Creating Agreements for Results:
The 10 Essential Elements

by Stewart Levine

All you need is a plan, a road map, and the courage
to press on to your destination.

-
Earl Nightingale

The source of productivity and fulfillment in personal and professional relationships is effective collaboration.
The more elegant the expression of the collaboration
the better the results will be.

- Principle of Agreement No. 1

A successful organization is made up of series of collaborations:

  • The senior executive team
  • Every project
  • Every employee and their supervisor
  • Every work team
  • Between departments
  • Between line and staff
  • Between the organization and its customers / clients
  • Between the organization and its suppliers
  • Between an organization and its joint venturers
  • Between an organization and its lawyers, bankers, consultants, and accountants

Every aspect of running an organization can be seen through the "lens of agreement."

We collaborate by forming agreements. The agreements are either expressed (spoken or written) or implied (assumed.) The highest levels of productivity take place when the collaboration is so elegantly expressed that it expresses a meeting of both mind and heart. Conversely, all conflict, and its large multi faceted cost, is caused by the absence of a clear agreement. Either we did not take the time, or we did not know what we needed to talk about to craft an effective, explicit agreement.

It is surprising that this is a skill we learned given that crafting agreements with others is a fundamental life skill. This is especially true given the huge cost of conflict that results from our implicit, inartful, incomplete agreements. These agreements do not effectively express a joint vision or generate a collaborative partnership. Besides not knowing what you have to talk about, a major cause of the agreement breakdown is that the process of forming agreements is seen as an adversarial process of negotiating you try to win.

Because of how we have been conditioned negotiating an agreement is seen as an adversarial process. Most of us function in a "me vs. them" context. Negotiating is a process within which you try to advantage yourself. The negotiation is not held as a process intended to express a clear joint vision, with a road map to desired results. I believe everyone would benefit greatly if we embraced the idea of creating agreements for results, and stopped negotiating agreements for protection. It is important to shift the context of the process of forming agreements from adversarial win/lose negotiating, to a joint visioning process that articulates an inclusive vision of outcomes, and a road map to the composite of desired results everyone agrees on. It is a fundamental shift from the traditional idea of agreements for protection that focus on providing remedies for what goes wrong, to designing agreements for results that express a joint vision that satisfies everyone. The idea is to shift our thinking from "you or me" to "you and me?"

I hope I have convinced you of the importance and pervasiveness of agreements in your organization. You might be wondering about "how do you start putting together an effective agreement?" The answer is simple, but it's not easy! Simple in that all you have to do is engage in a discussion about each one of the following elements that is essential for an effective agreement. It's not easy because it means breaking lifetime habits of moving forward without putting an agreement in place. It's like shifting from

Ready, Fire, Aim

to

Ready, Aim, Fire.

A few years ago I asked a senior manager at a client company what her biggest challenge was. Without skipping a beat she said it was getting her reports to stop and think about where they are going before they moved into action. Otherwise you end up in places no one wanted to go to.

Each of the following elements is an essential key for an effective agreement. Use these elements as a template for constructing "agreements for results." It is useful to reach an understanding about each element with everyone involved. The process is very important because it is the beginning of a new working relationship. Navigating the process together is the foundation for the new relationship; and the relationship is much more important than any specific agreement. The ability to work together over time in a relationship based on covenant, no matter how difficult things are, is the context that will make the collaboration successful. One of the questions lawyers ask in determining if an agreement was "legally" binding is whether there was ever a "meeting of the minds." I believe that to have a real "agreement for results" you also need have a "meeting of the hearts."

Please don't be intimidated by the template that follows. The elements become internalized quickly. Fortunately, every agreement does not require a long discussion about every element. As you use the template you will become facile with it. I encourage you to be artful - to customize it for your unique circumstance. Over the past fifteen years I have facilitated hundreds of agreements. You will be amazed at how artful you can get at both crafting agreements, and recognizing what's missing that may lead to conflict.

The elements of an effective agreement are:

  1. Intent & Vision
  2. Roles
  3. Promises
  4. Time & Value
  5. Measurements Of Satisfaction
  6. Concerns, Risks and Fears
  7. Renegotiation
  8. Consequences
  9. Conflict Resolution
  10. Agreement?

Here's an explanation of each element.

  1. Intent & Vision - The big picture of what you intend to accomplish together. The first step is sharing a big picture of what you are doing together as a context for the details. The clearer and more specific the measurable detail of desired outcomes, the more likely you will attain them as visualized.

  2. Roles - The duties, responsibilities, and commitment of everyone must be clearly defined. Everyone necessary to achieve the desired results must be part of the agreement.

  3. Promises - The agreement contains clear promises so everyone knows who will do what. With specific promises you can tell if the actions will get you to the desired results and what actions are missing.

  4. Time & Value - All promises have time deadlines for completion. These are called "by when's" - by when will you do this, and by when will you do that. The length of time the agreement will be effective is also important. Value is an understanding of who gets what for what? Is the exchange satisfactory? Is it fair? Does it provide adequate incentive? Clarity is critical because everyone must anticipate satisfaction or someone will sabotage the transaction. Remember that value has many forms and it is essential to understand the different kinds of value people will be satisfied with.

  5. Measurements of Satisfaction - To prevent disagreement, the evidence that everyone has achieved his or her objectives must be clear, direct, and measurable. This element is critical because it eliminates conflict about the ultimate question - Did you accomplish what you set out to do?

  6. Concerns, Fears and Risks - Bringing as yet unspoken fears and risks to the surface provide the opportunity to anticipate and prevent the challenges likely to come up during the collaboration. This discussion will deepen the partnership being created, or let you know this is not a partnership you want to be part of. This is where you get to say what's still creating "chatter" about moving forward, and others get to respond and take care of other's fear.

  7. Renegotiation - No matter how optimistic and clear you are it will become necessary to renegotiate promises and conditions of satisfaction. Circumstances change and it is critical to anticipate this at the beginning so the relationship can evolve and prosper. It is also crucial to provide everyone with an exit strategy they can follow with dignity. Anyone who feels imprisoned in a transaction, partnership, or relationship cannot make his or her maximum contribution to the enterprise. It is essential to recognize that the relationship is much more important than the agreement. Things keep moving forward if the functional relationships are intact, not because of a lengthy legal contract.

  8. Consequences - There are two kinds of consequences. Although you may not want to police the agreement, it is important to agree on consequences for anyone who breaks a promise. Equally, if not more important, it is essential to understand the consequences to everyone (including people who are not even part of the agreement) if the collaboration does not accomplish its purpose.

  9. Conflict Resolution - Conflicts and disagreements arise when people work together. If you agree to step into the attitude of resolution, and have an agreed process that leads to a new agreement, resolving conflicts will be "normalized."

  10. Agreement ? - When you have dialogued about the first nine elements it's time to ask whether you trust moving forward. Everyone ought to be satisfied and ready to take action. Now is the time to work on the agreement until you are satisfied that you have an agreement. If you're not clear that you do have an agreement you can trust - you don't! Unless and until you are satisfied, do not move into action. You will not have a shared vision to work toward. Are you ready to commit to embrace the future as a new opportunity that can be enjoyed? This attitude lubricates the collaboration. Once you have agreement someone (or everyone) must take responsibility for stewarding the project, ensuring the agreement is honored, and the intended results are obtained. While this is everyone's responsibility, it is sometimes important enough to have a point person responsible for making sure the agreement is implemented. One of the questions you ask in determining if an agreement's "legally" binding is whether there was ever a "meeting of the minds." To have a true "agreement for results" you also have to have a meeting of the hearts.

In my experience most organizations exhibit silo thinking in building their training and management development programs. I have had the experience of teaching many of the basic educational courses that are considered part of both management and employee development. I believe that whether it's basic management, communication, delegation, coaching and counseling, conflict resolution, project management, or team skills there is a common objective - moving from where you are to where you want to be in the simplest way. I have discovered that the common denominator in all these areas of competence is the ability to coordinate action and collaborate effectively. The best tool that I know of is agreements for results.


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.

This article is adapted from:

The Book of Agreement: 10 Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want
by Stewart Levine,
Berrett-Koeheler,
December. 2002

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Copyright 2003 by Stewart Levine. All rights reserved.

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