What do I do When They Don’t Keep Their Agreements?

I posted a blog a couple days ago on making clear agreements.  I laid out the following 3 elements for an agreement:

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 of what they are promising to do.

3.  Be sure they specify BY WHEN the promise will be fulfilled.

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Here is a Q&A I had with a reader after she saw my blog:

Q:  Do you have suggestions for how to move forward when all 3 steps are taken, but the deadline is ignored?

A:  I do, actually.  I think this represents the gap between this blog and my accountability blogs (available on this site).  I recommend there be a consequence.  It does not need to be punitive in nature.  When an organization is shifting from a culture of not making clear agreements and/or not keeping agreements (as yours may be) to a culture of making clear agreements and keeping the agreements, there always is a gap because people think they can “get away” without keeping agreements.  This is not bad or wrong, just how they have learned to be.  Humans tend to test whether there are consequences to breaking agreements (starting at a very young age :).

My coaching to management and employees in organizations going through this:  if you have clear agreements and the deadline comes and goes, you go to that person and you kindly, neutrally, without energy ask “what happened?”  “Did you believe we had an agreement?”  “What got in the way of you keeping this agreement?”  And listen closely to the answers – you will learn valuable information.  Then: “What needs to happen next time so you keep this agreement?”  It is very important you not come across as judgmental or angry – just curious.

Very often, people start to change when they realize someone is going to call them out.  If they don’t, this is the next level which requires a stricter consequence.  But I wouldn’t go there until you have really tried this one out.

Questions?  Thoughts?  Does this help?

Q:  It does help, thank you. My initial reaction is one of “how dare they? Is the agreement we made not valid in their eyes?” I need to step away and see that because this has been the norm for so long, and there have been no consequences to inaction, that it’s nothing personal, has nothing to do with me. I can be neutral (which is my preferred method anyhow) and simply ask the question.

I appreciate your response. Now I have a nice neutral email to write.

A:  Excellent awareness.  It is common to feel this is somehow about you – their not keeping their agreements.  It is far easier when you don’t take it personally.  Have fun – and let me know what happens.