To Be More Effective, Manage Agreements

A project manager in a program I recently led asked “How can I best manage my people to accomplish a change?”   I told him, “Don’t manage your people, manage the agreements you have with them.”

Agreements are the foundation for performance.  Many managers believe the key to getting things done is to appeal to people’s emotions and feelings, including their likes and dislikes and what they want or don’t want.  However, I have not found this approach to be highly effective or sustainable.  Emotions and feelings are easily changed and since I can’t control my own emotions, I am skeptical of influencing those of others.  Besides, there is a much more reliable approach.

Create agreements with people and then manage those agreements.  Agreements are created in performance conversations where both parties agree on what will be accomplished, by when, and how success will be determined.  These are conversations between adults where what counts is the agreement they create together.  Since agreements are between both parties, both are accountable for its accomplishment – one for delivering and the other for receiving what is promised.  This means that if an agreement is not kept, both parties are accountable.

Closure conversations are used to follow up and hold people accountable for agreements.  In these conversations, both parties have the opportunity to address what worked and what didn’t.  The focus of these conversations is on the success or failure of the agreement, what can be learned, and what can be done differently in the future.

For another take on managing agreements, read this blog.

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