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This situation has happened to me multiple times in numerous guises and I imagine it is common throughout business when one is doing some collaborative work with another team.

Summary form:

  1. I know that a solution that seems to involve my department losing out to another department is actually the better solution for us.
  2. But the feeling is that we don't want to be walked over and "on principle" shouldn't use that solution.
  3. I need to convince my department that, contrary to appearances, this is a good solution.

Example:

I have been tasked to negotiate a solution between my department and another department on how to provide reporting statistics to the audit department on a monthly basis. My boss judges that we should provide the bare minimum data and the audit department should do the rest. Through discussions with the audit department, I realize that this will never work given their lack of expertise and resources available. They would need a lot of help with it that it would be quicker to provide a fuller report to them ourselves.

How do I convince my department of what seems to be the worse option is in fact much better for us?

What seems to happen is that people's territorial instincts come to the fore and the cost benefit analysis is lost. "Its their job! We can't have them walk over us" And so on.

But as the negotiator of the solution, I know that if we go this way, we are in for a world of pain!

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    Point out to your boss that the more work your department does, the more reliant the Audit department will become on you guys, thereby increasing the power, importance and influence of your department (and, by extension, your manager) within the organisation. Maybe don't phrase it quite so Machiavellian. But that's the gist of it. A lot of departments have the opposite problem to yours, where managers fiercely defend and appropriate responsibilities for precisely this reason. – Kaz May 15 '17 at 12:10
  • See also: Why most managers never willingly shrink the headcount or budget of their departments. – Kaz May 15 '17 at 12:13
  • The increase of power it brings to our department .. sounds like that could be a winner. In this case, it might be more about prestige than power. It would be along the lines of - "Wow that department not only get on with business as usual, they have no problem integrating what they do into the corporate level." But not dissimilar. Provides a boost for our image. – John Curry May 15 '17 at 12:47
  • Is it the better option though? Because your suggestion also sets a precedent. You say it's quicker just to produce the report than to get them up to speed; what about the next ten or hundred reports after that? – Jonathon Cowley-Thom May 15 '17 at 13:15
  • Yeah, in this case it is. The requirements for reporting are known at least a year in advance so won't change in the short or medium term. It is also clear that the audit department will never be resourced to do the work. Its too particular to our specific business. So the alternative where we insist that they do their "fair share" will always entail a lot of reliance on our resources. The main cost becomes the coordination cost of collaborating on it month and month with them. Its a no-win situation. – John Curry May 15 '17 at 13:57
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This idea of negotiating, and winners and losers, feels really odd within a company. But that is your culture and you are unlikely to change it. So, go to your manager or whoever it was that sent you to work out who will do what on this statistics reporting, and tell them something like this:

I've discovered something really strange. You know how we all assumed the easiest thing for us would be to just give them the bare minimum data and have them do the rest? I've discovered they don't have the skills to handle that, and would end up needing so much help that it would actually be quicker and easier to just give them the report. I don't think they realize this. How can I "offer to do them the favour" of providing the report, and how can this help us next time we have to work something out with audit? Should I just agree right away, or should I make them convince me, or what?

I always advocate for asking questions and this is why. Asking like this works in many different circumstances:

  • if there is actually no climate of negotiation, just a bunch of people on the same side who all want the best for the company, your boss will reply something like "a full report is easiest for us and just what they wanted! Great work discovering that! I'll let them know. You can work out exactly what will be on the report with them, right?"
  • if there is a climate of negotiation and deals, you have brought your boss powerful information that can help your department in the future. This will be a good thing for you.
  • if your boss needs to be persuaded that the report approach is genuinely easier, phrasing it as a counterintuitive discovery and focusing not on proving it's true but on how to use it might just slide you past the proving it's true step a little easier.
  • if there is a reason for the "bare minimum data" other than total effort (such as being able to hide certain information from audit) then you will learn that your criteria for choosing a solution wasn't right. Your boss will explain the reasoning to you, enabling you to do a better job.

Obviously, it has to be true. If audit is tricking you by swooning and sighing and saying "well you could give us the raw data, but ah declare I don't know nuthin bout reporting no data so we would probably just have to bother you all the time to get the help we need" then you could be leading your department into doing more work than is really needed. Who knows how deep all the playacting and pretending does? Your boss can help you sort that out, too.

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  • Yeah the counterintuitive presentation of the idea is good. The problem at the moment is I "know" the answer but the harder I push it the more it will seem I am somehow in thrall to another department's agenda. So letting others come to the conclusion themselves should help with buy in. The point about "it has to be true"...yes definitely. In this case, I know it is but I can imagine suspicion on the part of my boss that audit might be pulling a fast one. – John Curry May 15 '17 at 12:50
  • For me the best answer would be a combination of Kaz's and Kate's. 1. Present findings as counterintuitive and allow my boss to tease out implications themselves. 2. Talk up the prestige/power advantage that will apply when we produce the solution ourselves. 3. Assure the boss that there isn't a hidden 3rd solution where audit actually can take care of this available to us. So how to choose best answer! – John Curry May 15 '17 at 12:52
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    I will also point out that your boss may want to provide the least amount of data because it is less likely audit will find anything in it and if they don't have the skills to go deeper that is all the more reason in some managers eyes to provide as little as possible. Bosses have to deal with the fallout from audit findings, so it isn't surprising if one wants to minimize that. – HLGEM May 15 '17 at 14:14
0

I'd like to recommend the negotiation habits recommended in Covey's "The 7 habits of highly effective people". I'm going to summarize what I recall on the topic:

The first thing to do in situations like these is to sit down with the people who are on the other side and ask them questions and ask them to tell you their concerns, their problems, their worries.

Repeat to them every single point they make in a simple version so that they can see that you're really listening and understanding their side. You don't have to agree, you simply need to understand. If you don't understand, tell them that you don't understand but you'd like them to explain it to you so that you do.

They might correct you in some instances when you don't get it right what they're saying, so you listen as they correct your understanding and then you tell them out-loud the concern and you show them that you understand.

Once heard, the other side might abandon their plan altogether and simply ask you to make the best decision because they truly believe that you are aware of their problems and that you understand their concerns. Under normal circumstances they will now at least be open to what you have to say and actually take it into consideration.

Another topic in the book covers the different possible outcomes, i.e. win-win, win-lose and lose-lose outcomes of a negotiation. While parties should always be aiming for win-win situations, i.e. both parties win, short term and long term, or both parties walk away from the table without a deal, this is obviously not always possible within organizations where it's not in the hands of the parties to make that decision. In those cases both parties should try to meet in the middle but address that you really want a win-win outcome and show that you want the concerns and problems of the other party to be met and resolved.

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Before you "know that you are right" - consider that there are other competing perspectives. You should be confident enough to work for a manager that will hear your side, make a good decision and, if you still disagree, then you will learn something. If you have outgrown your position/manager, then find a way to get promoted so that you are helping your company with your currently underutilized skills. However, it is likely you can learn a lot from experiences like this one. Try the following:

First: When communicating "seek first to understand, then to be understood." Your boss may know something more about the situation than you realize. If he is more experienced, you should consider following his lead and see where it goes. If you learn nothing, then consider that you may have outgrown your position and/or manager. If that's the case, move on.

However, you may want to be very careful with "audit" functions and procedures. Generally the less information you provide an auditor, the better. Your manager may not be able to advise you on that directly due to ethical concerns. Specifically, if auditors need "x" amount of information, provide x and nothing more. Providing more can actually work against you. Be cautious.

Second:

But as the negotiator of the solution, I know that if we go this way, we are in for a world of pain!

There are many reasons in a company that a department might not bare the burden it "should." Based on the comments, your boss may know that providing less information keeps a conversation going with the audit department that is important. Or perhaps that is the best way to remind that his department is necessary. Also, placing resources toward a cost center (your audit "customer" is necessary, but is not revenue generating) may be a poor use of his already limited resources.

Before you are convinced your "solution" is better, you should be aware that running a department has problems outside of the one in front of you at the moment. If you have considered all of those things and this still appears to be the best solution, go back to the first point - and either learn something new or move on.

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  • Hi Jim, this isn't really about audit or about a situation where I have a certain recommendation that I need to discuss with a boss. If it was, then your remarks would be entirely accurate. Rather this is a generic situation described at the beginning of my post. If we assume that person A has full knowledge that a solution 1 is better but is aware that inter-group dynamics may make it difficult to make the case to his own team then how would he/she make a powerful argument for his/her solution in the face of the likely objections? – John Curry May 16 '17 at 14:55

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