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How to write a win-win agreement

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One of the best tools I’ve found for managing the agendas of two people whether in business, missions, or marriage, is the win-win agreement. And the best explanation I’ve seen of it comes from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Too many people give in to the agendas of anoth…
By Seth Barnes

One of the best tools I’ve found for managing the agendas of two people whether in business, missions, or marriage, is the win-win agreement. And the best explanation I’ve seen of it comes from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Too many people give in to the agendas of another party in order to avoid conflict. They agree to lose so the other person can win. It’s a win-lose agreement. It doesn’t have to be that way. I encourage my subordinates and partners to dive into the details in order to ensure good partnership. I teach them to use
this model in which you cover five different areas and get to an agreement where both parties win. Here’s Covey’s explanation of how it works:

First, specify desired results. Discuss what results you expect. Be specific about the quantity and quality. Set budget and schedule. Commit people to getting the results, but then let them determine accomplishment of your objectives. These objectives essentially represent the overlap between the organizational strategy, goals, and job design, and the personal values, goals, needs, and capabilities. The concept of win-win suggests that managers and employees clarify expectations and mutually commit themselves to getting desired results.

Second, set some guidelines. Communicate whatever principles, policies, and procedures are considered essential to getting desired results. Mention as few procedures as possible to allow as much freedom and flexibility as possible. Organizational policy and procedure manuals should be brief, focusing primarily on the principles behind the policy and procedures. Then, as the circumstances change, people are not frozen – they can still function, using their own initiative and good judgment and doing what’s necessary to get desired results within the value framework of the company.

Guidelines should also identify no-no’s or failure paths that experience has identified as inimical to accomplishing organizational goals or maintaining organizational values. Many a management-by-objective
program goes down in flames because these failure paths or no-no’s are not clearly identified.

People are given the feeling that they have almost unlimited flexibility and freedom to do whatever is
necessary to accomplish agreed-upon results and end up reinventing the wheel, encountering certain organizational sacred cows, upsetting apple carts, getting blown out of the saddle, and becoming increasingly gun shy about ever exercising initiative again.

When identifying the no-no’s or sacred cows, also identify what level of initiative a person has regarding different responsibilities: is the person to wait until told, or ask whenever he has a question, or study it out and then make a recommendation, or do it and report immediately, or do it and report and report routinely? In this way expectations are clarified and limits set.

In some areas of responsibility, the initiative level would simply be to wait until told, while in other areas, higher levels could be exercised, including, “Use your own good judgment and do what you think is appropriate; let us know routinely what you’re doing and what the results are.”

Third, identify available resources. Identify the various financial, human, technical, and organizational resources available to employees to assist them in getting desired results. Mention the
structural and systemic arrangements and processes. Such systems might include information,
communication, and training. You may want to identify yourself or other people as resources and indicate how these human resources could be used. You may want to set some limits on access or merely share your experience and let the person decide how to benefit most from it.

Fourth, define accountability. Holding people accountable for results puts teeth into the win-win agreement. If there is no accountability, people gradually lose their sense of responsibility and start blaming circumstances or other people for poor performance. But when people participate in setting the exact standard of acceptable performance, they feel a deep sense of responsibility to get desired results.

Results can be evaluated in three ways: measurement, observation, and discernment. Specify how you will evaluate performance. Also, specify when and how progress reports are to be made and accountability sessions held. When the trust level is high, people will be much tougher on themselves than an outside evaluator or manager would ever dare be. Also, when trust is high, discernment is often more accurate than so-called objective measurement. That’s because people know in their hearts much more than the measurement system can reveal about their performance.

Fifth, determine the consequences. Reach an understanding of what follows when the desired results are achieved or not achieved. Positive consequences might include financial and psychic rewards, such as recognition, appreciation, advancement, new assignment, training, flexible schedule, leave of absence, enlarged scope of responsibilities, perks, or promotion. Negative consequences might range from reprimand to retraining to termination.

Click here for an overview of Covey’s bestseller.

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