You have already heard me talk and write about the importance of commitment in a team. In my case, I have already heard infinite times those speeches that ask teams for commitment: with results, with proposals, with changes, with deadlines. Sometimes, I consider “commitment” as such a familiar and elusive concept that it is hard to define. Is it surrender? Is it a certain resilience? Is it a sense of belonging? Is it a bit of all that?
I am going to explain this with an anecdote that shows true commitment, in my opinion. And I’m going to start spoiling the end: there is commitment when we can agree even without consensus. Yes, I know, it seems like a contradiction. How does that work?
The story happened with two partners in a graphic: Gonzalo, born and raised in the industry, with a well-operational, technical profile, expeditious in his decisions and clear in his demands. Sebastián, his partner, intrepid when it comes to taking risks, against the trends, buying when everyone sells and sustaining, from his obsession with numbers, the company growth in a context in which the industry falls apart.
At the time this story began, the people who made the decisions in this SME are the two partners we already mentioned and Hernán, the production manager – another industry expert who had joined the team and worked alongside the partners. He was detailed and meticulous with the technical aspects of a métier.
It turns out that a client’s order arrived: a book with considerable circulation. An interesting job that arrived at a financially inopportune moment because the purchase of paper was somewhat stuck and delivery time was pressing. In the meeting -in which I was present- Hernán suggested using a heavier paper and argued his position: “We will have a happy customer, a delivery on time and a quality result.”Sebastián looked at him in silence and then contradicted him: “On the contrary, use the 80 paper. We lower costs and stock and deliver even faster.” Gonzalo nodded, his pragmatic style quickly assessing the impact and deciding that getting rid of the lower quality stock was a good move. Hernán insisted that the client was going to object to the quality of the work, that he knew the difference and that he was not going to accept the result. Although he tried a couple of times with his arguments —which I, without understanding much, considered logical—, he ended up simply taking some notes. He said, “Great, let’s move on with the 80 one,” greeted me and left.
After a while, while I was going for a coffee, I ran into him and said: “What a pity that the final decision was not the one you wanted.” And he answered me something that surprised me: “A decision was made, and my job now is to execute.” I did not find a trace of anger in his words, nor did I find a submissive acceptance. “There was no consensus,” he continued, “but we agreed, and now I know what to do.”
I kept thinking and when I met with Sebastián and Gonzalo again, I shared my reflection with them. What they see in Hernán is commitment. For him there is no “me”, it is about “us”. It was not possible to reach a consensus, but he knows that reaching consensus takes time. A time they do not have right now, and then he accepts, agrees and continues: he executes. Because he knows that seeking consensus paralyzes them. Sebastián and Gonzalo looked at me and nodded.
The important thing is to move forward, think together, think differently, reach an agreement and move forward, execute. The important thing is to do, not “to do what I say.”Instead, when the need to be right wins, we move to the level of resistance. Hernán forgot his individualism, but not from the romanticism of belonging to the team, but from the pragmatism of agreement. “That was the decision, so I execute.”
It is very easy to identify resistance after an agreement: in the worst case, you see a clear boycott of the project or idea. It is more obvious, but it is also more unlikely. What we are going to find in most post-agreement cases, when there is no commitment, is a set of acts of passive resistance, more dangerous, more silent but, unfortunately, more effective. I delay the issue, I put other priorities, I raise doubts.
However, when there is conscience on our part, the company prospers. Ultimately, what makes us successful is not planning or risk assessment, but alignment. Committing is being part of a team that defends ideas that are not personal, but ideas that you can make your own. If the ideas belong to the team, then they are their own.
Once again, with Sebastián and Gonzalo, we summarize the three maxims learned from Hernán:
-The moment to execute is not the moment to decide.
-Don’t leave the meeting without saying everything you have to say.
-Whenever possible, let’s achieve consensus.
But if we can’t, let’s come to an agreement.
The agreement works when decisions go well —of course— but also when they go wrong. If we made agreements when something did not go well, we will be willing to seek solutions and not guilty people. This also leaves us looking forward to the company, not backward.
And, of course, the invisible side effect of the deal strengthens relationships to the point of generating engagement. And compromise is the ingredient in future deals.