Harmony is key to success
Imagine for a moment that the stakeholders in your contract formed an orchestra. Each has their specialist skill and plays a different instrument. But how would that orchestra typically sound? Would there ever be agreement over the speed or the relative roles of each player? Would they even be able to reach accord on which tune they would be playing?
Polarization, failure to build consensus, the use of power to impose solutions – these are the sort of factors that undermine cohesion and guarantee disharmony. Just as an orchestra needs cohesion, so it is with contracts. Unbalanced responsibilities, ill-considered commitments and unfair allocations of risk ensure that the output is discordant, that the players become self-centered and self-interested. An then, of course, they blame each other for the resulting discord.
I was reflecting on this challenge of stakeholder engagement because of the dilemma being played out over the appointment of a new justice to the US Supreme Court. Many might think that justice should be objective, that it should be balanced and reflective of diverse social opinions. Without such balance, one might argue, we are alienating a large portion of the population who then believe that justice is based not on good judgment, but on arbitrary exercising of power. Such feelings inevitably split society and result in growing conflict – essentially, the orchestra becomes not only discordant, but ultimately it splits into competing orchestras.
If we want harmony – whether in society as a whole or in the performance of contracts – we need processes that build consensus, where those impacted by decisions feel they have a voice. Today’s communication technologies have made inclusiveness increasingly important. It is demanding to take account of multiple and diverse views. The need for speed often encourages us to ignore or bypass inconvenient opinions. But we do so at our peril.
There are perhaps two key lessons for the contract manager. One is that we must think about how to make better use of the technology now available to us. Rather than seeing inclusiveness as a problem, we must consider more carefully how and when we communicate. But perhaps more important, we need to think about what we communicate – to put our message into context for the recipient. Our communications must be easy to understand, designed for the recipient, not for us. They must show appreciation for their interests, not ours. Ty must illustrate how our planned agreement is in harmony with their needs, interests or wishes.
The modern contract manager is in many ways like the conductor of an orchestra. Our job is to ensure everyone is playing to the same tune and that the tune is something that the audience wishes to hear.