No Time to Plan

Notes on Negotiations
By Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

“I don’t have time to plan for my negotiations.”

“Too many unknown variables exist to plan for our negotiations.”

“We’ll plan – but in our heads. Formal planning would be superfluous and wasteful.”

“My colleagues are bright, experienced and have great instincts. They need discretion to apply these strategies appropriately.”

“Forcing our folks to plan won’t work. It’s not our style to manage top-down.”

I’ve heard them all. The excuses. The objections. The reasons it just doesn’t make sense to create what I call “Strategic Negotiation Plans” based on the experts’ proven research.

Yet almost every serious negotiation professor, teacher and private trainer I know – in business schools, law schools, colleges and in private training programs – requires their students to create formal negotiation plans based on what they teach before having their students do mock negotiations.

So why is there such a disconnect between what is taught and what actually happens on the front-lines?

Almost all of the answers are found in a great book I recently read, Atul Gawande’s bestseller, The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right.

Critically, Gawande details various professions that have adopted simple checklists with profound lifesaving results and huge financial benefits. This includes aviation (pilot checklists), health care (surgical checklists), commercial builders (project plans), financial and venture capital firms, and more.

Of course, Gawande’s checklists are effectively “Strategic Negotiation Plans,” as each includes:
a disciplined, step-by-step method;
based on the experts’ proven research;
to be systematically “checked off” prior to the activity; and
that increases the parties’ likelihood of accomplishing their goals.

So how have some professions transitioned from doing it “in their heads” to formal checklists? And how can we ensure significant adoption among front-line negotiators in sales, purchasing, law, investment banking and others reliant on negotiation skills?

1.    Get Broad Recognition of the ROI
My law school professor Roger Fisher, co-author of the bestseller Getting to Yes, gave us a 7 step checklist almost 25 years ago to fill out before negotiating.  This was pretty new at the time. In fact, few schools even offered negotiation courses then.

Today, negotiation courses are ubiquitous throughout law schools, business schools, colleges, and in the private sector.

Bottom line – the research, training and proven ROI is there, just like Gawande found in these other fields. This is a necessary first step. But it’s only a first step.

2.    Implementation requires understanding the role of plans
Strategic plans are not a waste of time. They comprise a critical tool that provides strategic guidance to professionals.

As Gawande writes, “[i]t is common to misperceive how checklists function in complex lines of work. They are not comprehensive how-to guides, whether for building a skyscraper or getting a plane out of trouble. They are quick and simple tools aimed to buttress the skills of expert professionals.”

Implementation will not occur without changing front-line negotiators’ mindsets concerning the value inherent in creating strategic plans.

3.    The plans must be simple and straightforward
If the plan or checklist is too long, complex, difficult to understand and/or impractical to implement, they will never do it.

Daniel Boorman at Boeing – a pioneer in developing checklists for pilots – found that checklists should generally include:
5 – 9 items per list (although this somewhat depends on context, and the plan may include several lists);
simple and exact wording; and
be one page maximum per list.
This holds true for Strategic Negotiation Plans too.

4.    Test it and highlight the benefits
There is a good reason we test new things – to ensure they work and improve them as needed.

Companies adopting Strategic Negotiation Plans should develop appropriate plans and test them. Identify a select number of appropriate front-line folks to pilot them. Then track the benefits and highlight them internally.

This internal “negotiation” to increase utilization may be the biggest challenge of all.

Latz’s Lesson:  Learn proven strategies. Incorporate them into Strategic Negotiation Plans. Then execute. You need all these to achieve the best results

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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator, a Web-based software company that helps managers and negotiators more effectively negotiate and implement best practices based on the experts’ proven research.  He is also the author of Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004). He can be reached at 480-951-3222 or Latz@ExpertNegotiator.com

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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