Successful Supervisor 45 – Negotiating for Success

September 24, 2017

Supervisors do a lot more negotiating than they may realize. My observation is that supervisors negotiate all day every day.

If you want to be a more effective supervisor, study up on your negotiating skills.

For most supervisors, negotiations usually involve resources. Obtaining the right level of staffing or a specific piece of test equipment would be typical negotiation discussions.

Also, the budgeting process is always a time of great challenge for most supervisors.

In the day-to-day activities of the operation, getting people to do the right thing at the right time is a form of negotiation challenge. If the standard break time is 15 minutes, how are you going to get people to adhere to the rule?

This article highlights some tips I have learned over the years in courses and in practical applied leadership in a large organization. Before sharing some tips, let me dispel a myth; negotiating is not a win or lose situation.

Great negotiators realize that to reach an agreement, both parties need to believe the deal in question is better for them than no deal at all. Both parties must “win” to have a successful outcome, although both individuals may not get everything they wanted.

Basic Negotiation Principles

The objective of any negotiation is to reach a fair deal that is not abusive to either party, and it is accomplished by a process of discovery and revelation.

Let’s first look at a few basic principles and then describe some of the more popular negotiation tactics and their countermeasures.

1. You have more power than you think you have

Human beings have a habit of undervaluing their hand and overvaluing the hand of their opponent. Information is power in any negotiation, so seek to understand as much as possible the forces that are putting pressure on your opponent.

Withhold some of the critical points about your own situation so the other person is not aware of your constraints.

For example, if you share a time constraint that you need an agreement by the end of the day, your opponent can use that pressure to make you compromise just before quitting time.

Know as much about your opponent’s constraints as you can; and be judicious with sharing things that are impacting you.

2. Plan your strategy

In any negotiation, if you have a plan you will do better than if you play defense and simply react to the offers made by the other party.

It is amazing how many supervisors will go into a negotiation and simply “wing it” to see what the other person is proposing before formulating an offense.

There is going to be some give and take going on in any deal. Be flexible to move off an original plan if conditions warrant it, but at least have a null hypothesis or case to beat before going in.

3. Leave room for the other person to win

We all know that if we want to sell a car ultimately for $1000, it is best to price it at something like $1300 at the outset. This allows the seller to make some concessions and still arrive at an acceptable end point.

Recognize that both parties will be playing the same game on opposite sides, so test the validity of any offers along the way. Do not take at face value any statement made by the other person. Assume there is a lot more latitude available than the other person is willing to share initially.

4. Identify your “walk away” position and be prepared to use it

Your opponent will seek to maneuver you into a position that may be untenable. Identify beforehand what you are not willing to settle for, and do not budge off that position. The walk away technique is often very effective at gaining a concession.

5. Look for win-win and compromise ideas

Always ask, “What else will do the job here?” This technique is particularly useful when you seem to have reached an impasse.

Simply step back and look at the roadblock from a higher perspective.Often there can be a better solution that has not even been considered.

For example, suppose the supervisor is negotiating with another supervisor trying to transfer a key resource into her crew. The other supervisor is intransigent and the discussion gets heated. The supervisor might break the impasse by volunteering to take on some difficult tasks from her opponent.

Negotiating Tactics

Now let’s take a look at some typical negotiating tactics that people use. View these ideas as both offensive strategies but also be aware that they may be used against you and pay attention to the countermeasures, if you need them.

1. Use of time

Time is the ultimate scarce resource, and smart negotiators use it to gain advantage in a negotiation.

For example, if the supervisor is not having much luck selling her yearly budget to her manager, she might schedule a meeting with the manager to discuss the details.

When she arrives, she could mention that she has set aside three hours to go over the details of the budget for full understanding. This would normally put time pressure on the manager, or he could turn it around to put time pressure on her.

A good countermeasure for time pressure is to reverse the logic. In this case the manager might say to the supervisor, “Oh this is too important to limit the discussion to just three hours; I am prepared to work with you all day, if necessary.”

2. Good guy/Bad guy

This tactic is a version of the good cop/bad cop technique when interrogating a suspect. The bad cop is nasty and aggressive when interviewing the suspect, but the good cop comes in and is much more reasonable and often gains a confession.

Whenever you are dealing with more than one person, be aware of the tendency to use this technique to gain leverage.

The antidote to this tactic is to call the people on it directly. Say something like, “You guys seem to be playing good cop/ bad cop, and that doesn’t work at all with me.”

3. The Bogy

A bogy is a statement that we simply do not have the resources to give, so the point is moot. Suppose a supervisor is approached by a manager who insists that she loan the services of a mechanic for the remainder of the shift.

She could use the bogy and say, “But I only have one mechanic on duty today, and loaning her to you would leave me with no way to fix my equipment.” The implication is that I would like to help you, but the well is dry.

The most common bogy in any organization is the budget. Suppose the supervisor needs a new optical comparator for her inspection operation. She goes to her boss with her request and he says, “I would love to help you, but that is simply not in the budget.”

The countermeasure to a bogy is to point out the reality of a false constraint. The supervisor might say, “I know it is not in the current budget, but we need the comparator to do our job. Besides the budget is just an initial guess we made out at the start of the year. Surely we can move some items around in the budget when we need to, or maybe we have to overrun our budget this year and factor that in next year.”

4. Use of silence

Silence is an effective tactic in any negotiation. In western society, people become very nervous when the other party just stops talking.

We tolerate silence for about 30 seconds and then simply have to fill the void with some words, often they are concessions. If you are at loggerheads with another person, just stop talking and watch the person squirm.

The countermeasure to the silent treatment is to refuse to break the silence. After a while the stress will shift onto the other person.

I used this measure when negotiating with a Japanese businessman, and it worked like a charm. It was his turn to counter offer, but he just stopped talking.

Because I know the tactic, I just sat and looked at him, since it was his turn to speak. At first he thought he had me on the ropes, but after 2-3 minutes of silence, he realized I had out-silenced him and he made the concession.

Try this little trick with a car dealer sometime. It’s a riot, and it really works. Very few people can make it beyond one minute of silence.

5. Breaking an impasse

You will occasionally reach an impasse situation where it seems there are no further options. When this happens, simply change the time shape of money.

We are used to the logic in everyday life but often forget the tactic at work. You say “I cannot afford $10,000 for that car.” I ask if you can afford $5,000 and you agree to that figure. So I counter with “OK let’s do $5,000 now and $1,000 a month for 5 months.”

These are some of the more common negotiation tactics and the countermeasures. Make sure you are alert to when others are trying to use these on you and do hone your skill at using them effectively yourself.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Write Them Down

May 16, 2015

Writing businessmanAs I visit companies of all types and sizes, I am intrigued with the number of organizations that have not committed their strategy into written form. I ask if they have values, and often they start talking about honesty, integrity, customer focus, or employee satisfaction. I get some vague statements about ethics thrown in for good measure.

Then I ask where the values are written. Sometimes the leader can pull a dusty old paper out of a drawer where the items vaguely resemble what I was just told.

More often I am told the values are posted in the conference room and the break room. I go and look, and there is indeed a slightly-torn or smudged paper on the bulletin board.

If I ask the employees about them, they tell me “Oh yes, we have the values posted, but “they” do not follow them.” If the values are posted but not followed, they do more harm than good, because they serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy.

There are several organizations where the words are in the minds of the executives but not even written on paper, let alone implanted in the hearts of the employees where they can do some good.

The three simple rules with values are 1) write them down, 2) talk about them every possible chance, and 3) follow them. If you are missing any of these three steps, then you are forfeiting most of the power of having values in the first place.

The exact same discussion applies to the vision of an organization. If the vision is not committed to writing and included in discussions with employees, it loses its power to direct the daily activities of the population to move toward the future with confidence.

These two things are most important to write down, but I believe the entire strategy should be committed to written form. That would include the following things at a minimum: vision, mission, values, behaviors, strategies, tactics, and measures.

Many organizations make a production out of generating the strategy that the resulting tome is way too heavy for the employees to lift, let alone read and understand.

I usually reduce the entire strategic framework to a single sheet of paper. On the front side we have the vision, mission, values and behaviors.

On the reverse side there is neat array of the top 4-6 strategies (too many strategies defeats the purpose of focusing effort) along with a few major tactics for each strategy and precisely what measure we intend to use to track our progress for each tactic. I like to laminate the document as a way to indicate legitimacy.

Usually the entire process of developing the single sheet framework takes from 8-16 hours of interface time with a management team. That is enough time to engage everyone in the process and far less that the burdensome six to 18 month process that creates open hatred for the process among the staff.

If you drive an efficient and high energy process to create the strategy for your organization and commit the resulting framework to paper then you have a much higher chance of being a successful organization.


7 Tips for Better Strategies

July 6, 2013

marketing strategyIn my leadership development work, I am often called upon to help organizations with their strategic plans. The process is well known, and numerous facilitators are qualified to help organizations work through the process. This article outlines some of the mistakes I see organizations make and shares a typical “Strategic Framework” that I find very useful.

The typical mistake made by well-intended managers is to overdo the strategic process until it becomes an albatross rather than a means to focus effort. Here are seven signs that a strategic process is too complex.

1. Too many strategies

The idea of a strategic plan is to focus effort on the vital few tasks and put less emphasis on the trivial many. If the end product of a strategic plan is 23 different strategic thrusts, it is way too complex to be useful, even for a large organization. I urge teams to try to identify three to five strategic thrusts at any given time. The idea of having a “handful” of strategies is appealing because the total effort does not look or sound overwhelming. Sometimes groups will have six strategies, but more than that is going to get some pushback from me.

2. Too many meetings

A typical mistake is to set up sub teams and have a series of standing meetings to deliberate on the elements of the strategy. This process sounds logical, but it easily becomes a huge activity trap. I witnessed a college set up numerous strategy teams. They slaved in long meetings for over 18 months. When the strategy tome was issued, it resembled the IRS Tax code. There were so many details and overdone objectives that the entire effort basically sank under its own weight. When I work with groups, I try to get the entire strategy completed in one or two sessions (usually several hours each) and the documentation fits on the front and back side of a single sheet of paper. The trick to getting the most accomplished in the least amount of time is preparation. For example, I have the group vote offline ahead of time on candidate values from a list of about 50 possible ones. There is always the ability to go back and redo the strategy at a later date if things need to be added. The mistake many groups make is trying to get the thing perfect at the outset.

It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Be careful to not make the strategic process into a series of social events or public debates. The job of creating a strategy can be streamlined without sacrificing buy in. One way to check if you are overdoing the number of meetings is to watch people’s eyes when you announce a strategic planning activity. If their eyes roll back, that is a good indication you are making the process too complex.

3. Wordsmithing

For some inexplicable reason, people see a compelling need to have the wording of things like mission statements be perfect and embraced fully by everyone. I think mutual buy in is laudable, but if you drag out the discussion of every word of every sentence until all parties are thrilled, the ship will sail without you. I have witnessed long passionate arguments by managers about whether to use “and” or “and/or” in a mission statement. Once the thing was finally cast in concrete, there was so much acrimony that the parties simply put the product away and forgot about the whole exercise.

Use the Pareto Principle when working on the wording. If we can agree on 80% of the concept, then we can have someone generate a straw man document offline and not tie up the entire group.

4. Confusing Tactics with Strategies

For every key strategy, there will be some tactics that allow achievement of the objective. Strategies are broad areas of focused effort that help an organization move toward its vision. Tactics are operational activities that collectively allow the strategy to be achieved. Strategies are the “what,” and Tactics are the “how.” Often groups put the “things to do” as the strategies rather than call them tactics. A trained facilitator knows how to avoid this pitfall.

5. Not including Team Behaviors

Many facilitators leave out this critical step. Teams need to have a set of expectations for the behaviors of team members. Reason: without specific expectations it is difficult to hold each other accountable for accomplishing the tasks. Strategies become a wish list of good intentions rather than high energy areas where we are truly going for the gold.

6. Inappropriate Measures

For every strategy there needs to be at least one measure, preferably more than one. There are two common problems with measures: 1) they can be activity traps where getting the data is way too burdensome, and 2) If set up incorrectly, measures can drive the wrong behaviors. Make sure the measures you establish are encouraging people to do things that truly do lead to fulfillment of the strategy.
For example, one group had a strategy to increase revenue. The measure they selected was number of sales calls. The sales force was only too happy to increase the number of sales calls in order to earn more bonus money; unfortunately, the added activity meant they were less effective at closing sales, so total revenue actually went down. The measure looked good, but the goal was not realized.

7. Failure to communicate the strategy

It is a crime that many groups pour energy into creating a nice strategic plan that then sits in the desks of the managers for years and is not operational in the everyday world of work. The documentation of a strategy is pointless unless it becomes active in the hearts and minds of every single person in the organization.
Leaders need to continually discuss the strategic elements and explain to people why their actions are consistent with the plan. For example, a leader might say, “We are putting on a third shift next month because our vision for growth cannot be achieved without a fully loaded factory, which is the number one strategy in our plan.”

I have developed a simple format for a strategic plan that works for most groups. It is appropriate for profit or non-profit organizations of all sizes. The document can be constructed in a day or two with the right preparation effort, and it really helps focus the activities of a group after the strategy is completed. I usually show the elements as two sides of a single sheet of paper, and I laminate it like a large card so it can be passed around without getting mangled. I personally prefer the single sheet of paper over the posters in the conference room. I believe it has more power.

Click this link to view the two-page Generic Strategy Document.

There are many different formats for strategic plans; the one above is my favorite because it conveys a lot of information in a small footprint. Whatever format you select, make sure it is user friendly to the people who need to internalize the strategy. The most important objective for strategic work is to focus energy, so avoid the mega process that seems to go on forever, and make your plans crisp and beneficial.


Strategic Jargon

February 16, 2013

dentistDoes your strategic plan clarify or complicate? When organizations do a strategic plan, a bunch of specific words are used to describe the various pieces, but you would be surprised how those words are often used incorrectly. Many people hate to work on strategy because it is either eternal or terrifying, like going to the dentist. This problem fascinates me, because I do a lot of strategic work with corporations, not-for-profit groups, and educational institutions. I also teach strategic thinking at two universities. One cure for confusing strategic plans is to use the jargon correctly.

For example, it is common to have the mission and vision statements mixed. I have written about that problem and given some typical examples in another article entitled “Mission and Vision Essentials.” Another common sticking point is getting the strategy separated from the tactics. Strategy is the overarching way you are going to move from the current situation to the vision, and tactics are the detailed actions you will take to accomplish the strategy.

Most facilitators have an order they prefer when helping groups with strategy. I believe it is not essential to have a rigid pattern, but I generally prefer to start out with the values. Reason: Values are a kind of foundation upon which the other elements rest. To me, putting values late in the process feels like digging the foundation after the house is already constructed.

A key element in most strategic work is a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This work is the basis for determining an intelligent strategy. It consists of two views of the organization. In the first view, we look through a “microscope” at the internal strengths and weaknesses of the current organization. The second view is looking through a “telescope” at the environment around the organization to determine the opportunities and threats.

The SWOT analysis can be a time consuming and very boring process. It does not need to be. Facilitators can move through this exercise by breaking up a large group into four subgroups for the exercise. The use of creative techniques, like giving a prize for the most novel idea, can keep the atmosphere light. Of course, like in any brainstorm activity, it is essential to have a “safe” environment where the ideas are just captured, but not critiqued during the session.

One technique that I like to use is a “two wave” approach to the ideas. Let’s suppose we just completed a 10 minute discussion of the “Opportunities” part of SWOT. I then will say something like this, “That is a really great list of opportunities. We could stop here, but I want to challenge the group.

Most of these ideas came quickly and were from the top of your minds. I am sure there are additional creative and dynamite ideas still lurking in the corners of your brains. Let’s take another 10 minutes and see if we can double the number of opportunities on our list.” That process brings out some highly creative ideas, because all the obvious ones have already been mentioned.

I do not use this technique for all sections of the SWOT, as that would get old. It works best for the opportunities section.

After doing a SWOT, it is possible to identify the overarching strategy and tactics. A mistake made by most organizations is to have too many strategic thrusts in the analysis. The reason for a strategic plan is to focus effort on the vital few activities. If you have 32 high priority strategies, you will have trouble making much progress. I encourage groups to narrow the analysis down to three strategies: perhaps four.

One additional activity that is extremely important, but often left out by groups, is to document the behaviors we expect of team members. Without specific behaviors stated in advance, it is difficult to hold people accountable for doing them.

I use a story to illustrate what the jargon on a strategic plan means. Sometimes this helps groups focus on the work and not get muddled up in the terminology. Here is a typical story I use for that.

I liken the strategic process to taking a trip. I want to go from New York City to Toronto. My mission is to have a safe and enjoyable trip. I am considerate and make sure people on the other end are aware of my plans (values). Reaching Toronto is my vision; I can see the skyline in my mind.
I now look at my resources: my late model car is a strength; the fact that the tires are almost bald is a weakness. I see on the map there are some excellent highways (opportunities) but also there is some potential bad weather on the way (threats). I need to select the route and timing wisely.

I decide which day to leave and the route to take (my strategy). The plan is to stay in Toronto three nights, because I have two days worth of business to conduct. My goal is to drive there in 10 hours. I know it is not possible to get there in 9 hours, and I am willing to accept up to 12 hours if there is construction or other delays. There are contingency plans associated with potential problems.

Then I figure out what things to pack, decide what time to leave, and buy two new tires (tactics). I monitor my progress and determine my gas mileage along the way (measures). For example, I know it is necessary to reach Buffalo by 1 pm to make my timing goal. I drive within the speed limit, am courteous to other drivers, and I stop frequently enough to not get over tired (behaviors). I have a very good chance of having a good trip, which was my original mission.

Now if I can only get those SOBs in Toronto to sign my contract, I will be fine. Hold on a minute; maybe that is worth some planning as well. Maybe my vision in the first place should have been more about a signed contract than about seeing the Toronto Skyline. For that, I need to make sure my strategy achieves the true purpose for the trip, and make sure all parts of the plan align with that objective. In this case, I would have been wise to state the vision was to get a signed contract, and the trip to Toronto was one of the strategies. Now my strategic plan would stand a better chance of getting me what I really need.

The process of creating a strategic plan is fairly straightforward, yet many groups get tripped up with all these strange words, and come up with a plan that looks good on paper but does not work well in the real world. That is a colossal waste of time. Make sure you have someone who knows what he or she is doing lead the activities when creating your strategic plan.