Years ago I was asked to evaluate a sales-training ‘game’. The player sat in front of a screencast as a salesperson tasked with winning an order from a big corporate prospect. As the story unfolded the player was asked to make decisions from a multichoice selection and then given feedback. My evaluation was based on me being that player/salesperson.
The first decision required was ‘Who to set up a client meeting with?’. The choices ran from MD, COO, Director of Buying, Purchasing Executive, or Purchasing Assistant. The answer was obvious – get in to see the top decision maker. I selected MD from the list. I waited. The game informed me that the MD’s response to my request for a meeting was ‘Go and talk to people at your own level and never bother me again’.
For negotiators hierarchy is important. There is the obvious issue of ‘face’ – senior people don’t like negotiating with juniors – but it is also important that in the early stages the maximum amount of information is obtained by both sides so that priorities can be established, and expectations set. That is often more accessible from managers down the pecking order from a C Suite decision maker. In the end game, when compromises and concessions have to be agreed by both sides there should be an understanding that these will be staged over both time and hierarchy. More junior negotiators will run out of authority to make changes, so the negotiation is escalated upwards, perhaps several times, until eventually the ‘gods’ on each side meet, and terms are agreed.
Nothing controversial here, except for the problem of competence. A client once confided to me that his MD always stayed away from a negotiation until the end of the endgame, when he would be ‘brought in’ to make the final concessions and claim success. Except, said my contact, he was really bad at doing it, with a tendency to agree far more concessions than were necessary.
So the decision announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday that she will henceforth lead the negotiations with the European Union is of some considerable importance. Consider the reasons she would make that decision now :
I think the Prime Minister has gone in much too early, and in doing so has revealed several weaknesses in the UK’s negotiating position. Her announcement, once made, is irretrievable, She now needs to perform exceptionally well over the next few weeks. Because she is the top banana on our side of the negotiating table, and if she screws up we have Nowhere Left To Go.
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