Getting to We: The Guiding Principles

IMG 7364There are six relationship principles that drive the Getting to We mindset, both in negotiating the relationship and in the subsequent operation of the partnership.

These guiding principles tell the parties how to act within the relationship. In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the importance of trust and the necessary steps needed to build and maintain trust. Being trustworthy means openly declaring how your organization will behave toward its partner. This means a company tells its counterpart how it will behave, not specifically what it will do or not do.

The third step in the Getting to We process has each party doing just this—declaring how it will behave towards their partner. These declared behaviors are in accordance with a set of guiding principles, which are based on common social norms or values.

The WIIFWe mindset, which is fundamental to a Vested relationship, dictates that partners mutually agree to act according to the following set of six guiding principles:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Autonomy
  3. Honesty
  4. Loyalty
  5. Equity
  6. Integrity

These principles establish a behavioral foundation for a trusting and productive relationship—provided that they also act in accordance with the parties’ expressed intentions. The guiding principles are “cultural norms” or values the parties use to proactively guide behaviors with the intention to build a trusting relationship aimed at achieving the shared vision. They are the substance of the relationship.

Each of the guiding principles is explored briefly below; for a much more detailed explanation and analysis, please refer to Chapter 5 of Getting to We.

Reciprocity

In a collaborative relationship, the parties must first commit to the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity obligates companies to make fair and balanced exchanges. If one party accepts a business risk, the other must be prepared to do the same. If one party commits to invest time and money in an important project, the other party must be prepared to reciprocate. Both parties decide what is fair and balanced through the negotiation conversation and by applying the rest of the guiding principles.

Autonomy

Parties must also commit to the principle of autonomy, which means they will abstain from using their power to promote one party’s self-interest at the expense of the other.

At the individual level, autonomy refers to the ability to act based on reasons and motives reflecting the individual’s own values and convictions. The same applies to business relationships. People want to make their own decisions, free from the power of another; they want to work as equals, and they want to be part of a process that allows them to make decisions in sync with the group. The specter of bargaining power on the part of one party will cast a shadow over the relationship, absent acknowledgment of autonomy by the parties in the relationship.

Honesty

A Getting to We relationship can’t function without honesty; partners must firmly commit to it. “Honesty is the best policy” is as true for collaborative business relationships as it is for personal relationships.

Fundamentally, honesty obliges the parties to tell the truth, both about facts in the world and about their intentions and experiences. And it follows that individuals and organizations should call out dishonest activity immediately. That’s because if dishonesty—rather than honesty—becomes a social norm in day-to-day business practice, the partnership is in trouble and can’t survive as a Getting to We enterprise.

Loyalty

The previous guiding principles—reciprocity, autonomy, and honesty—are not quite enough for a WIIFWe mindset. The parties in a collaborative relationship must also commit to the principle of loyalty. Loyalty is vital because it requires the parties to be loyal to the relationship. This means that the relationship—or “relationship first” thinking—becomes an operating norm when the parties’ interests are treated as equally important.

This is not loyalty simply for the sake of being loyal; to get to We, the parties must view the relationship as its own entity with its own set of interests, such as lowering costs, supporting innovation, and promoting growth. It’s also not being loyal under all circumstances to one of the parties; it’s not about sticking together no matter what. Loyalty is about being loyal to the relationship as its own entity. For companies and their corporate cultures, this can be a difficult concept to fully accept because it takes them out of their corporate safety zone and their usual practices.

Equity

Businesses and business people tend to view a relationship in balance sheet terms: each side should be equal. This is especially true in Western societies where equality is a fundamental social norm. The principle of equity, however, obliges parties to look more critically at the distribution of resources. It might be easy to split things 50/50, but that might not be the fairest approach for the relationship as it moves forward.

Equity has two equally important components: proportionality and remedies. Proportionality means one party may get a larger distribution of rewards than the other to compensate that party for taking greater risks or making investments. An equitable remedy allows the parties to come to a fair resolution when the contract itself may otherwise limit the result or be silent on the matter. Equity is important to maintain harmony and trust in a relationship. Equitable decisions prove that a party is trustworthy and trusting at the same time, precisely because the decision is not some arbitrary 50/50 split.

Integrity

Integrity is the final ingredient of a robust relationship. The principle of integrity refers to past events when the parties were involved in similar situations. Simply stated, integrity means consistency in decision-making and in actions. Integrity is essential to get to the WIIFWe mentality and to remain there. Integrity preserves the relationship because it promotes trust between the parties. And it means that parties are trusting and trustworthy at the same time.

To act with integrity is to show trustworthiness, which strengthens the foundation of the relationship. Integrity promotes predictability, since what has happened in the past says something about what can be expected to happen in the future. Integrity thus reduces complexity. It is the reputational glue for high-performing, collaborative relationships.

In fact, the six guiding principles are all essential pieces for high-performing, collaborative Getting to We relationships.

Image: Img_7364 by Sarah C. Fleming via Flickr CC

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