Managing By Agreement

Managing By Agreement

Conflict costs companies big time, says the author of The Book of Agreement and Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict Into Collaboration. In 1994 alone some 18 million cases filed in US courts cost that nation a hefty $US300 billion

Office politics . . . power struggles . . . turf wars . . . Conflict costs companies big time. But CIOs can reverse the damage by focusing on the fundamental agreement that is the core of all good relationships

A few years ago, US author Stewart Levine was called in to help two brothers, business partners in a third generation family business, who had reached an impasse over the strategic direction their business would take. They believed they had to engage in a battle about placing a valuation on their business. Each hired a lawyer and each lawyer retained a forensic accountant to place a value on the business.

"By the time I was called they had stopped speaking to each other based on their respective lawyer's advice," Levine recalls. "In just the preliminary stages of the 'battle' they had spent more than $US60,000 on professional fees and they were barely at the beginning."

Conflict costs companies big time, says the author of The Book of Agreement and Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict Into Collaboration. In 1994 alone some 18 million cases filed in US courts cost that nation a hefty $US300 billion. Fortune 500 senior executives say they spend 20 percent of their time in litigation-related activities. Imagine what that tallies up to, Levine says. And worse, these are usually lose-lose situations, with legal fees routinely exceeding the value of the amount at stake. Years ago, if more than $100,000 was at stake, litigation was a viable alternative. Today the benchmark is $1 million and growing quickly.

But even in a less litigation-crazy society like Australia, following old paradigms can be incredibly costly, according to Levine. Although CIOs may be somewhat less likely to end up in a courtroom, they too often routinely find their agenda stalled or their ambitions frustrated by unnecessary conflict.

"I did a program with a CIO group comprising CIOs from major law firms," Levine says. "What was really interesting to me is that I sat there listening to other presenters before it was my turn, and all of the CIOs talked about how in some ways the technology is almost a given, but unless you've got good people, good coordination at the human level, no matter how wonderful your technological innovations are, they are not going to have the impact. This is especially true when you are doing new installations of some kind.

"So [CIOs] have to contend with people not getting along, people not liking each other for whatever reason, and essentially just people not being on the same page about what they're doing. It's politics, it's power, it's turf. It's, for want of a better word, the 'emotional immaturity' of folks as compared to the 'emotional intelligence' of folks."

However, Levine says CIOs, like the organizations they serve, can directly shape their culture by focusing on the fundamental agreement ("how we will work together") that is the core of any relationship. He has come up with a new concept of "agreements for results" to help them create a joint vision and a road map designed to minimize disagreements.

"Just like the folks that are CIOs studied and worked hard to develop technical expertise, having good communication skills, having good managerial skills, having good relationship skills are things that you can study and develop competency in. You know, your inclination may not be towards that, but the realization needs to set in at some point in time that your success as a manager and your ability to deliver high-quality technical solutions depends upon your ability to create relationships, to create teams and to engage with other people, and that these are skills that can be learnt."

Such foundations for ensuring the effectiveness of the organization cut across all the "traditional" silos of training. Levine says communication skills, coaching and counselling and effective listening skills all contribute a bit, because they all, at some fundamental level, help to make sure that there is a level of alignment and a certain kind of relationship as you move forward with others.

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