Conditional Agreement

If an organisation is to survive and prosper, people within it must embrace change.

And here is the paradox – many managers fail in their efforts to bring about change. Why is it that people give messages that they are open to change, yet in reality they are resistant to it? In the article be­low Steve Simpson shares his thoughts on commitment and “con­ditional agreement”…

I met recently with a CEO who was keen to lift the morale and reduce cynicism of her people.

Of course, I recommended the use of the UGRs (Unwritten Ground Rules) concept as a tool to help her people understand and improve team culture.

The CEO was familiar with the UGRs concept and was keen to ex­plore how it might be used for maxi­mum benefit with her people.

They had worked on, and often re­ferred to, company values statements which did not seem to have much effect. In talking through options with her, something came to my mind which I had not considered before.

I explained that we could get her people involved in identifying positive UGRs to which they were prepared and able to commit. And this was my ‘brainwave’ – I then said we could get each person to indicate the extent to which they were personally commit­ted to each of the positive UGRs.

Were they 51% committed? Were they 80% committed? Were they 100% committed?

This whole issue of commitment is, of course, crucial to every business. How many managers for example, have apparent commitment from their team to a crucial business strategy only to see that commitment evapo­rate as time goes by?

You see, there is a fundamen­tal difference between genuine commitment and “conditional agreement”. Too often, manag­ers get these important concepts confused.

Often, conditional agreement happens at a subconscious level. Take a performance management meeting for example. A staff member may agree with a manager’s view that they show a level of disrespect to some other staff members in their work team. The staff involved may – at a conscious level – seriously and genuinely commit to altering their behaviour.

At the subconscious level howev­er, this employee may say to him or herself “Sure I’ll agree to change, but if they ever question the quality of my work, they’ll get what’s coming to them”.

Conditional agreement may not happen only at a subconscious level. In fact, I’d be prepared to bet that most of us have been party to con­scious conditional agreement.

Imagine for example, a meeting where the senior managers are describing the new way of doing business, which is the outcome of a strategic planning session involving all senior people. Imagine that the managers presenting this new plan are wildly excited by it and genuinely committed to it.

I have seen scenarios like this where all staff in attendance are demonstrably positive. Yet I have seen the same people criticise the plan as they walk in the corridor from the meeting to their own office. These people are showing conditional agreement perhaps summarised by a sentence such as this:

“I’m prepared to give this a go, but I fully expect it will be a failure just like the recent projects that have been introduced. And I bet I’m right”.

As an aside, if there are a number of peo­ple who have an attitude like this, what is the likelihood of success for this project?

A truly perplexing issue for most of us is that we are inherently incapable of being able to differentiate between true commitment & conditional agree­ment.

But perhaps issues associated with conditional agreement can be minimised by bringing its possibility to the level of consciousness for all.

It’s an issue worth considering.