Negotiating Success

According to Professor Watkins, to succeed with a new boss (the American People?)  or  for that matter, a new Congress, it is critical to invest the time in the relationship up front. Your new “boss” (and here you can substitute the word “Americans” to relate to President Obama’s situation) sets your benchmarks, interprets your actions for other key players, and controls access to the resources that you need. This person will have more impact than any other individual on your eventual success or failure.

Negotiating with the boss is about determining the shape of the game so that you have a fighting chance of success in achieving your desired goals. It is here that realistic expectations are established, consensus is reached, and resources secured.

If you are in realignment, you need the boss to help you make the case for change. In a sustaining success situation, you need help to learn about the business and avoid early mistakes that threaten the core assets. In start-ups, you need resources and protection from too much higher-level interference. In turnarounds, you may need to be pushed to cut back the business to the defendable core more quickly.

There are certain dos and don’ts concerning how to build a productive relationship with one’s boss.

Don’ts

Dos

  • Don’t trash the past. Understand it instead — and concentrate on assessing current behavior and results and making the changes necessary to improve performance.
  • Take 100% responsibility for making the relationship with your boss work. The responsibility rests with you.
  • Don’t stay away. Get on your boss’ calendar regularly. Be sure that your boss is aware of the issues that you face and that you are aware of the boss’ expectations and how they are shifting
  • Clarify mutual expectations early and often. Begin managing expectations right away.
  • Don’t surprise your boss. Report emerging problems early enough. The worst scenario is for your boss to learn about a problem from someone else. Give him or her a heads-up as soon as you become aware of a developing problem.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and actual planning. Do not let yourself get caught up immediately in firefighting. Buy yourself some time to understand the organization and come up with an action plan.
  • Don’t approach your boss with only problems. Bring along a plan as well. This does not mean that you need full blown solutions every time. The key is to give some thought to how you plan to address the problem, to your role, and the help that you will need.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to your boss. Figure out what the boss cares about the most. One way to do this is to focus on three things that are important to your boss and discuss what you are doing about them every time you interact. However, do not take actions that you think are misguided.
  • Don’t run down your checklist. Running through a checklist of what you have been doing is inappropriate. However, updating on what is being attempted and how the boss can help is appropriate.
  • Pursue good marks from those whose opinions your boss respects. Be alert to the multiple channels through which information about you reaches your boss.
  • Don’t try to change the boss. Adapt to his or her style and idiosyncrasies.

There are five conversations that should be held on an ongoing basis.

1)      Situational Analysis Conversation. It is important to understand how your new boss sees the business situation. How did the organization reach this point? What are the challenges? What resources can be drawn upon?

2)      Expectations Conversation. What does your boss need you to do in the short-term and medium-term? What will constitute success? How will performance be measured? When? Are there any areas that are untouchable? Learning the answers to these questions will allow you to reset expectations. If you are operating from different perspectives, it is critical that you have a conversation that creates alignment. Be conservative in what you promise and focus on over-delivering. If you have multiple bosses, it makes sense to bias your efforts to the one who has substantially more power early on, as long as you redress the balance, to the extent possible later on. If you cannot get agreement working with your bosses one-on-one, it is appropriate to bring them to the table together to avoid getting pulled to pieces.

3)      Style Conversation. This is about how you and your boss can best interact on an ongoing basis, i.e., in writing, face-to-face, voice-mail, and/or email? How often? On what kind of decisions does s/he want to be consulted and where can you make the call yourself? How are your styles different and what are the implications of those differences?

4) Resources Conversation. This conversation is essentially a negotiation for critical resources and should be had once you have agreed upon the diagnosis. The first step is to identify what resources are needed given the state of the business. In turnarounds and realignments, the need for resources is far greater because different skills and experiences are required. A menu approach that reflects different results based on different levels of commitment may be appropriate. Focus on the underlying interests of your boss and tailor resource requests accordingly. Look for mutually beneficial exchanges that support both of your agendas.

5) Personal Development Conversation. This conversation should only be held once your relationship has matured. In what areas do you need improvements? What actions or courses could you take? Discipline yourself to be open to learning about new skills that are required for the new role.

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