Agreements. Contractual and Unspoken
— By Vasiliy Ivanov, CEO of KeepSolid.
I’m sure everyone knows memes about “expectation and reality”. They’re always so funny! But how often do we stop to check if our own behavior happens to fall under the same theme?
So, to agreements! For me, this is one of the most sore subjects in professional life. This is due to the fact that there a lot of people in the company and it is impossible to pay everyone enough attention and discuss all the details of a work process or task. And the last thing I’m going to do is to prepare documents for every sneeze of an employee. Usually this only leads to a terrific decrease in the efficiency of the entire company and the creation of jobs for the most uninterested members of the team. My partner has a favorite anecdote on this topic:
During an interview, the candidate was given a document with a huge list of what’s forbidden during working hours. The candidate passed eyes over it and signed it.
– You agree so calmly? So much is prohibited there, have you understood everything?
– Of course, my favorite occupation is not on your list anyway.
– What is your favorite occupation?
– I love building chains of paper clips!
The problem with agreements, as I see it, lies in a different understanding of the issue by opposing sides of the dialogue. Often this results in remarks like “if we agreed on this, there would have been a document.” As you know, arguing whose understanding is closer to the truth is a fascinating and endless process for those who want to burn time to the detriment of the company. I like to dig into the essence of things and define the meaning of words, so as not to insist on subjective understanding. So, an agreement is a consent reached through negotiations or a kind of diplomatic arrangement of the parties without detailed elaboration and legal registration (Wiktionary).
An agreement usually gets violated as the result of inflated or false expectations. These may include the area of responsibility of a certain position in the company. It is no secret what mother expects when she tells her son: “Go to the store, buy yeast bread.” We expect that he’ll go today, and will buy exactly yeast bread. Not rye bread, and not milk! In this example, everything is simple, because each of us understands how the bread looks like and what does “buy” mean. Now, let’s return to business questions. A person appointed (hired) to a specific position has his duties introduced and zones of responsibility explained to him in the categories of the final product and relations with colleagues. From now on, the employee is expected to base his work on the idea of the result. However, in most cases, this does not happen. Managers will probably explain why the team did not have enough time instead of trying to surpass themselves and achieve their goals by the deadline. Executors of the works will explain what proper conditions were not created around them leading to the agreement violation. Team leaders will rather explain who on the team is to blame for the failure of the goal than taking the responsibility themselves and cover up their entire team to show the team spirit and the leader’s readiness to stand up for them.
Am I trying to say that this is the fault of specific people who are holding onto their seats? No! It’s more of an education problem where we (in bulk) are not taught to dig into the essence of things and find answers at the bottom of the issue. As well as to search for the guilty party starting with yourself instead of trying to apply someone else’s successful actions. In practice, we get this: any social person is ready to take patronage over the team, but is not ready to consider himself the cause of what is happening. Even more: if successful, manager places himself at the root of the project success and chalks it up; in case of failure, manager often finds from 2 to 10 reasons for what happened and about the same number of candidates to blame, among whom he does not name himself.
I discovered the most interesting thing for myself not so long ago. The higher the position in the organizational structure, the more divergent expectations of a person occupying a position from the reality. After all, it is easier to explain an ordinary employee what is expected of him in layman’s terms. His area of responsibility is small and the amount of possible solutions is not too large. Moving higher by the organizational structure, the amount of possible solutions for any task/issue increases, which some managers don’t realize and in general are not really able to seek solutions until they are sure there are no more left. Indeed, who determines if there are solutions left? Only the manager, therefore it is not too difficult to come into agreement with yourself.
Have you ever tried jelly? Beautiful and stirs when you knock it with a spoon.
For a long time we tried to describe all the job descriptions, duties, and responsibilities of each employee, set up work accounting systems… Generally speaking, various technologies were used. The expected effect was not achieved. It turned out that the problems were not caused by the choice of technologies, methodologies, or frameworks, but rather by the lack of a company culture and, as a result, professional culture of employees and management. Just think about it – how you can make (read: force) a person to complete tasks on time if he does not see the value of his work, does not know the future of the product, does not understand what damage he does to the enterprise by violating terms or quality, and, in the end, does not bear any responsibility for his actions?
I believe every successful leader will smile if you ask him to recall a colleague with whom there were no permanent problems and conflicts. I feel sure that they had little or no legal agreements with this person. Moreover, this colleague sometimes took matters outside the area of his responsibility and brought them to the final result. What kind of a unique person is this, if even the best members of our society asked him many times: “What are you, a top performer?!”? The answer is simple – it’s a person who understands what role he plays in the company and in society.
In other words, he is guided not by contract and personal interests, but by common sense for the benefit of the group he works with. That’s how I describe the employees whom I want to see at the key positions in my company.