3 Steps for Making Clear Agreements

Making and Keeping Agreements

How do we move forward in business?  There are so many elements, but one indispensable element of forward-movement is making and keeping agreements.  If you think about it, the only reason we ever make agreements is to move forward:

“I will get it to you by Friday.”

“I will be at the meeting at 9 am.”

“I will call you tomorrow.”

“I will exercise 3 times this week.”

All of these statements are made to move something forward.  Even if it is only to have coffee with a friend — that improves your relationship.  Even if you promise to get something to your boss — not really wanting to do it — that improves your position at the company.

When I say this – the only way we move forward is making and keeping agreements — most people say “yeah; of course.”  Most people’s attitudes are “I do this all the time.”

The truth is we don’t.  I’m not even going to talk about keeping agreements in this article.  I’m just talking about making agreements.  We are sloppy in our communication.  We have endless meetings and often little gets done.

For example, we have a board meeting and one person raises the issue that someone needs to call the caterer for our fund-raiser in 2 months.  We talk about who the caterer should be, and then we leave the meeting and no one has agreed to make the call.  Or we talk about who should make the call and John agrees to make the call.  Next week, we have a meeting and ask “John, did you make the call?”  And what does he say?  “Not yet.”  No one asks when he will do it and this can go on and on.  Worse still is the situation where we come to the next meeting and no one even asks John if he’s done what he said he would.

Though it seems simple, it is profoundly important and rarely done with any consistency.  Here are the elements of an agreement using the board meeting as an example:

1.  When we are in a meeting with several people (or even 2), ask specifically “who will do this?” and wait for a response.  If no response, then state clearly, “No one has agreed to do this.”

2.  If someone says they will do what needs to be done, ask for the specifics.  For example, “I will call the caterer, ask for pricing for 100 people and see if the date we have in mind is possible for them.”  Otherwise, John may call the caterer and asks only “can you do this date?” because “call the caterer” meant different things to different people.

3.  Specify BY WHEN.  This is huge.  Most people don’t volunteer deadlines.  In fact, most people seem uncomfortable tying themselves down to a date.  On the other side of it, people are uncomfortable asking “by when will you do that?”  However, this is information you must haveYou have not made an agreement if you have not stated by when you will finish the task.  When there is no deadline:

  • People don’t know when to check back with you and will either forget all about it or continually nag you
  • The promise-maker can take as long as he wants to do it and often will also forget about it
  • Often the promise-maker and the other person invent in their heads when the due date is, and these are often very different dates

When there is a deadline, things get done.  It gives people a reason to move.  And if the task does not get done, you know when to check back.  And check back you must.  In many organizations people have become lax with their agreements.  The mindset is “no one will check so I can get to it when I have time.”  This does not come from a bad place, but it is human nature and will keep your organization from moving forward.

So implement this agreements system in your next meeting.  Be sure all 3 elements are present.  And see how much you accomplish!