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Compliance or Commitment?

It was command central. Eight foot tables lined up in an awkward “L” shape. Fifteen people sitting on one side of the “L”–right next to each other…heads down…all of them profusely cranking information into their computers like mad scientists on a top-secret quest. I was one hour early…but their day was already in full swing. What would a disciplined group of execs like this want with an Onsite Annual Planning session? Some of them noticed my arrival; others did not. “Clearly,” I said to humorously myself, “these people are possessed.”

So what did they want in an Annual Planning Session? In the pre-call with the CEO, he expressed his desire to get this entire team on the same page. “We’re on the same page more or less; it’s the ‘more or less’ part that bothers me.”

As timed passed with this group, it was apparent that, as a global company, they relished the opportunity to come together and talk. Keeping them focused was easy, but they were intense and opinionated. They, too, were passionate about growing this company from rags to riches (and they were already well on their way to the ‘riches’ stage). Their intensity and opinionated perspectives were coupled with a deep-seeded expression of respect for each other. That combination, then, gave richness to their conversation that was a breath of fresh air. After all, a corporate team can be ‘on the same page’ but not every single one of them will agree with the stated strategy.

And herein lays a key point: “Consensus” doesn’t mean “full agreement”; it means “commitment.” On a few major points in the discussion, there would be one or two of these execs that really thought their ideas were better. In the end, however, it was apparent that the overall strategic intent relative to a given annual Key Priority was supported by most others on the team. In the end, the naysayers respectfully recognized that it wasn’t that they were wrong; others just thought about a Key Priority differently. To reach consensus, no one has to change their minds. What is required, however, is that everyone agrees to ‘commit’ to the Key Initiative. Leaving the room, everyone must be ‘committed’ to the expressed intent. It’s a subtle but powerful point of clarity that many leadership teams don’t address.

Explain to your team that the goal is ‘consensus.’ That doesn’t mean that every one of them fully agrees with the plan of action. What it means is that, in spite of their disagreement, they will ‘commit’ to the stated direction. If they leave the room without this clarification, then all you’ll ever get as a CEO or division head is ‘compliance,’ which will lead to mediocrity at best.

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