Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mackay: Compromise is art to get the job done

Compromise is often looked upon as weakness. When President Harry Truman was pushing to complete a difficult program, he was asked whether he would settle for half a loaf. He said he would be willing to settle for one slice at a time.

Politics involve constant compromise. Business does too: negotiating contracts, hiring, closing sales.

You know what you need, are prepared to give up, and will never budge on. Do you know whether the other party knows what it wants, needs and is willing to give on?

Do you carry a Visa card? Its genesis was the result of a genuine compromise. Karl Weick shares its story in "Managing as Designing."

In the early 1970s, National BankAmericard Inc. turned around the Bank of America's faltering credit-card business in the United States. Soon after, BankAmericard licensees around the world also wanted NBI's help. The problems were enormous: Each licensee had different marketing, computer and operational systems, as well as different language, currency, culture and legal systems. After nearly two years of tense negotiations, the organizing committee met to try to resolve three deal-breaking disagreements. Positions had hardened and compromise seemed unlikely.

The final meeting was contentious. The Canadian banks refused to participate and withdrew, so the committee's chairman, Dee Hock, said they would reconvene the next morning to plan how to disband. Before adjourning, Hock invited everyone to dinner.

After dinner, the servers placed a small wrapped gift in front of each person. Hock asked everyone to open them.

He said: "We wanted to give you something that you could keep ... as a reminder of this day. On one cuff link is half of the world surrounded with the phrase 'the will to succeed' and on the second cuff link is the other half of the world and the phrase 'the grace to compromise.' We meet tomorrow for the final time to disband the effort after two arduous years. I have one last request. Will you please wear the cuff links to the meeting in the morning? When we part, we will take with us a reminder . . . that the world can never be united through us because we lack the will to succeed and the grace to compromise. But if . . . our differences dissolve before morning, this gift will remind us that the world was united because we did have the will to succeed and the grace to compromise."

Then Hock sat down. Absolute silence, until one of his friends exclaimed, "You miserable (expletive)!" The room erupted in laughter.

The next morning, everyone was wearing the cuff links. By noon, agreement was reached on every issue, and Visa International was born.

Mackay's Moral: Compromise is the art of dividing a cake so that each party thinks it gets a bigger piece.

by Harvey Mackay September 13, 2010

Mackay: Compromise is art to get the job done

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