The Book of Agreement: 10 Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want

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Crafting agreements with others is a fundamental life skill. Unfortunately, we were never taught how to do it. The agreements most people make are incomplete and ineffective-they usually focus on protecting against what might go wrong instead of figuring out how to make things go right. The Book of Agreement offers a new approach. Stewart Levine demonstrates the superiority of "agreements for results" versus "agreements for protection" and outlines ten principles for creating agreements that explicitly articulate desired outcomes and provide a roadmap to achieving them. He includes over thirty specific templates that can be used to create this new type of agreement for results in a variety of organizational and personal contexts.

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Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.

—Thomas Paine

Although it was almost fifteen years ago, it seems that it was yesterday when I articulated the Law and Principles of Agreement for the first time. I was so excited, you would think I had discovered a new planet or hit a lottery jackpot. I was ecstatic because I realized how fundamental agreements were to all aspects of life and how much suffering good agreements could alleviate. I also knew I would spend a good portion of the rest of my life teaching, facilitating, and writing about agreement and resolution.

I think of laws and principles as universal truths that are very difficult to refute or disprove. The Law of Agreement and the Principles of Agreement are the foundational truths on which this book is based. Like gravity, they are simple and obvious truisms that, although usually unspoken, are always present. The challenge is to stay mindful of them and to live by them. It is very important to remember that although the Law and Principles are simple to understand, they are not always easy to live by.




All you need is a plan, a road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.

—Earl Nightingale

I hope I have convinced you of the importance and pervasiveness of agreements in your daily personal and professional life. You might be wondering how to start putting together an effective agreement. The answer is simple, but it’s not easy! Simple in that all you have to do is engage in a discussion about each one of the following elements that is essential for an effective agreement. It’s not easy because it means breaking lifetime habits of moving forward without putting an agreement in place. It’s like shifting from


A few years ago I asked a senior manager at a client company what her biggest challenge was. Without skipping a beat, she said it was getting her reports to stop and think about where they were going before they moved into action. Otherwise, they were likely to end up in places no one wanted to go.

Each of the following elements is an essential key for an effective agreement. Use these elements as a template for constructing agreements. It is useful to reach an understanding about each element with everyone involved. The process is very important because it is the beginning of a new working relationship. Navigating the process together is the foundation for the new relationship, which is much more important than any specific agreement. The ability to work together over time in a relationship based on covenant, no matter how difficult things are, is the context that will make the collaboration successful. One of the questions lawyers ask in determining if an agreement was legally binding is whether there was ever a meeting of the minds. I believe that to have a real agreement for results, you also need to have a meeting of the hearts. This is another way in which agreements for results add value.




When I was crossing into Gaza I was asked at the checkpoint whether
I was carrying any weapons. I replied: Oh yes, my prayer books.

—Mother Teresa

A facet is one of the many surfaces of a polished jewel that makes it shine. As you work with the elements of agreements, please remember that there are three distinct and important facets of getting to agreement. These facets are concepts that are as important as Mother Teresa’s prayer books. Paying careful attention to the distinct importance of each facet will make your agreements shine.

The process of agreement is the dialogue. It is the conversation in which you talk about each of the elements. The process enables you to determine if shared vision and trust are present. If you find that a shared vision and a sense of trust are present, you feel comfortable declaring that you have an agreement. If trust or shared vision is absent, it’s wise to avoid the mistake of moving the project forward, and much better to do something else! During the 40 process, the dialogue surfaces all the details of the project, the trust level you have with others, the real value of the transaction to you, and whether you believe moving forward is worth it. As a result of this collaborative dialogue, a relationship and a joint vision for the future are designed, or not! This is where the covenant is created and a meeting of the hearts is established.




We shall turn from the soft voices in which a civilization decays.
We shall return to the stern virtues by which a civilization is made.
We shall do this because, at long last, we know that we must, because finally we begin to see that the hard way is the only enduring way.

—Walter Lippmann

It is much easier not to exercise or brush your teeth in the morning; it is much simpler just to get on with your day. I quote Walter Lippmann as a reminder that although stopping to form an agreement before moving forward is more tedious than moving into action immediately, it will likely produce enduring results.

When introducing the concept of agreements for results to an audience, I always talk about the tag line from the Quaker State motor oil commercial: You can pay me now, or you can pay me later. That line holds true when thinking about agreements. Most people never think about investing the time to make explicit the implicit agreement they believe they have at the beginning of a new personal or professional relationship, team, or project. They’re off and running, everyone with their own vision of the destination and how to get there, without the clarity necessary to minimize the potential for conflict. Like the Quaker State warning of engine damage, if you don’t do the preventive maintenance of changing your oil, you will incur the cost of inevitable conflict, a cost that will be much greater and that likely could have been prevented. 45




The practice of law consists of whatever a lawyer does.

—Carl Llewellen, The Bramble Bush

The most frequently asked questions I get are: (1) whether agreements for results are legally binding contracts; (2) whether legalese is a required part of a contract; (3) what to do if I need protection, especially in a commercial situation; and (4) whether my lawyer can learn to do this. Answers: yes, no, maybe, and maybe.

“My name is Stewart and I am a lawyer!” (Even after twenty years in “recovery.”) The following opinion is proof that I’m a lawyer because this is what lawyers do—they render opinions, and here I am opining. So even after twenty years in recovery, I am still, and will always be, a lawyer. When I first started drafting agreements for results, I was afraid I was going to be disbarred, arrested, or accused of treason. The idea of making up something on your own, without precedent or following a form book, is so foreign to the legal 56context! But that’s why most lawyers have difficulty being cre-ative—they look to the past to decide what is appropriate for the future. That is the antithesis of Albert Einstein’s warning that we would not be able to solve current problems with current levels of thinking. After a while, given the Resolutionary I am, I transcended the fear, especially when people started reporting their results.




The essence of resolving conflict can be boiled down to two words—listening and forgiveness. If you do these two things well, the rest is easy.

—The Resolutionary

Let’s take another look at Principle 8:

8. No matter how clear and complete the agreement, everything will not be addressed—conflicts and differences will arise that you must be prepared to resolve.

No matter how much time you spend, no matter how close to perfect the attempt, you will have to revisit aspects of the agreement that you did not think about, or changed circumstances you did not contemplate. Although you can reduce conflict, you cannot eliminate it! Getting emotional about conflict will not help resolve it. Just as with a template for reaching agreement, you will find the Resolutionary Model for conflict resolution very helpful. This chapter provides a good overview of that model. Although both The Book of Agreement and Getting to Resolution can stand alone, they are intimately entwined. They express different points on the same Cycle of Resolution. 61




Anything on earth you want to do is play.
Anything on earth you have to do is work.
Play will never kill you, work will.
I never worked a day in my life.

—Leila Denmark, on her 102nd birthday

A few years ago, in the height of the high-tech boom, I was working with an organization whose newly minted managers were not performing up to par. I suspected that the phenomenon was widespread, given how hot the segment of the economy was and the lack of time for training new managers. An official from the Bureau of Labor Statistics told me that in the previous six months, 250,000 new managers had lost their jobs within six months of being promoted. She told me that the bureau became concerned, so they polled the terminated employees. They found that most employees were terminated for poor performance. When the interviewers probed more deeply, they found that performance was poor because employees did not know what their job was and what was expected of them.

In the flattening world of knowledge workers, projects are much more collegial than hieratical. That said, there is still usually someone identified as the boss. When I teach management seminars, one of my favorite and most revealing exercises involves asking participants to reflect on two questions: 70




There are deeper sources of resistance, more misconceptions
and tougher obstacles to forming real teams at the top than
at anywhere else in the organization.

—John R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, The Wisdom of Teams

Have you ever worked for an organization that seemed to be moving in many directions at the same time? You felt the volatility as you rebounded between one executive’s vision and another, and it was very uncomfortable. This is one of the primary reasons organizations fail. Notwithstanding all their talk about being a team player, valuing collaboration, and making win/win agreements, senior managers have difficulty following their own admonitions. Senior managers have a tendency to be lone rangers. It goes with the territory of leadership. Their individual drive, initiative, and abounding self-confidence dictates that they listen to their own voice. Try as they might, they have difficulty being part of a chorus line.

A few years ago, I was contacted by the managing partner of a law firm with more than two hundred lawyers. The first thing she told me was that the eight members of the executive committee were all headed in different directions. As managing partner, she was having more and more difficulty reaching agreement about things that needed to be decided for the firm’s future. Mostly, it 75wasn’t about conflict. No one seemed to care what the others were doing as they went about their own business, doing what they wanted to do. No one was listening to her, and she was running out of energy and patience.




Think of everyone essential to the success of the enterprise as part of it.

Tend toward inclusiveness.

—The Resolutionary

Suppliers are a critical part of all organizations. Your success depends on their delivering what you want for a fair price, on time, and in good condition. Even more than that, it depends on their anticipating what your needs will be and fulfilling them. Wouldn’t it be great if that was how all supplier relationships were structured? Suppliers as partners, allies, collaborators—part of the team and treated as such. The best example of a supplier as a partner was one I facilitated for a large grocery chain and the company who supplied them with dairy products.

1. Intent and vision: It is our intention to create a partnership that is seamless. The vision we have is that all forty-seven of our stores will be supplied with milk and other dairy products in a seamless manner, with little attention needed day to day. The vision is that Metcalf Dairies will monitor dairy products daily, 79replenish products when needed, and keep freshness levels high while limiting spoilage to between 2 and 4 percent of the gross amount of products delivered.




Market to the elite and eat with the masses.

But market to the masses and eat with the elite.


Once the sale is closed, it’s time to create a document that expresses the agreement between the people or organizations involved. This should be a simple process of writing down what was sold, what was bought, and the terms on which it will be delivered. Wouldn’t it be great if the agreement captured the good feelings that surround a new relationship. That was the basis for consummation of the transaction. Unfortunately, often the opposite happens.

In many situations, the “seller” delivers a form contract that details what was bought and what was sold, and the back of the form is filled with miniscule boilerplate legal jargon. The agreement does not reflect the relationship that developed in the sales process. Instead of solidifying the relationship, the agreement can drive a wedge between people that darkens the “blush” they were experiencing when they “shook hands.” The document should reflect more than the business and legal requirements. It should embody the spirit of the agreement, reflecting the relationship created and everyone’s positive vision and expectation. 83




Because the WaWa, the Canada Goose, flies in formation, it is freedom
tempered by responsibility. The leader must keep the group on course and look
ahead for danger. The others must look around, to the sides, to each other.
And they will reach their destination, not because they can fly, but because
they fly together. We too, seek to fly. To fulfill our dreams, to accomplish our
goals. But we cannot fly alone. We must always look ahead, behind, and to
the welfare of those who seek to fly with us. If our destination is a better way
of life we must demonstrate our commitment to work with one another.
If we are to fly, we must fly together, dependent on each other, or
be scattered by the storms that confront us.

—WaWa Corporation Philosophy

A few years ago, at the height of popularity of Self-Directed Work Teams, I was working with a government agency to implement a team environment for a unit of technical support people. The challenge was not only to create “teams” but also to bring out the entrepreneurial spirit in each member of the organization.




After the first few months of deadly trench warfare during World War I,
Christmas Day, 1914, dawned bright and cold, freezing the sea of mud
between the enemies. Allied and Axis soldiers spilled out of the trenches and
spontaneously gathered in the middle of No-Man’s-Land, exchanging gifts,
playing soccer, and rediscovering their common humanity. Reacting in horror
at the implications of such behavior, the generals forbade further fraternization
under the threat of death. And so the war continued. But for one moment
in the midst of all that anger, hatred, and violence a new force emerged.
A strange attractor—love—took over and transformed reality.

—David La Chapelle, Navigating the Tides of Change

What happened on the front line demonstrates what is possible when we can get beyond the parochial ways we have been taught and grow into the inclusiveness that is innately present in each one of us. Until recently, for many organizations, diversity programs were about compliance with either a legal or organizational mandate. That has changed dramatically. Diversity is now about viability in a diverse world. Failing to become a diverse organization is a huge strategic blunder. A lack of diversity inhibits an organization from being effective in both the domestic and global marketplace.95




I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and
kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.

—Kahlil Gibran

The term learning organization was first popularized by Peter Senge in his 1990 classic The Fifth Discipline.5 His thesis was that our culture had become so complex, and the organizational pressure for creativity and innovation had become so great, that the only way organizations and individuals could possibly succeed in the face of immense challenges was to band together in “learning organizations,” populated by “learners,” who would “learn” their way through to the solutions of problems. Senge, it seems, was picking up on what Albert Einstein said about the need to “invent new ideas to deal with the current challenges.”

In the mid 1990s, I was called by a high-tech company for assistance with its learning challenges. This company existed in a very competitive environment. Although its managers were familiar with Senge’s work, it had not embraced the ideas as a cornerstone of its culture. The company never realized that a benefit of fostering a learning environment is the high level of productivity individuals experience when they are learning. There is a physiological reaction in the body to learning. Much as in distance running, when we are learning, endorphins are released that contribute to a sense of euphoria.99




Pioneers are motivated by drive to achievement and by irrational optimism
rather than by reasonable calculation. If those who start a business rely on
nothing but mathematical expectation enterprise will fade and die.

—John Maynard Keynes

A joint venture is an agreement between two or more organizations who undertake a project together. As the world becomes more virtual, the need for what “strategic partners” can bring to joint ventures will become more pervasive. The good news lies in the possibility of achieving the best of all worlds by being able to put great teams together for specific projects without taking on additional staff. The challenges lie in quick integration, coordination, and control. People starting a joint venture often posture for protection. Unfortunately, as you are aware by now, posturing takes the focus off the vision of results that generated the initial excitement and optimism about the project.

I recently was part of a team organizing a joint venture between the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association (LPM) and a private conference promoter, Legal Management (LM), to sponsor a law-firm management educational conference. Here’s the joint venture agreement I crafted.104




There is no single correct way of approaching complex systems and their
interactions in the world, though the art of listening is a most desirable skill.
. . . Multiple realities inform each other, fertilize, stimulate,
and stir the cauldron of creativity.

—David La Chapelle, Navigating the Tides of Change

One of the most significant ingredients for effective and efficient organizational productivity is the ability of departments to collaborate effectively. Although it should be obvious to all concerned, people often “forget” that everyone is engaged in the same mission. Unfortunately, the norm is for turf battles and department-centric behavior to develop. More times than I care to recall I have facilitated dialogue among sales, manufacturing, and implementation. The problem is almost always a lack of communication coupled with a perception of “us/them” in the other department. Here is a representative example of one of the “fixes” I facilitated for a major telecommunications organization. It is critical to keep reminding everyone that they are all inside the same circle.




Performance appraisal does not and cannot work. It’s a new century now. It’s time to start over now and look for new ways to liberate the human spirit in organizational life.

—Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, Abolishing Performance Appraisals

Everyone endures them in some form or another. And everybody hates them! I have no doubt that when reporting relationships are working well, appraisals are no surprise—merely a summary of what everyone already knows. They are more for other people than for those directly involved. I think the primary reason appraisals are not productive is because they play into people’s aversion to authority and the perceived underlying power imbalances. Once power comes into play, conflict becomes part of the milieu.

The following agreement was put in place to deal with this dreaded monster after performance appraisals surfaced as one of the areas of conflict within a government agency. When I suggested that an ongoing, authentic, open dialogue would go a long way to alleviating rampant “appraisal-itis,” everyone laughed, but they knew we had touched a truth.114




Skillful feedback is the best source about how our behavior is impacting others. Taking it seriously puts you on a fast track to greater effectiveness.

—The Resolutionary

About two years ago I was called in by a rural regional hospital to help the staff with their pervasive attitude of negativity. After interviewing about thirty key managers and providing a day of training about the sources of negative attitudes, we realized that one of the pieces missing from the culture was the mechanism of effective, timely feedback.

Everyone agreed that a negative attitude was pervasive because people were not talking to each other, so rumors were pervasive. Left unchecked, negative statements hung in the air like the elephant in the room. Part of the challenge was to get people beyond their “nice” way of being polite and deferential to each other rather than responding with what they were really thinking. Everyone agreed that it was a great idea to put in place a “culture and environment of feedback.” Here’s the agreement we generated to get everyone to buy into the feedback game.118




A manager’s accomplishment is directly related to skillful delegation.

—The Resolutionary

Organizations often take their high-performing professional employees (sales people, realtors, programmers, lawyers, draftsmen, designers) and reward them for their achievements by promoting them to manage others. They give them little or no training in management, and even though management competence requires a very different skill set, they expect them to continue being “stars.”

Beyond shifting focus from tasks to people, the most important skill a new manager develops is delegation. Simply put, delegation is getting work done through the skills of others. To do that effectively, managers must first break the “I can do it better and faster disease” and learn how to focus on and communicate to the human beings they are managing. This is not easy for high-performing professionals who have been driven by task orientation their entire lives.

The following agreement was put in place by a fast-growing high-tech firm that was promoting people to managerial roles who had little training or experience in managing people. They realized the agreement was necessary because newly promoted managers tended to continue to do the work themselves because that is what they were comfortable with and competent to do. They had little idea of how to delegate or coach people effectively.122


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