what usually goes unexpressed and escaping from the emotional and intellectual prisons that keep us locked in the past. It is a way to face the good and bad in any situation and to experience and grieve for the disappointment of unrealized expectations. It is a way to put all of the detail out on the table - and choose those remnants that can be used to weave a new tapestry of resolution.
Step 5. Seeing a Vision for the Future: Agreement in Principle
Now that you have a preliminary vision, along w ith the information and emotional freedom provided by the completion process, you are ready for the fifth step-reaching an agreement in principle. Having looked at what other people need and noticing the cracks in your righteous position, you are ready to reach a general understanding of the resolution. This is the foundation of a new agreement. You let go of the desire for what you know will not work, and you focus on what will.
Step 6. Crafting the New Agreement: Making the Vision into Reality
In the sixth step you put specifics onto the agreement in principle. You design and construct a detailed vision of the future. You have a map, a formula for the dialogue that will maximize the potential for everyone to obtain their desired results. The more time you spend in detailing the desired results, the greater the chance to realize them.
Step 7. Resolution: When Your Agreement Becomes Reality
The seventh and final step is moving back into action. With a new agreement and a quiet, clear mind about the past, you can freely move forward, devoting your energy and intention to currently desired outcomes. You will have a new and profound sense of freedom because you have spoken all the unspeakables. You have completed the past and costructed a clear picture of the future and of the highway that will get you there. You will be empowered by the process. You are resolved.
As you work with Resolution you learn how to recognize conflict patterns; discover and address everyone's real concerns; honor differences, and legitimize all perspectives.
The new MBA Impacts:
The nature of organizational life will not revert back to a state of hierarchy and order. Managing by Agreement is an effective alternative to chaos. It provides tools that serve, enhance, clarify and provide a structure within which you can "make it up as you go along" while fully allowing principles of self-organization to operate. I believe that the balance of "self-made" structure and self-organization can provide the context in which individuals and organizations will flourish. MBA produces clarity about where you are going, and the route you will take, before you move into action.
Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to providing skills and ways of thinking people will need to thrive in the future.. Stewart is the author of "Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration" (Berrett-Koehler 1998) and more recently "The Book of Agreement" (Berrett-Koehler 2002). Visit www.ResolutionWorks.org for additional information.
article was originally published in the 2002 Mcgraw-Hill Sourcebook
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