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The power of negotiation to boost workplace productivity

Updated: Aug 27, 2018


Managing problem employees in a litigious society is one of the most serious challenges for human resource leaders.

According to a survey published in Insurance Journal, U.S. companies have an 11.7 percent chance that an employee will file a lawsuit against them.

Retaining underperforming workers to avoid lawsuits certainly doesn’t alleviate the costs and stress associated with litigation. Doing nothing only exacerbates the problem. Instead, there’s a way to mitigate litigation while building a proactive plan to implement key HR initiatives -- negotiation.

It starts by understanding that all humans share a basic human trait -- a want or a need.

With strong workplace negotiation skills, HR leaders can better understand their people and get to the heart of an individual’s wants or needs. Rather than leveraging negotiations to get a direct “win,” HR leaders should use information gained from negotiations to develop and elevate their employees. Consequently, you’ll nurture happier, more productive employees and leaders who are more respectful and have better attitudes. Understand employee mindsets

An underperforming employee likely has some bad habits, including poor communication skills, leaving work early, and a reluctance to acquire new skills. Until you understand their emotional triggers and ingrained beliefs, no amount of prodding or threatening will modify their behaviors. Tapping into employee mindsets is essential to managing and leading them more effectively.

Doing so not only boosts organizational productivity but also reduces the costs associated with wrongful termination suits. Moreover, it reduces the expense and hassle of hiring replacement workers.

Fortunately, the same tactics used in a negotiation against a counterpart in a hostile situation also can be used to gather information that is crucial to uncovering an employee’s needs and wants. It boils down to identifying their fears, aversions, needs and desires. That's what we call the vision of pain. Good negotiation skills can unearth these issues.


Optimize negotiations to improve employees

When you think of negotiations, what comes to mind? A better vendor rate? A corporate acquisition? An executive’s compensation package?

Those negotiations are the most prominent but they’re not the only topics that can benefit from negotiations. Employing the same strategies that one would use for the previous scenarios (improving attitude, performance, accountability and leadership by understanding their fears and wants), an HR leader can help employees see a clear path to reaching their objectives and, ultimately, help you and your company.

Similar to a sales team negotiating the best deal, HR departments need a plan to address disgruntled or underperforming employees. Utilizing the power of negotiation is the best route to reach that goal. One HR pro told me that HR’s role is to moderate conversations between underperforming employees and managers and to help manage the negotiation and conversation. So in many ways, HR leaders are already negotiators – even if they don’t think of themselves as such.

I’ve facilitated a negotiation process that resolves a host of business problems. Negotiations can be used to find company policy resolution between conflicting founders of a soon-to-be dissolving company; improve stagnant or declining sales; obtain good suppliers with preferred pricing; facilitate the transition process for executives inheriting a team; and appease dissatisfied customers threatening to sue or leave for a competitor.

In other words, this process enables all parties to face and engage conflict productively, with as little stress as possible, and without compromising unnecessarily. These same strategies and processes also can be used to improve the performance of an employee about to be fired or to help stars shine more brightly and produce more for the company (the focus on my next blog).


Build a customized plan for your team

The word “negotiation” comes from the Latin "negotiari," meaning "to carry on business."

As an HR leader, you ARE at the heart of your organization's ability “to carry on business.”

How, then, can you put out all of your fires quickly and effectively, so your organization can carry on business? The answer is by honing your negotiation skills to proactively handle any scenario.

Some of the top challenges for HR include change management, compensation, staffing, succession planning, and employee development. Many of these challenges can be addressed through effective negotiation. Succession planning, leadership development, retention and compensation are built on it. But negotiation can also be a safety measure -- a pound of prevention -- to avoid the litigious problem employee.

So, how do you go about developing a negotiation plan that’s right for your company?

It starts with a comprehensive plan involving all stakeholders. Consider the following questions:

  • What would be your ideal outcome?

  • What are the real problems and those on the periphery?

  • What are the inherent risks?

  • What are the potential reactions of those on the other side of the negotiation table?

  • Are there conflicting agendas that need to be addressed?

  • What will be the responsibilities of those involved and what benchmarks will be employed to ensure success?

Internal negotiations often are emotionally charged and draining. It’s easy to see why many companies ignore them. However, they are precisely the same situations that leave an organization most vulnerable to a lawsuit.


Use negotiation to keep the embers from smoldering With so much at stake, it’s smart business to invest in strengthening your negotiation skills. After all, good negotiation practices can prevent fires from smoldering, which enables you to focus on what truly matters to move your organization forward. Becoming a skilled negotiator is a leadership attribute that will add value to you and your company. Hone those skills before a critical issue arises.

If you want to invest in yourself and increase your organization’s potential, contact us for a free discovery call. Your employees’ and organization’s welfare may depend on it.

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