What are you agreeing to?

As an internal consultant, I often hear messages embedded within the culture and hierarchy of the organization about how my work should be conducted. Pressure to be strategic in relationships, speak in an indirect way, and ignore what I’m experiencing at the moment. Those things define my dilemma. Mandates to “never say no” and expectations to convert difficult clients make internal consulting a high-risk endeavor. What I agree to can limit my expertise getting use. It also could amplify the possibility my consulting will be of lasting service.

“We need to run this like a business!”

This statement presumes more control, oversight, and predictability is what is needed. Agreeing to be controlled by this false safety that dehumanizes the culture in the workforce overlooks the most important element of this statement: We! The route to genuine change is less obvious than a list and some milestones. More prescription is what ensures tomorrow will be no more different than yesterday. Relationship is the delivery system of anything we’re looking to accomplish. Agreeing to answer, “What will people do differently because of anything we do together?” invites an exploration of answers that establishes a collaborative relationship and builds client commitment.

“The traditional sense of consulting is not what is needed here.”

As internal consultants, we’re often handed something someone else has started. In response to my want to have a more collaborative partnership with a client, my boss conveyed, “The traditional sense of consulting is not what is needed here.” Ah! The importance of making agreements with the client and my boss within a triangular contract. It is easier for me to agree to do the bidding of my boss as a pair of hands or as an expert. It is better for me to agree to our exchange of what we want of each other. A workable agreement between me and my boss is crucial to a successful client agreement. Just because being collaborative may not always be possible is not a reason to avoid authentically expressing in words what I want to get my expertise used. What future agreements could my boss learn to make with clients through agreements I make with her?

“This client likes to think they are special and is known for getting whatever they want.”

While facilitating a request for my team’s services, a relationship manager cautioned, “This client likes to think they are special and is known for getting whatever they want.” By agreeing to this, I’m confronted with how I am creating the world I’m living in. How might the client work within agreements where consultants have not directly expressed what they want? Could my belief in, and worse, retelling of stories about ogres and angels be contributing to the problem? Could it be prohibiting my expertise from being used? I can agree to look beyond my heroic wish to be all-powerful and successful, reflected in my own concerns of relevance, competence, and self-esteem. Also, I agree to see what is human about clients. I agree to acknowledge how they have similar concerns about losing control, becoming vulnerable, and making a commitment.

We can agree to identify the high self-trust choices we all have as internal consultants. Agree to be ourselves or agree to conform to the expectations we think others have of us. We can agree to play roles and adopt internally alien behavior. Agree to represent some loss of ourselves or agree to present information as simply, directly, and assertively as possible. We can agree to recycle familiar messages or agree to engage people together in a conversation they didn’t expect to have. We can agree not to collude and instead embark on a high-adventure path, operating in a realm of greater risk and reward while still earning the respect and appreciation of our clients, where we give up some safety in service of increased power, impact, and influence.

By JP Tier

Is Your Consulting Flawless?

As consulting professionals, each interaction with a client offers an opportunity to allow the flawless consultant within us to emerge. So is your consulting flawless? The preliminary events of consulting are where we have the most leverage to create successful outcomes during implementation. Furthermore, our reactions to a client, our feelings during conversations, our ability to solicit feedback from the client and give feedback to the client—can accelerate trust, instill balanced responsibility, and build client commitment throughout the consulting process. So, what strikes you about these choices?

Contracting

(Dealing with emotional issues and agreeing on how to proceed)

ConsultingFlawless Consulting
How’s the weather in your area today?Things have not gone smoothly in our history of working together. That concerns me and I want to rewrite that history. What personal meaning do you find in what we’re doing?
How long has this been going on? Have you tried…?I hear your concern for… And what I hear really matters to you is…
What do you want from this project?What do you want from me?
It would be good to get your support on this.I want you to make the decision when others on this project come to a standstill or impasse.
Based on what we’ve discussed, next steps are…What doubts and reservations do you have about our agreement to work together?
I completely understand. Now, back to…You’ve really helped me see what’s at stake for you. Thank you for trusting me in that way. How do you feel about proceeding?

Discovery

(Discovering the underlying dimensions of the problem)

ConsultingFlawless Consulting
I’m here to diagnose the problem.What can we create together that we cannot create alone?
What seems to be the problem?What capacities and strengths of others would make this successful?
What process seems to be missing?How is conflict managed?
Who has solved this elsewhere, and how do we import that knowledge?What is your contribution to the problem?
How did this problem start?What’s the future you want to see?
It sounds like the problem is… What if you…?What do you need to do to create the future you’ve described?

Feedback

(Getting the client to act on the underlying issues)

ConsultingFlawless Consulting
I’m here to teach you how to…What declaration of possibility can you make that has the power to transform this group and inspire you?
As you can see on slide #36…Something you may have control over is… Something you can do is… What’s your reaction to what I just shared?
Another reason my recommendation will work is…What ideas do you recommend for turning this around?
Let me explain a third time what I mean.Are you getting what you want from this meeting?
Believe me—my plan is solid.Here are the choices you have. What promise are you willing to make that constitutes a risk or major shift for you?
I’ll send you the PowerPoint.Something you’ve done in this conversation that’s been of value to me is…

Flawless consultation means consulting as best we can, independent of outcomes. Letting our behavior be consistent with our beliefs and feelings. Trusting ourselves to raise the stakes, engage in caring confrontation, offer strong support, and ensure affirmation of what each of us knows. This is the path that serves us well with clients and increases the chances that our expertise will be used again and again. Make your consulting flawless today. Learn more here.

by JP Tier

3 Reasons Why Reading Flawless Consulting Is Not Enough

Yes, reading is fundamental. And as a valuable and essential method of learning, it does have its limitations, particularly when it comes to acquiring practical skills. Solely relying on reading to learn a skill can be as limiting as learning how to ride a bike by only reading an instruction manual. Mere words on a page won’t help you learn how to maintain balance, coordinate pedaling, steering, and braking, or anticipate obstacles. To avoid getting a flat tire when influencing others, here are 3 reasons why only reading Flawless Consulting is not enough to get your expertise used:

  1. Complex Skills: Consulting skills are intricate and multifaceted, requiring a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. For instance, you may read about the many steps required of consultants within each Consulting Phase, but without actually practicing and honing these steps, you won’t become proficient. Which steps might you have forgotten? What’s possible in reviewing these helpful checklists and worksheets with your clients and asking for their agreement to experience them together?
  2. Lack of Practical Application: Reading alone doesn’t provide hands-on experience. Consulting skills require practice and real-world application to truly master them. Without practical experience, you may struggle to translate theoretical knowledge into real-world actions. For example, consultants often find it easy to ask clients for what they want but can’t imagine putting directly into words what they want from the client to make a project successful. It’s not until this vital skill is practiced that asking for what you want becomes fathomable. Did you know Designed Learning offers coaching and consulting to help you solve problems and impact relationships? How might a conversation with one of Designed Learning’s certified coaches help you implement what you’ve read?
  3. Social Interaction and Collaboration: Consulting skills involve connecting and collaborating with others. Reading alone may not adequately prepare you for real-world interactions that are essential for flawless consultation. When learning a skill, feedback is crucial for improvement. Reading doesn’t offer immediate feedback on your performance or help you identify and correct mistakes in real-time. Did you know that even before the book was published, author Peter Block designed Flawless Consulting as a workshop? It’s true! Our Flawless Consulting® workshop inspires mastery of the promises and phases of the renowned book with an interactive and powerful learning experience. Through use of case studies, role plays, and simulations, participants gain insight into their own individual consulting skills, try new behaviors, and test assumptions to see what impact changes may have on their results and satisfaction back on the job.

Engaging with a skill beyond reading, such as through practical application and experiential learning, can enhance your motivation and enthusiasm for learning. Reading alone might not provide the same level of motivation. Better to combine it with hands-on practice, real-world experience, and interactive learning methods to fully develop your consulting skills. Just like learning to ride a bike, Designed Learning’s solutions and services ensure your skills to have your expertise used, transform organizations, and build healthy partnerships will quickly come back to you when needed.

by JP Tier

Partnership – Great goal; Insufficient word

As we work and live with others, the word partnership seems to be a common goal. We want to build business partnerships, partner better, and we want others to partner with us.  Partnership is a good word and a worthy goal. 

Questions I ask Myself

  • What does partnership look like?
  • Who do I want to partner with?
  • How do I achieve partnership?
  • What can I specifically do to build partnerships?

These questions seem easy to answer on the surface, but I find that the goal of partnership eludes me more often than I want. I have conversations with others, and we seem to want a partnership together, but most often, I don’t invest the time to understand and act on what partnership could look like.

For example, one of my former bosses asked me to help her organization build “strategic business partnerships” with their internal business partners. I loved the idea and started changing the way I interfaced with other leaders. First, I asked more questions. Also, I delayed my recommendations until I knew more about the issue they were facing. I worked to co-create possible solutions with them instead of quickly implementing their solutions or mine. It didn’t take long for one of these leaders to call my boss to complain that I wasn’t being cooperative and that I was delaying decisions.

My boss came to me and asked what I was doing. When I said I was trying to build “strategic business partnerships,” she said, “That is what we want, but don’t upset the clients. Just do what they ask you to do”. It’s clear my boss and I had different ideas on what these partnerships would look like.

Some Partnership Challenges

Building partnerships is not complex. In fact, it can be simple to understand. We create a common understanding of what we are going to do together (short-term or long-term) and we share what we want from each other and negotiate an agreement.

The challenge in building partnerships comes when I actually have the conversation. I may even avoid the conversation altogether. I get in my own way. My desire to be right, to minimize my risk, to be safe, and to gain a predictable outcome get in the way. There is also a sense of urgency to get things done and act. Unfortunately, nothing about partnerships is predictable or risk-free, and urgency is the enemy of quality – the quality of the outcome and the quality of the relationship.

So, What Do We Do?

There are many aspects to building partnerships. I have found the easiest and most beneficial is to minimize assumptions and vagueness in our language. When we ask for something we want, we need to be specific. I had a mentor years ago who told me to avoid “goodness” words. That statement itself is vague, so I asked, “What’s a goodness word?”. He said, “Goodness words describe things we want, and they are good (things like support, buy-in, partnership, respect, etc.), but they are not sufficient for a meaningful agreement.”

The antidote for the goodness word is to ask myself and share with you, “What does it look like?”. If you are giving me support, this is what you would be doing. If we are going to have a partnership, this is how we will treat each other. This is what respect looks like to me.

Asking these next-level questions takes time. I need to pause and get specific with myself and others. I assume you know what I mean, and I think I know what you mean. These assumptions are recipes for poor agreements. I am learning to share with others the behaviors I am looking for and to ask them what behaviors they want from me. Having this next level of conversation is a small investment in time that pays big dividends with agreements that last and partnerships that thrive.

 

Build better partnerships by putting your focus on relational skills with Flawless Consulting. Attend a workshop today. 

Moving Past Persistent Resistance

Years ago, I was partnering with our organization’s IT team to outfit a new computer lab. There were a lot of details to work out. I was approaching the project with the learner in mind. My IT counterpart was focused on minimizing the cables that would be crisscrossing the room. Unfortunately, my want for the learner did not line up with his want for the scope of work needed to get the lab ready. I faced resistance.

After a few conversations that seemed to go nowhere, I remember looking at my colleague and asking, “Is it that you can’t do it or that you don’t want to do?” He looked at me stunned and admitted, “I don’t want to.”

Stuck or Breaking Through

It was a real breakthrough moment in our work together. The resistance I was feeling was laid bare, and we finally were able to work together to get the lab built. In the end, it looked a bit different for both of us, but it worked and worked well.

At the time, I didn’t realize that we were in the middle of a foundational part of consulting. We were contracting and admittedly not very well. We were stuck, and I knew we were stuck because neither of us was willing to move away from what “I want” with little consideration for what the other person might want as well.

Thankfully, we did eventually move past our persistent resistance. The lesson learned, however, is that it didn’t happen by accident. I had to walk directly into the resistance and be prepared for what might happen. I’m not so sure I did it perfectly, but it was effective. Once I acknowledged the resistance, we were able to have productive and collaborative conversations so we could get the job done.

Conversations For Collaboration

From that point forward, our conversations changed. We started listening and stopped trying to have “my way be the only way.” It was not easy to do. I was the customer, and I consistently had to battle the feeling that he should “just be doing what I want.” As I look back now, I realize that I wanted a pair of hands to do my bidding. It’s funny, really. I’m no IT expert, but I certainly tried to play one. At the same time, he was doing very little to understand what I needed to do and why. There was little effort to understand the problem I was trying to solve. After all, he was the expert with all the answers, right?

The experience highlights the greatest challenge most of us face as internal consultants. And, make no mistake, you are consulting any time you must influence another person with whom you have no direct control. I had none with my IT counterpart, and he had none with me. We were giving no thought to influencing the other. Instead, we were on the “do it my way” train. It’s a wonder the computer lab was ever finished.

A Win-Win

Our relationship only started working when we started looking at it as a relationship. We shifted away from listing our demands to a conversation about what we both wanted from our work together and what we were willing to give the other to help make it successful. There was negotiation, but we became clearer in not only what we were trying to accomplish together but how we were going to do it. And I’m not just talking about the technical stuff. We also talked about the way we would communicate with each other, how best to respect the other person’s ideas, and even how we would disagree moving forward.

It was never a match made in heaven, but we made it work. Chances are, you must make it work every day at work, too. When you do, ask if you’ve taken the time to contract with each other on the “what and how” of your collaboration. If you don’t know, there’s work to do. Ask the question, “So, what do you want from me?” and be prepared to share what you want from them, too. Be simple, be direct, and above all else, be real. You won’t always get what you want. Life is like that. But you will get further faster when you both know how to show up for the other.

Learn how to move past persistent resistance in Flawless Consulting Workshops.

Business Partnering: The Secret to Influence in the Workplace

What is Business Partnering?
To understand business partnering we’ll start by identifying who are Business Partners. This may help you determine whether you are one or should become one.
Here’s a start:
Business Partners are practitioners of critical business functions like HR, Finance, IT, Legal, Project Management, and others. They’re internal consultants. These professionals act as a bridge, linking their critical functions to other business units, clients, managers, and even C-suite executives.
 
Business partners seek to operate in partnership with other stakeholders to effectively address the real and current concerns of the business. Their purpose is to create a space of shared ownership for generating positive results.
These are professionals who have the potential to greatly improve the power of integration within the organization…when given the space and opportunity to do so, of course.
 
They maximize the effective and efficient deployment of their skills and expertise within a shared understanding of business priorities.
 
If this describes you, then continue reading because you’re about to uncover some keys to unlock some doors that lead to greater influence in the workplace.

What Business Partnering (done well) Requires

Business Partnering requires the consistent application of TECHNICAL EXPERTISE and TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS.
 
Please read those two virtues again. Refuse to ignore them at all costs. I learned about their powerful combination at a Flawless Consulting workshop. They’re simple but mighty.
Here’s why:
If you want to become a valued partner, then the sole use of your technical expertise and experience will be insufficient. You may give excellent advice and even create stunning slide decks that can mesmerize executives. But if they don’t have a trusting relationship with you, then your power to generate desirable change is a mere illusion…a dandelion in a windstorm.
To avoid this miserable situation, you must multiply your technical expertise with an unrelenting persistence to build trust.
 
CAUTION: Without the power of relationship and relatedness, your technical expertise may become a disposable commodity.
Trust is likely the missing secret ingredient in many previous failed attempts at strategic partnership because without trust there is no influence.

Some necessary skills

What follows are some skills that you can incorporate to keep from becoming a commodity. Imagine the benefits of leaping measurably closer to being a trusted business partner when you develop consulting, communication, and negotiation skills.

Consulting skills

At the heart of consulting is the ability to have conversations that matter most. It’s about creating meaningful connections with others while moving the business forward in the face of mounting complexities.
This is contrary to the common misconception that consultants impose an elevated business acumen, impressive credentials, and vast experience to give credibility to their own opinions, above anyone else.
Consulting is not something you do to and for someone, it’s a service you offer to do with someone.

Communication Skills

The adaptive ability to speak clearly about ideas, issues, and opportunities. If you’re going to generate agreements and coordinate actions with others, then being specific, descriptive, and measurable about what you want is essential.
 
For example, when requesting a report from someone, avoid saying: “Hey, I know you’re busy, but it would be great to have that report when you get a chance.” This is too vague to make an agreement. Instead, be specific, descriptive, and measurable by saying: “Hey, I know you’re busy, but can you get me the finalized report tomorrow by 4:00 pm?” This is a minor detail, but a major difference.
 
Speaking with precision is critical to communication, but deep listening is the often neglected part of communication skills building.
 
If you want to be more influential, then listening beyond the words into the spaces of silence, and listening without judgment, is necessary. You can achieve this by not jumping to conclusions and into advice-giving. Just listen with compassionate curiosity. This non-superficial type of listening will position you to discover what’s going unsaid, and explore what’s possible.

Negotiation Skills

The ability to create a social contract with people by offering them a psychologically safe space to explore risks, share control, and commit to shared action. This opposes the common view of negotiation. Negotiation does not have to be an adversarial exchange where two parties struggle with one another until they ultimately agree to “split the difference.”
There’s a better way.
Instead of preparing for battle, prepare to explore what you and your “client” want from one another in order to achieve success. As risks and concerns emerge during those discussions, give your support to one another, and model the behavior you want to promote in your partnership. You can do this all while seeking mutual benefit. This is how to be successful in being useful and valuable.

Why Business Partnering Matters Today

The role of HR, Finance, IT, Legal, Project Management, and other internal consultants has changed. These functions used to be about managing employees, managing resources, and providing compliance services. Today, it’s about building relationships with clients, navigating challenges, and creating value with them. 
 
Business Partnering is about leveraging your ability to:
  • Develop trusted connections with authenticity by putting your experience into words.
  • Handle resistance with compassion and diligence.
  • Be willing to sit with ambiguity for longer than many feel comfortable with.
  • Slow down to truly “sense” the situation without a need for a fast resolution of issues.
Your business and professional influence will grow as you increase the effective use of business partnering on a consistent basis.

You Don’t Need An Expert. You Need a PARTNER.

When facing change, you don’t need an expert. You need partnership.

Your company probably looks at change with a mix of excitement and fear. And while you may want certain parts of your organization to change, it is scary to take on the actual responsibility of making it happen. It is much safer and easier to delegate the actual transformation to someone else. This typically is where consultants come into the picture. And why not? Experts are constantly touted as the only ones knowledgeable and powerful enough to lead.

But there is a catch.

Relinquishing responsibility to an expert breeds an unhealthy dependency. When problems inevitably come up again you won’t know how to confront them yourself.

There is also a problem for the consultant. If you’re the consultant, this tendency also makes your job harder. Removing the client from the problem-solving process makes it more likely the changes you recommend will be resisted.

So what is the way forward?

The Promise of Partnership

The answer is opting for partnership instead of relying on experts.

Experts merely seek to solve the problem. But partners bring change in a way that makes you take ownership not only for the solution but for the problem itself.

Partners effectively and compassionately dissolve unhealthy reliance on the expert. The result is that clients gain sufficient expertise to diagnose and solve future problems on their own.

But how does this partnership consulting work?

How to Make Pearls

A partner’s first task is to confront you with the true nature of your problems. Often you already know this, but you either don’t realize it, or you find it so hard to deal with that you struggle to admit it without provocation. This confrontation is often uncomfortable. But new wisdom cannot be formed without it.

The best analogy for this is how pearls are made. Two things are required to form these valuable prizes: sand and oysters. Sand gets into the oyster and rubs it the wrong way. The oyster reacts by trying to get rid of the irritant. But in the process, something beautiful and precious is formed.

Don’t get the impression that this is easy. Bringing any kind of meaningful change to an organization requires a high investment of emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical rigor. The culture and habits sustained in an organization are often ferociously rooted and feel “right” from the inside. And so the only way to shock the oyster out of its comfort is to throw a little sand in its shell.

Partnering consultants must first, therefore, bring the sober truth about the organization’s dysfunctions.

This is a painful process. But the reward is invaluable for the organization.

The Perils of Partnership

Just like making pearls, partnership is difficult to practice. First of all, it is hard to convince clients that they are getting their money’s worth. They often have a rigid expectation that they are bringing in an expert who will simply fix things and move on. On the other hand, it can be just as hard to convince consultants their task is anything but fixing things themselves. The secret here is to accept that as a partner you have to sacrifice that latent desire to take full credit for creating the solution. That’s not sexy, but it is ultimately better for both parties.

Another common pitfall is what is known as professional codependence. Just as clients can become dependent on the expert, the professional can become codependent on the client.

Professional codependence when the professional–consciously or not–begins to create client needs in order to prove their own worth and make ends meet.

One way that this manifests is when, rather than identifying opportunities for growth, consultants begin to see client needs as deficiencies. This is more than a labeling problem. This often leads to anticipating problems that don’t exist. Such a dynamic all but guarantees dependency because it presumes that the client lacks what they need to get rid of the deficiency. And even more than this, it then positions the expert as the only one who can determine whether the solution has been effective.

So how can you pursue partnership without the pitfalls?

Acting in Partnership

Developing partnership while avoiding dependencies on both sides is challenging. Let’s explore this challenge through the lens of parenting. To raise responsible adults, parents experience the tension, on the one hand, between protecting their children by sheltering them and telling them what to do…while on the on the other hand allowing their children to have self-discovery and learn on their own. Choosing partnership will often feel the same for the consultant.

It is essential to guard yourself against your client’s codependency even if this seems unloving at first. If not, you run the risk of getting lost in your expert role and short-circuiting the client’s growth and freedom.

Become Your Own Expert

Perhaps more than ever, society constantly reinforces the notion that experts are the only ones who can be trusted to solve your problems. But blindly signing over authority and action to experts only stunts your growth. You can’t learn how to think for yourself when you constantly rely on others to tell you what to think.

This doesn’t mean you will never need assistance. What it means is that you need to do the work to become your own expert even while you seek expertise from others. This is the promise of partnership.

How Useless Are “Performance Standards” In The Workplace Today?

There is a common belief that for change to occur in an organization you must set high-performance standards and develop clear measures against that standard. These performance standards, we’re told, must be consistent across the culture and approved by top management, otherwise, they will not be effective. This belief is so ingrained that it has become the standard operating procedure, and questioning it might seem hopelessly idealistic.

But have you noticed that some of the things the world values most RESIST STRICT MEASUREMENT OF PERFORMANCE STANDARDS?

Consider the “softer” values such as trust, integrity, and creativity. You’ve likely noticed they’re often the ones with the most power to shape the world around us, yet these seem to stubbornly resist being subjected to a standard of measurement.

So, how can you reframe the conversation around needing measurable performance standards as a pre-requisite for producing the kind of results and the type of workplace that promotes the common good?

What’s wrong with Performance Standards

If you’re operating on the assumption that change is driven by measures and standards, you’ll set new performance standards and create universal measures against those standards. Perhaps you would establish an oversight committee to measure performance standards and adherence to those new standards.

In the case of unsatisfactory performance, you might conclude that efforts failed because the standards were not high enough and the measures were not sufficiently accurate.

This happens time and time again until a change effort is made, creating a new set of standards and measures to drive-up performance. You’ve likely seen this cycle play out in the proliferation of high-stakes standardized testing in public education.

Let’s reframe Performance Standards

To be honest, we need measurable performance standards. We all want to know what is required of us and how we are doing. We’re not proposing getting rid of measurable standards altogether. Instead, we propose a shift to focus on who sets the standards and measures and how they are used.

Too often measurable performance standards are used as a control device, not a mechanism for learning. This flows from a particular mode of thinking grounded in problem-solving. It is the engineering mind that elevates standards and measures to the level of dogma and ideology. This is fine for engineering projects.

But the idea that we can engineer human development is more mythology than fact.

Standards-setting has become part of the class struggle in society, where one class of people is setting standards for another. Legislators set them for teachers, management set them for workers, professional guilds set them for their members. They may start with sincere intent, but they soon become exclusionary and punitive. They become a way to limit access to membership, force compliance, and keep those who were first through the door in their positions of power.

What Performance Standards matter to YOU?

The solution to over-surveillance, isolation, and protecting the status quo is to have people close to the learning and development, the work, or the service struggle with installing proper performance standards for their local environment.

Ask people to define the performance that will have meaning for them. Then have them talk about how they want to hold themselves accountable. This reduces the possibility that measurable performance standards will become punitive. Once measures become punitive, people will work to outsmart them to survive; learning decreases, and energy that should be going toward achieving the work is replaced by subversive efforts to “beat the system.”

How does this work?

Instead of a centralized mandate that is rolled out across the culture of the organization, have the performance standards designed by those who are being measured.

Then a few guiding principles should follow.

Firstly, it is essential to be realistic about predictability. Secondly, value longer-term, qualitative measures. Remember: even if you cannot measure it, it might still be worth doing. Most often what is measured are people’s methods and behavioral style. But what if you were to stop measuring people’s behavioral styles and start measuring business results and real outcomes?

Do you risk Quality Control?

Wait! How can management maintain quality when each unit, each workgroup, each team decides its own measures and performance standards? Don’t worry, there is still quality control. The difference is that is it maintained by team members and peer-to-peer agreements.

Rather than typical carrot-and-stick tactics, what if performance standards were negotiated between peers and then with bosses as the means of ensuring that commitments get fulfilled? These contracts would be between partners, so the expectations and commitments go both ways, with equal demands placed on each side.

The intent here is to eliminate coercion as the basis for getting results. These performance contracts are not tied to pay or punishment, though they may be tied to termination in extreme cases. We can fire people if they do not deliver on their promise. What is different is that we stop trying to improve employee performance by threatening sanctions, manipulating privilege, or withholding pay.

Do what matters most:

  1. Rather than create a central mandate, have the people closest to the work decide the standards appropriate for their local environment.
  2. Ask members of the peer group or team to define the measures that have meaning for them.
  3. Have peer groups decide how to keep themselves accountable, with bosses and employees serving to ensure commitments are fulfilled.

How to Create “Organizational Cooperation” that Succeeds for Clients and Citizens

Pick your crisis: climate change, pandemics, political division, economic stagnation, international relations. When concerned members of society are faced with big obstacles, they cry out for like-minded groups to come together and effect a greater change. This clarion call urgently summons interdependent agencies together for meetings. The goal of this organizational cooperation is always to find ways of collaborating to solve the issue at hand. These meetings, these gatherings are innumerable.

So, why do people often complain and define the problem as one of little to no cooperation among organizations?

This complaint may hint at a classic consulting scenario that requires reframing.

If You Acted On This Definition

If you used the standard meeting model, you would invite the groups to talk and share their concerns, and ideas. Next, you would invite them to agree on common goals, shared projects, develop a cooperation strategy, work out a schedule of milestones, and decide on the next meeting date.

Reframing “Organizational Cooperation”

Here’s the thing: Communication and defining common goals are not the problem.

If these were the problem, they would have been solved already. The problem between groups is territory, territory, territory.

They each have defined their boundaries tightly around their organizational structures. They think their mission is to do a good job within those boundaries. As a result, progress toward resolving the issue is episodic, at best. For change to really happen, the reality is that each group will have to yield territory and control.

This is a sour pill to swallow. They must confront the question: “What are you willing to give up for the sake of the larger purpose?”

What things?

They have to be willing to give up projects, budgets, and a piece of their identity if anything beneficial is going to happen for their citizens or clients. This requires trust.

Trust is built from telling the truth and from acts of surrender.

There is no other way to build the relational capital necessary for organizations to partner successfully. Trust is the ONLY way.

Avoid the Risk of Motion and No Movement

One word of caution.

Don’t buy the medicine that better communication is all you’ll need to get a good start. It will be the start…one that leads to a lot of motion and no movement.

Instead, you need to first create a condition for making a partnering agreement: All organizations must make meaningful sacrifices to create trust. If they choose not to make this necessary sacrifice and perhaps lose something in the process, then you will become a puppet in their negotiation strategy. It would help if you take a firm stand on this point early in the conversations when you have the most leverage.

When it comes to organizational cooperation, refuse to settle for the thought that because a gathering occurred and words were exchanged that anything meaningful happened. Instead, reframe the nature of the gathering by focussing on the core issue of why barriers to true cooperation persist. Address “why” they’re protecting territory.

In this way, organizations can come to the table as partners ready to take ownership for what they will sacrifice for the greater good. The investment of each organization’s sacrifice will create the bonds of trust necessary to make a change.

To act within this frame:

  1. Recognize that the problem between groups is territory, territory, territory.
  2. Present the organizations with this question: “What are you willing to give up for the sake of the larger purpose?”
  3. Create the following condition of participation: All organizations must make meaningful sacrifices to create trust as the foundation of a partnering agreement.

Wanting Proof Positive: Reframing the “Measurable Outcomes” Problem

One of the core beliefs of modern management is that if you cannot measure something, either it should not be undertaken or it does not exist. This conviction arises from our faith in the scientific method and the results-oriented outlook of the engineer and the economist. Thus, whenever a change is discussed, there will be an immediate demand for measurable outcomes and hard data that the change will improve the operations.

But what happens when what you value cannot be easily measured?

In fact, many of the things that matter most in your organization defy measurement. Let’s explore how to reframe the cult of measurability in order to ensure you pursue not only what “works” but what matters.

If You Acted On This Definition

If you’re starting with the aim of measurable outcomes, your course of action would include performing research to evaluate the project, and you’d likely bring in independent evaluators to do a pre-and post-intervention study.

Reframing “Measurable Outcomes”

Stop to think. You can measure the impact of a project to the extent that the organization can measure itself, which is a very elusive proposition in a human system. So what about a third party? The problem with bringing in outsiders to evaluate is that the evaluation has its own impact, and this may bring more interference than enlightenment.

Yet the economist in us justly wants to know how much this will cost. The engineer in us needs a test to affirm knowledge, a ruler to mark distance, a clock to demonstrate time. We justly want to know how to measure and know how we are doing. We need to know where we stand. But the question of measurable outcomes ceases to serve us when we think that measurement is so essential to being that we only undertake ventures that can be measured.

Measuring What Matters

Concrete measures can determine progress, but they do not really measure values. We pursue what matters independently of how well we can measure it. It is important to measure what we can, but to raise this question too early and to use it as a criterion that will determine whether or not to proceed runs the risk of worshipping too small a god.

What will matter most to us is the quality of experience we create in the world, not the quantity of results.

The real cost of creating something of value is emotional, not economic. What is most valuable cannot be purchased at a discount. The price of change is measured by our effort, our will and courage, and our persistence in the face of difficulty. The shift here is from an economic measure of cost to a personal measure of will.

Dealing With Doubt

It is important to recognize that our obsession with measurement is really an expression of our doubt. Doubt is fine, but no amount of measurement will assuage it. Doubt, or lack of faith, as in religion, is not easily reconciled, even by miracles, let alone by gathering measurable evidence on outcomes.

The wish to measure tightly is the recognition that every project has its own risks. Why not deal with the doubts and risks directly by naming them carefully right from the beginning? We cannot engineer human development, nor can we know it with the precision we might wish for. We can generate some data about the change, but most of it will be putting numbers on people’s feelings–that’s what surveys do. Why not just convene people every once in a while and ask them how it is going? Ultimately, we will know how we are doing by assessing the quality of our experience. If experience is such a good teacher, maybe it also knows how to measure.

To act within this new frame:

  1. Act on what matters, not just what works.
  2. Ensure you pursue what you truly value by asking the “why” questions before asking the “how” questions.
  3. Focus on quality of experience, not just quantity of results.