“I’m frustrated,” some managers tell me. “We provide negotiation training. We create negotiation best practices. We attempt to manage to them. But many of our front-line negotiators still resist negotiating strategically and just keep doing it instinctively.
“I know we are wasting time and leaving money on the table by not doing what the research suggests. So how do we get our folks to actually implement these strategies?”
This is really, really hard. In fact, this is one of the biggest challenges for negotiation managers — and for negotiation trainers.
In effect, we all take part in the behavior-modification business. We can’t accomplish our long-term goals unless we get our front-line negotiators to change their behavior from instinctive to strategic.
It’s one thing to learn and understand these strategies. It’s another to actually do them.
My recommendations, along with advice from former Cooper & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCooopers) software consultant Dale Johnson:
1. Take baby steps.
Don’t ask your negotiators to do everything the research suggests at once. It’s too much and most will resist. Instead, help your folks walk before they try to run. This is a two-step process:
• Pick one simple and straightforward negotiation strategy, like writing down negotiation goals, and ask your folks to do it in one negotiation each week. Many examples of strategies can be found in my other past columns here in the Tips & Tactics section.
Build on this changed behavior by adding one new strategy each month or at more appropriate intervals.
• Then require that they debrief after their significant negotiations and share with you — in writing — one strategy that worked and one strategy that illustrated how they could improve.
They can’t improve if they don’t learn from their negotiations. Ask them to keep track of the lessons learned in one place.
2. Practice improves performance.
The more your negotiators practice and implement these strategies, the more likely they will systematically use them. This will help you — and them — accomplish your mutual goals.
What kind of practice do I recommend?
Ask your negotiators once or twice a month to negotiate something in a personal nonwork-related environment. Consumer Reports has found that more than 90 percent of shoppers who tried to negotiate a better deal on goods and services got one — on furniture, electronics, appliances and even medical bills.
Doing this will help them change their mindsets and become more comfortable implementing your negotiation best practices.
Then ask them to write down what worked and add these strategies to their lessons-learned list.
3. Incentivize their changed behavior.
Incentives work. So create incentives for your negotiators to implement these strategies.
• Performance evaluations based not only on results, but also on the extent they a) develop strategic negotiation plans and b) execute their plans by using these strategies (and make sure to include commensurate financial compensation).
• Extra financial incentives such as special bonuses or prizes for the best work-related negotiation story and lesson learned each week or month (perhaps judged by their peers).
• Extra recognition for the best non-work-related negotiation story and lesson learned each week or month.
And make sure you share all your negotiators’ best lessons so everyone on your team benefits.
4. Patience will pay off.
Finally, recognize that this will take time, effort and patience — especially patience. As noted above, modifying behavior is tough. So don’t expect instant results.
But investing the time to create more strategic negotiators will pay off in the end. The research is clear that these strategies work.
So start the new year with a resolution to help your negotiators become more strategic. Then track your success each month. It will be well worth it.
Published January 4, 2008 The Business Journal