There is something wonderful about checking off the completion of a task. It puts some people in downright euphoria. Hitting the mark; finishing; creating space to move on to the next thing—it’s a great feeling. A vital component of checking off a “completion” is starting with a clear agreement.
A clear agreement consists of these components: task, outcome, deliverables, actions, by when, stakes and benefits.
Writing out as much of this as you can before you begin a task or project will contribute to clarity and accountability, not to mention productivity and job satisfaction.
Task: Start with a statement of the task or project. You can only own what you understand. Gain a high level of understanding of the task or project.
Outcome and deliverables: Ask questions to gather information until you can unambiguously describe what you are expected to produce. What level of detail is expected and what’s the format you will be asked to provide it in? Are there any measures or standards you need to follow?
Actions: As your clear agreement develops, outline what you will need to do in order to deliver the agreed upon results. Consider whose help might be necessary and determine the level of authority you will need. As more clarity emerges it is likely this will surface resources that need to be provided. Will they be provided? It is a good thing to know “up front” as you craft a clear agreement. If the task is large, break it into steps.
By when: Someday is on nobody’s calendar. A date is required to drive attention and action. Be realistic rather than optimistic in your time estimates. Agree on a deadline that you can successfully meet.
Stakes: Clearly state the benefits of completing the task or project and the consequences if the task is not completed successfully.
Clarity is the main pillar of accountability. Those who are conflict-adverse tend to avoid being clear up front about what is expected. It may feel like being clear will lead to a confrontation. To overcome that, the clear agreement outline can be used as a very valuable development tool.
Conflicts in the work place are usually the result of unclear agreements. If I want less conflict I’ve got to consider really working at clarity. Then, if an agreement is broken, I can use the agreement to facilitate a discussion and avoid the fear associated with “getting personal.”
Sometimes renegotiation of an agreement is needed. Schedule a time to meet with those affected as soon as you anticipate a problem. Plan how you will describe the situation and stay accountable by strategizing alternative approaches for meeting the agreement. Be clear about what you want to renegotiate: owner, deadline, task, or result.
Start with a snapshot of the current situation. Stick to the facts, use blame-free language, and present your progress to date.
Then it is time to clarify specifically what needs to be adjusted: owner, deadline, task, or outcome. If you truly want to develop a mutually acceptable new agreement, that will be obvious based on your preparation. It will be important at this stage to be open to alternate ways of meeting the agreement so, even though you are offering recommendations for a new course of action, be ready for additional ideas. Invite reaction to what you have come up with from the point of view of selecting the best approach. That can be tough to do because it may feel like ownership is slipping away from you…
You can be just as enthusiastic about another approach if you can keep from taking it personally that your way isn’t used.
Before you move on, revise the clear agreement. Summarize and capture any changes and communicate immediately to anyone affected by the new agreement.
A great outcome of Clear Agreement can be learning from the need to change, and integrating that learning into your new agreement. If I learned, for example, that I was too aggressive about time lines, or I should have put in more planning time to do it right the first time, I have an opportunity to acknowledge that and do it better as I move forward.
Put a check mark next to “learned something new” and enjoy the satisfaction of one more thing behind you and all the great things ahead.