the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School (www.pon.harvard.edu)
When a negotiation fails, it's natural to second-guess your abilities. But in their new book, "Built to Win: Creating a World-Class Negotiating Organization," Hallam Movius and Lawrence Susskind argue that the problem could very well lie with your organization. If your leaders and colleagues fail to give you the support you need, even the most carefully crafted agreements will never get off the ground-- or, even worse, will fail during the implementation stage.
Often, when negotiators return from negotiation training, they don't receive the necessary backing to follow through on their new skills. These days, organizations need to do whatever they can to maximize negotiation results. In "Built to Win," Movius and Susskind present a three-phase process that you can use to help your organization get more bang for its negotiation bucks.
1. Assess current challenges and opportunities.
The first phase in Movius and Susskind's process involves assessing the organization's current performance.
Choose a good theory. Begin by choosing a sound, practical theory of negotiation as a baseline standard. For example, the collaborative approach stresses thorough preparation, value creation in addition to value claiming and relationship building.
Assess performance and make diagnoses. Employees may have received excellent offsite training in negotiation concepts, but that doesn't mean they're using these skills on the job. Confidential interviews within the organization are a good way to assess employees' past negotiation performance, say Movius and Susskind.
Negotiators typically fail to prepare thoroughly for their talks, and their bosses lack benchmarks to review their results. Once such shortcomings have been diagnosed and analyzed, an organization is well positioned to seize opportunities to improve.
Identify sponsors and champions. To bring about broad changes in the way your organization negotiates, two key roles must be filled, according to Movius and Susskind. First, one or more "champions" should begin spearheading change. Champions need not come from the ranks of top management; virtually anyone who is enthusiastic about helping the organization develop a more unified approach to negotiation could volunteer or be appointed to lead the on-the-ground effort. Second, at least one "sponsor" from upper management must step forward to approve the investments of time and money that are needed to put new processes, tools and strategies into place.
2. Create a culture of learning.
Armed with an assessment of the organization's negotiation shortcomings, champions and sponsors are well positioned to create a culture of continual learning and feedback within their organization, write Movius and Susskind.
Provide a common language. For broad change to occur, employees at all levels of the organization need to share a common theory of negotiation. Leaders should identify "negotiation coaches" from within the ranks -- typically managers who are willing to meet regularly with negotiators before, during and after talks begin -- to offer guidance and stp t negotiation training and support systems can be stymied by organizational obstacles. In particular, accounting rules and concerns about legal risks can stall innovative solutions or block them altogether. For an organization to overcome such barriers, senior management should require negotiators to devote more time to preparation. Not only do individuals need to think about their own priorities and those of the other side prior to talks, they should also meet with all internal parties who have an interest in the deal to discuss the strategy and process.
Commit to organizational learning. Once a more efficient, unified approach to negotiation is in place in your organization, negotiators and leaders alike must closely track results, documenting both successes and failures. Then they should work to make adjustments that support ongoing learning and improvement. To help others absorb lessons learned, organizations could set up online newsletters that analyze recent negotiations within the company (with names changed to protect anonymity), suggest Movius and Susskind.
3. Sustain your new competitive advantage.
So your organization has made a serious commitment to support its negotiators. At this stage, don't assume that the initiative will thrive on its own. Because people often fall back on old ways of doing business, champions, sponsors, HR employees and other leaders need to continue to reinforce the new processes.
Evaluate impact. To evaluate the impact of an organizational intervention in negotiation, leaders might ask negotiators to take part in surveys and confidential interviews about their practices and results. Are negotiators taking time to consider their alternatives to the current negotiation? Have they learned to think more about the other side's interests?
Such feedback can help identify the degree to which the change effort is generating results. Negotiators might volunteer information such as this, for instance: "By identifying a better negotiating partner, I managed to save the company at least $300,000 on this deal."
Negotiation champions can compile such "good news" data for organizational leaders, including direct comparisons to past agreements, assessments of exposure to legal risk and information about the strength of various business relationships. Champions should also offer a frank analysis of shortcomings that need to be confronted.
Address persistent barriers. What's the best way to confront lingering problems in an organization's negotiation practices? First, avoid the temptation to blame individuals for the problem. Instead, interview (confidentially) those who seem to be having trouble putting new skills to use. They might need further support and coaching, or they might be skeptical about aspects of the new approach.
Misaligned incentives, such as old bonus structures that reward short-term rather than long-term results, might also be keeping them from getting on board. Most people will be open to changing their behavior as long as changes to incentives won't worsen their financial rewards or workload.