Are You Using the Language of Agreements or Command and Control?

Have you ever received an e-mail that read from someone making a command? It might read, “I need this task done by Friday. Please get it to me.” It’s that type of language that many leaders use. It comes from the old “command and control” leadership model. It offers limited choice. It portends limited freedom and autonomy. The command and control language, when used consistently, will damage employee engagement. Damaged engagement leads to poor quality, limited innovation, and eventually poor customer experience.

Our new knowledge economy requires a change in culture, a culture that values trust over control. Culture is reflected in the language of its leaders and its members. The language of agreements is what we want to use to boost trust. Using the same language in an organization is critical. Knowing the exact meaning of the language is just as critical. For example, the word “agreement” has a derivation. “Agree” is consent and “ment” is a call to action. So an agreement is “consent to take action”.

The language of agreements treats employees like volunteers. Treating employees like volunteers gives a sense of autonomy and autonomy is a critical element in achieving employee engagement. This type of language enhances the idea that they have control of themselves, their work and their performance results.

The command and control mindset (and language) often encourages employees to do nothing until and if they are told to do so. In the language of agreements employees accept increased responsibility for performance. They do it naturally because they are being treated like volunteers with choice. Command and control language is an enormous mistake and can be corrected by changing to the language of agreements.

If we want a move away from the language of command and control and toward the language of agreements they are two important behaviors we want to adopt immediately. These behaviors help managers to use agreements language. The first is to “make only agreements you intend to keep.” The second is “communicate immediately, to those who need to know, if you cannot you’re your agreements.”

Imagine what it would be like to work in an organization where you were treated with total respect and trust and like a volunteer? Would you be more or less loyal? Would your productivity be higher or lower? How about your willingness to take risks to innovate?

Imagine working in an organization where everyone only made agreements they were willing and able to keep? And, what if everyone communicated to those who need to know when agreements might be broken? What kind of bureaucratic control systems would be in that type of organization?

Isn’t this the type of culture that we want especially in today’s work environment? Isn’t this the type of culture it moves us away from command and control? By using the language of agreements we begin to send a message that everyone must be responsible for their behaviors and their own integrity.

Let’s go back to that e-mail example I mentioned earlier. How would the language of agreements sound? How might that email be re-written? Here is an example: “Are you willing to make an agreement with me to get that task done by Friday? If yes, please acknowledge. If not, please let me know when you can get it done. Are you able to get back to me by the end of the day today?”

The language of agreements will increase a sense of autonomy, engagement, and accountability. It encourages a sense of freedom, trust, and risk taking. When we start using it we can begin to make significant positive change in our teams and in our organization.

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