Before-we-start agreements

It can be so easy to jump in to a task, a job, or project.

How­ev­er, this can cre­ate issues. Have you ever been far along in a project and real­ize you wish you could go back to the begin­ning and set up an agree­ment that would allow you to work bet­ter? Maybe you’re wish­ing you would have been paid ahead of time, bound­aries on your time, or more real­is­tic deliv­er­ables.

Whether you are a salaried employ­ee, free­lance con­trac­tor, or vol­un­teer com­mit­tee mem­ber, if we’re not care­ful, we can fall into sit­u­a­tions where expec­ta­tions are mis­aligned, balls are dropped, and peo­ple get frus­trat­ed . . . includ­ing you.

Here’s a potential solution... set up an agreement

Some­thing you can try is set­ting up a “before we start” agree­ment.

Step 1 — Pause your per­son­al work on the project. Before your jump head-first into your project, remem­ber to pause and clar­i­fy and agree first. If you’re already work­ing on the project, don’t wor­ry, it’s not too late. Pause now before you do any­thing else. This is bet­ter than wait­ing until the end!

Step 2 — Cre­ate your “front end” agree­ment. You can also call this your Front-loaded Agree­ment, Before-We-Start Agree­ment, Work­ing Expec­ta­tions Agree­ment, or Memo-of-Under­stand­ing (MOU). It’s impor­tant you cre­ate this in writ­ing and not just out loud. Hav­ing it dig­i­tal and eas­i­ly recall-able helps, too. It does­n’t have to be more than 1 typed page with plen­ty of mar­gins and white space. Here are some poten­tial sec­tions to out­line:

  • A short descrip­tion of the work to be pro­vid­ed
  • Bound­aries of time and ener­gy
  • Expec­ta­tion on deliv­ery date
  • Vari­ables that could change the deliv­ery date or oth­er con­di­tions
  • What this “does­n’t include” sec­tion (help­ful to keep the scope nar­row)

Step 3 — Share the agree­ment dig­i­tal­ly. Share a copy of your doc­u­ment with your boss or team dig­i­tal­ly and make sure every­one has enough time to process what’s been writ­ten. It’s impor­tant they have a copy on their end so they can refer back to it down the road.

Step 4 — Make the agree­ment and move for­ward. If you need to make adjust­ments, do so, then re-send it to every­one. Now that you have the clar­i­ty on the expec­ta­tions and deliv­er­ables, you and every­one else is now account­able. You’ve set up the bound­aries and your mind will actu­al­ly be able to relax and focus on the out­come.

Decide to focus

The Focused State” is some­thing you may be look­ing to reach. You may have reached it once or twice before but find that it’s hard to repli­cate and repro­duce on com­mand.

You may blame your boss, spouse, or lack of time. You’ll blame any­thing and any­one. I’ve been there.

Choosing to focus takes effort.

Focus takes dis­ci­pline and per­spec­tive to make good deci­sions on what you need to focus on and why it is appro­pri­ate for right now.

But what we often miss with focus is that it’s a deci­sion. You and I must DECIDE to focus — to qui­et the voice that says we need to be work­ing on some­thing else.

Focus is a decision

When you make the deci­sion to focus, you direct your atten­tion away from the triv­ial and toward a top­ic. You block out dis­trac­tions and clar­i­fy the win. You decide what will con­sume your atten­tion and how far you need to get before you’re will­ing to let up.

Choose to focus

You have a choice today. You can decide to focus. Or you can let some­one else do it for you.

The Green Stamp

In your orga­ni­za­tion, busi­ness, or life, who has the green stamp?

The green stamp is the spe­cial “mark of approval” required to move for­ward with some­thing impor­tant.

The green ink isn’t so impor­tant. It’s the stamp itself — and who has it.

Usu­al­ly, we skip the step to fig­ure out WHO has the green stamp and WHAT cri­te­ria is being used before its giv­en. So instead of doing the hard work to fig­ure out the WHO and WHAT, we walk around mak­ing deci­sions we thought we were allowed to make . . . only to fig­ure out we real­ly didn’t have the green stamp.

Some boss­es like to keep the green stamp locked up and out of sight because it gives them­selves a feel­ing of author­i­ty and con­trol. Great lead­ers give the green stamp away. They let oth­ers get things done based on cri­te­ria that makes sense for the project.

Your job — no mat­ter where you are in your orga­ni­za­tion — is 1) to fig­ure out who has the green stamp, 2) define the cri­te­ria, and 3) fig­ure out how you can give the green stamp away.

If our per­son­al pref­er­ences dri­ve every­thing we do, mas­sive growth can’t hap­pen.