Out of necessity, most of our relationships at work are overwhelmingly contractual. Strong systemic drivers of behavior – e.g. selection, training, goal-setting, performance appraisal, and rewards – are both enabled and constrained by their agency. Contractual relationships assume things will go as planned, pressure others to action, and encourage recourse when things go wrong. Contractual relationships foster dependency and constrain intimacy.
Covenant relationships are forged with purposeful promises. All parties in the covenant are motivated to keep their promises not only because they share passion for a cause, but also because they deeply value and appreciate the interdependent posture of the covenant. When promises are strained, covenant encourages restoration instead of recourse. According to Max Depree:
Covenant relationships are open to influence. They fill deep needs and they enable work to have meaning and to be fulfilling. Covenantal relationships reflect unity and grace and poise. They are an expression of the sacred nature of relationships. Covenantal relationships enable corporations to be hospitable to the unusual person and unusual ideas. Covenantal relationships tolerate risk and forgive errors. (p.60).
Interdependent partners each assume full responsibility first for their own performance, then for challenging assumptions and continually improving the systems that define the performance culture of the organization. Covenantal relationships inspire intimacy at work.
What’s keeping you from leading others with relationships characterized more by interdependent covenants and less by contracts? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!