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You Cannot Manage People, Better to Manage Agreements

Managing people is a tough row to hoe. Where do you spend your time?

  1. Do you try to manage your people’s emotions?

  2. Do you try and manage your people’s personalities?

  3. Do you try and motivate your people to be better than they are?

  4. Are you trying to manage unmanageable people?

  5. Do you have a lot of drama in your business? If your answer is “yes,” most likely, you are trying to manage numbers 1-4 and doing it unsuccessfully.

How do the great leaders and coaches skip all the associated drama with the aforementioned questions? They don’t try to manage people, personalities, motivation or drama. They manage agreements.


They treat their direct reports like adults. They solicit input. They share the vision or “north star” of where the company, division, branch is going. They help people to understand their role in that vision.

Then, they make agreements.

Meriam-Webster defines agreements as:

an arrangement as to a course of action -- reached an agreement as to how to achieve their goal

In managing sales or recruiting organizations, an agreement can be, but not limited to the following:

Activity-based: make 50 outbound phone calls every day

Outcome-based: sell $50,000 each and every month

Behavior-based: show up to meetings on time and prepared

Value-based: operate with integrity, candor, accountability, etc.

Process-based: how to conduct an effective client meeting with a Call Planning Worksheet

Communication: if you are struggling in any area of your job, it is incumbent upon you to share with me the challenges you are having

You and your salesperson/recruiter have agreed upon these agreements. Leaders must provide their people with the coaching, tools and training to enable them to be successful in their roles. Too many managers try to manage their people’s personalities, emotions and associated drama. This is a losing proposition that ends up sucking an inordinate amount of time, making the manager, at a minimum unproductive, and most likely ineffective.

Now, I am not saying that the leader should not be compassionate. As a leader, compassion is a critical component in understanding the operating reality and feelings of your people. The big mistake takes place when the leader tries to manage those feelings. It simply cannot be done. The leader needs to focus on making agreements and managing to those agreements.

Here are a couple of “agreements” we have made over the years with our teams:

When you lose an opportunity that you are working on, the only thing you can say is, “I was outsold, and these are the adjustments I need to make.

Agreement: Assume personal accountability and learn from your mistakes

Benefit: The loss becomes a “successful failure” from which you may improve

Having a Call Planning Worksheet completed and distributed to all Butler Street participants prior to the meeting

Agreement: Personal accountability and pre-call planning

Benefit: Take as much variability out of the client meeting as possible and clearly define roles and responsibilities in advance

The key benefit to managing agreement is alignment and improved communication. Alignment in that everyone should understand the priorities and how to effort those priorities appropriately. Once you have agreements and the associated accountability in place, communication becomes more honest, open and trusting.

And what happens when those agreements are not executed upon? Communicate, communicate, communicate—immediately. This is not a superior/subordinate communication, but rather one of genuine interest as to why the particular agreement was not fulfilled. It starts with a simple question, “Why?” The “why” may have been a shift in priorities set by the manager which negatively impacted the employee’s ability to fulfill the agreement. If this is not the case, then the following questions may be asked:

Do you agree that this is important?

Are you willing to do this?

Do you need anything from me?

The key to developing relationships is mutual respect during these types of conversations. It is critical the person being managed to this agreement does not feel disrespected in the exchange. People make mistakes. People have personal problems from time to time that impact work. By addressing the unfulfilled agreement immediately, there is a distinct level of accountability on both sides of the equation. If done properly with trust and respect, good things happen.

In those times where the agreements continue to be broken, the manager must employ the Coach, Coach, Change methodology. But that is another blog!

At Butler Street, our leadership development training focuses on key coaching philosophies such as managing agreements, coaching to outcomes and focusing on results. Let’s discuss how We help companies and their people grow.®

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