small change: agree “soft” contracts with each other after board evaluations


small change
Ciarán Fenton
How small changes in your behaviour have a big impact on how you work, lead and follow.
That’s the working title of a book I’m writing, initially as a series of short blogs.
You can see the full blog index here as it builds.
Blog 44 small change: agree “soft” contracts after board evaluations
•When I say “board” I mean: main & operating boards, ExCos, and management teams
soft contracs after board evaluations
Whether your board evaluation is mandatory or voluntary there is only one way to create an environment for sustainable behaviour change on your board – and by that I mean, generously, until the next evaluation – is to agree on soft contracts between each board member and to legislate for the breach of those contracts.

By a soft contract I mean an unwritten agreement between two board members to change the behaviour called out by the other a minimum of ten times in every hundred interactions.

That’s just 10% change. Small change.

But small change is hard to do.

The incentives to try are:

– good for you because the other party agrees to change their behaviour towards you

– good for you because of the aggregate impact of the small changes on the board

– good for your organisation for obvious reasons

Three case-study examples:

  • A micro-managing CEO agrees to micro-manage by at least 10% in return for an accountability-shy marketing director admitting to mistakes 10% more
  • A director agrees to back his colleague openly at board meetings on matters he supports outside of them and in return, his colleague will no longer refuse to share his business contact list with him to help him build his network as he is new in town
  • A director agrees to say less – or at least think twice before speaking – at board meetings in return for their CEO confronting their behavioural issues

It’s important to legislate for the breach of these soft contracts because they will certainly be broken because people are fallible and ingrained behaviour change is difficult to achieve.

By legislating for the breach I mean agreeing on specific actions in the event of a breach.

For example, in the case of the micro-managing CEO the arrangement was – from memory – that the other party would ask him out for a drink to address the breach and to re-contract.

It is possible for people to agree these soft contracts without external facilitation.

However, and while it’s self-serving of me to say so it’s nevertheless true, facilitated soft-contracting has a better chance of success not least because the facilitator – if they’re any good – will be able to help the parties connect with why they behave the way they do.

Do you know what annoys other people about your behaviour and its origin in your formative years?

If not, why not?

Ciaran Fenton

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