The saddest thing in business

You could have the best marketing, the best products, great employees, be extremely motivated and have all the capital you need to build your business, but if you are a poor negotiator, you are likely to start wondering if you need better marketing, a better product, better employees, and more capital anyways. You might spend years chasing your tail, and in the end, if you don’t figure out that you are a poor negotiator and find a way to get better, you will not achieve what you could.

All your hard work hinges and best decisions hinge on how well you negotiate.

In addition, when you negotiate well you are better able to discover problems in the aforementioned areas in your business. Each negotiation is like a probe that that picks up on what is holding you back in the world of your customers, suppliers, and employees.

Negotiations are the least comfortable and most challenging events of our business lives. Negotiations are where the rubber meets the road, and if you are not prepared you will end up with skid marks on your face.

Our work as negotiation coaches is extremely satisfying because we see our clients really get to reap the rewards of their hard work in other areas of their business.

William Chase


When the lack (or presence) of a valid System of Negotiation comes full circle (Part 4)

3) A sale is a voluntary exchange that requires, and is based on, an agreement that is voluntarily reached

An often unseen reality

One of the most challenging lessons that we human beings need to live but often don’t is to respect, value, feel completely safe, comfortable and at peace with the freedom of others to believe, behave, act, perceive, interpret, judge, decide, or choose as they see fit. We are scared of respecting the freedom of others to such an extent while we often demand, consciously and unconsciously, that our freedom be valued and respected in things big and small, consequential or otherwise. What children observe and experience during their formative years is not exactly a deep respect for individual freedom. Personally, I learnt this lesson at an intellectual level, many years ago. However, it was not until I discovered the Camp System of Negotiation that I found a practical way to do so in all interactions and relationships. Now, in my daily effort to live guided by the System, I see the tremendous gap that still exists between intellectual knowledge and my behaviors, actions, decisions, and choices in the moment. Respecting and valuing the freedom of others requires that I fully accept and embrace a fundamental truth about the other person – and specifically, this other person that I am interacting with here and now: People are free and remain free to decide and choose as they see fit. Crossing that gap between intellectual acknowledgment of a particular reality and its practical demand and manifestations is a journey that lasts a lifetime – especially with near and dear ones.

Forgive me for insisting. Not living this truth is a cause of immense human misery. People are and remain “free” to decide and choose in accordance with what they see. This is a direct consequence of their innate dignity and worth that they possess. It is not conferred on them by other human beings or by the state, nor can it be taken away by anything or anyone else. This does not mean that they are thereby free to do whatever they like, and in whatever manner they choose. Understanding “freedom” in a way that is unrestrained and that the subject himself/herself defines, is essentially defective, deforming, and can more accurately be called an “abuse of freedom”. However, because people abuse their own freedom or ours does not mean it becomes fair game to prevent them from exercising their freedom. Such prevention can only be done by a competent authority – to defend the good of everyone integrally and thereby subordinate individual freedom to truth, goodness, and justice. Every good parent, teacher, manager, or leader knows and has experience of this.

What is the relation between this and sales?

The answer is contained in the title to this post: A sale is a voluntary exchange that requires, and is based on, an agreement that is voluntarily reached.

Sales professionals are not somehow immune to the blindness that afflicts the larger human race. It is therefore vital that they see, understand, accept, and embrace this reality, in each interaction and in each of their selling efforts. If this truth is understood and lived, and they learn to influence effective decisions in others without violating or tampering with their freedom, they become that much more effective, happier, more serene, and more fulfilled. Once the voluntary aspect of a sale is done away with, they are skating on thin ice. To my mind, the voluntary aspect of the exchange in sales is manifested in numerous ways:

  • Monopolies are frowned at, in the free market economy and why perfect competition is held up as the ideal.
  • The cliché “The customer is king” – which a typical buyer believes wholeheartedly means that he/she feels that he can go elsewhere if his/her needs are not met. In the worst case situation, customers can decide to do without a product if the option of going elsewhere is not (readily) available.
  • When a sale goes wrong – before or after the order has been placed and payment has been made – individuals are often still held responsible for what goes wrong.
  • Customer service is lauded by all (though lived in practice by so few) because we all believe that a good experience makes for loyal customers who willingly come back, and willingly refer others.

I am also of the opinion that much of the baggage, prejudice, and stereotyping associated with the selling profession is connected in part by the behaviors, actions, and decisions of millions of sales professionals who fail to recognize and respect the voluntary aspect of sales and selling. Like other normal human beings, many sales professionals behave as though they are afraid of the power that a freedom to choose and decide gives to the buyer.

No matter how one looks at it, voluntary exchange and voluntarily entered agreements constitute the nucleus of selling. Understanding and living this out has numerous consequences and corollaries. I shall attempt to tease apart and take a deeper look at what I consider as being the more central ones.

1) To move forward, every sale requires negotiation

Ultimately, voluntary exchanges can only occur between individuals or groups. That’s why they are voluntary. Every sale – from the simplest one between 2 individuals that lasts a few seconds to the most complex B2B sale or one between a multi-billion dollar behemoth and a government that sit at the head of a multi-trillion dollar economy can be simplified and understood in terms of the people negotiating with each other. Ultimately, regardless of the processes used and the impersonal forces at play, people make the decisions to buy and/or sell. This brings us back to the significant overlap and misunderstanding between selling and negotiation – something that I and a number of others have written about.

Those in the “selling world” tend to enlarge that world and subsume negotiation into it while those in the “negotiating world” do the opposite. To an observer, this might appear to be a case of each side striving to prove its legitimacy (or superiority?) over the other. However, since the world of selling is more visible and popular than that of negotiating, the popular view remains that negotiation is a subset activity that goes on within the larger sale. To me, the confusion stems from definitions. It is notoriously hard to come to agreement on definitions or to even delineate the reality that those definitions refer to. Definitions describe reality but do not “create” it. If I state that “A sale is a negotiation”, we must define both “sale” and “negotiation”. I don’t want to attempt to define a “sale”. I have found that my understanding that every sale is/involves a negotiation but every negotiation is/does not involve a sale, serves me well.

At CNI, we define a negotiation as “The human effort to reach agreement between two or more parties with all parties having the right to veto”. This means that negotiation encompasses everything that is said and done; where, how, when, why, it is said and done; and of course who says and does what. It also extends to include the order and sequence in which things are said and done, or not said and not done. Of course all these are understood in relation to the parties reaching agreement with each other. It alludes to the resources expended in trying to reach agreement. Above all, this definition means that as long as the right to say “no” is respected, what is actually occurring is a negotiation – no matter exactly how it is being conducted. This implies that people can either negotiate well or badly. It is a definition that can easily find echoes in the world of selling.

The predominant view in the world of sales – that of seeing negotiation as the song and dance around price (other terms are often not as terribly important as price) tends to conflate negotiation with bargaining. Calls for and offers of, compromise, are intrinsic to bargaining. Bargaining is a pressure-filled activity. It opens the door to stress, worry, neediness, bullying, manipulation, and deceit. It is more accurate to consider that we are negotiating each time we are trying to influence another person or group to make a particular decision or a series of decisions. They have to agree to make those decisions – including the decision of whether or not to buy, for what price, when, how much of what etc.

2) Minimizing, overriding, avoiding, or being afraid of the right to veto

The destructive impact of overriding this right is acutely seen in the world of sales because of the voluntary nature of the exchange, and the voluntarily reached agreement required to bring the exchange about. On account of all the pressures that a sales professional is subjected to, and those to which they subject themselves to – by chasing numbers, outcomes, and results – it is easy to rush past this right without even being aware of its existence. The ways in which people are taught to push for a “yes” and to close the sale; the push for numbers and results; the rush to compromise or the effort to build “relationships” or “trust”; go for (or require) “win-win”; display enthusiasm for one’s product or solution – can all become manifestations of a fear of the exercise of this right by the buyer. Every form of manipulation or deception necessarily does violence to this right.

Each time a sales professional (and indeed any human being) attempts to override this right, it provokes resistance and emotional pressure in the person whose right is being overridden. This pressure then fills up the interaction and all kinds of barriers go up. Objections and resistance abound. Often, on account of the baggage and stereotyping in sales, these barriers are already in place and sales professionals find themselves crashing against them, repeatedly. If this is the case, they will then be forced to absorb the pressure of a sale gone bust, or a sale that gets stuck. It is therefore very easy to get trapped in a bubble of emotional pressure.

It is not only the buyer’s rights that can be overridden. Unscrupulous and predatory buyers can seek to override the right to veto of sellers. It is also just as easy to override the right of people on the same team or the same side of the table.

When negotiation is seen, understood, accepted, and embraced in the way it is defined above, human beings can become exquisitely aware of the times they are tempted to override this right. Whenever they experience fear, anxiety, or irritation over the exercise of this right, it is a good moment to reflect on the underlying causes of such emotion. Such emotions are a sign that we see such a right as a threat. It is also good to consider what we feel and experience when our right to veto is undermined or overridden.

It may help us to know that numerous individuals don’t fight this right. Instead, they work with it. Certainly all such people are not trained in the Camp System of Negotiation. In sales, working with this right – anticipating it, inviting it, encouraging it, embracing it – always help dissolve most barriers, drains most interactions of the pressure that exists, or that constantly threatens to develop, and moves the sale/negotiation forward. The right to veto is and provides solid ground on which we can advance.

3) Some sales are complex negotiation projects

Recently, I bought and read a book on account of its intriguing title – “Mastering The Complex Sale: How To Compete And Win When The Stakes Are High” – written by Jeff Thull. This is certainly one of the better books on selling that is available. A Camp-trained negotiator will find much to agree and disagree with. He/she will also see some things that are missing. I was pleasantly surprised to note that the author’s view of proficiency in selling comes very close to Jim Camp’s view of mastery in negotiation. Though the author does not refer to “learned human performance events”, he describes selling as something that can be mastered using “systems”, “skills”, and “disciplines”. Expectedly, he defines these terms differently.

Many sales professionals fail to see the complexity of some of the sales they are involved in. Failure to see such complexity, and the inability to master and tame it, will repeatedly overwhelm or stymie the sales efforts of individuals and sales teams. When complexity encounters the economic pressures that abound in the world of selling, and is coupled to the behaviors, activities and decisions of sales team that are driven by conflicting priorities, interests, numbers, results etc., these pressures are magnified many fold. When such an individual or team encounters the world of predators in the business world, they simply fall apart. More accurately, they are picked (or torn) apart.

The complex sale, as Mr. Thull rightly notes, must be “mastered”. At CNI, the hinges on which everything else revolves are:

i) Negotiation is a learned human performance event that must be mastered using a valid System of Negotiation.

ii) A negotiation is often a complex project that must be carefully managed using a valid Negotiation Management System.

By definition, a project depends on the efforts and decisions of numerous people. Sometimes a single decision may require numerous negotiations. At other times, many decisions may be reached during a single negotiation engagement. Learning to make and influence effective decisions as a team lies at the heart of negotiation management. Learning to make and influence effective decisions as an individual lies at the heart of individual negotiation mastery. The entire negotiation project will move forward only if both work in seamless harmony. Managing the larger negotiation project such that your side makes and influences effective decisions is what enables you and your team master the “complex sale”, and manage it effectively.

(CNI’s latest product offering, Negotiator-Pro, attempts to combine both and put them at the disposal of individuals, teams, and organizations. Negotiator-Pro enables everyone master the complex sale in a simple and straightforward manner.)

4) Understanding how human beings make decisions and how to influence decisions in others

This is one area in which sales people are sharply divided. Of course the division extends far beyond the boundaries of the selling profession. It’s the central disagreement I have with Mr. Thull as I read his book, and the central fault line that runs through it. He seems to agree that facts and figures don’t carry the day, and that customers buy based on what they see as a solution to their needs. However, he doesn’t make the leap into how to discover what they see, or how to influence what they see. There’s not concept of discovering or building “vision”, nor no acknowledgment that vision drives action, decisions, and agreements.

This might seem as though it is just some unimportant difference between those who believe, say, and behave as though decisions are logical; those who believe, say, and behave as though decisions are emotional; and the last group that says, believes and behaves as though it is a bit of both. It might seem harmless, but it really is not. I remember someone saying in my presence “If you don’t believe that people buy for their reasons and not yours, and that that decision is an emotional one, stop wasting your time in sales. Just get out and save yourself and many others a lot of trouble.

Not understanding that human decisions and decision making is based and rooted in vision which is ultimately emotional has far-reaching consequences. It is the difference between spending individual, team, and organizational budgets and resources in convincing and persuading customers instead of discovering the vision behind the status quo and the vision required to change the status quo. Replacing the vision of existing pain/problems with the vision of a solution to that pain/those problems is what either results in the sale or doesn’t result in one. The inability to work with vision lies at the heart of needless frustration and wasted efforts. It is of supreme importance in sales that I will devote the next piece to it.

Killing many birds with one stone

It becomes easy to see how the voluntary exchange of goods and services based on an agreement that is voluntarily reached is not some fancy and unreachable ideal once we

  • See every sale as being a negotiation
  • Work with a valid definition of negotiation and
  • Use a valid System of Negotiation and System of Negotiation Management
  • Influence decisions by patiently and calmly discovering the vision behind the status quo and build the replacement vision of a solution to the pain/problems associated with the status quo.

It becomes possible to sell without feeling under emotional pressure; putting team members, prospects, clients, or customers under pressure; or without opening oneself or one’s team to manipulation. It becomes possible to experience genuine teamwork. Over a period of time, it becomes possible to reverse/prevent the emotional and psychological damage that people undergo in the world of selling. With a valid System comes confidence and control. When people use it and achieve results they value, their self-confidence and self-image improves. It becomes possible to elevate performance without falling under the tyranny of numbers, results, and outcomes.

In my previous piece, I raised the issue of a perceived conflict of motives arising from the fact that a sale involves the exchange of money and the profit motive. The prospect of gain and benefit spurs a great deal of human effort, ingenuity, and innovation. “What’s in it for me” lurks, consciously or unconsciously, in most of our dealings with others, and most of our efforts, decisions, and choices. In my next piece, I will attempt to show how this can be harnessed in order to build the vision that ultimately drives decision, action, and agreement and helps individuals and teams make the sale, in a repeatable manner.


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When the lack (or presence) of a valid System of Negotiation comes full circle (Part 3)

2) The exchange of money, and the real/perceived conflict of motives.

Any person who writes about being careful about the impact of money in influencing our decisions runs the risk of sounding “preachy”. However, after each scandal, we collectively wring out hands and enact legislation to make the unrestrained pursuit of profit difficult. Humanity seems to have a “love-hate relationship” with money. Often, in situations that are invisible and not deemed “newsworthy”, we don’t see that the forces that money, combined with the profit motive, unleashes, and that in turn, drives certain behaviors, decisions, actions and activities.

Aside from sales, money exchanges hands, voluntarily, in many other settings: gifts, donations, inheriting/bequeathing money and economic assets, and getting paid for one’s work are just some examples. Though all these can and do involve effective decision making and sometimes involve negotiation, these are not nearly as troublesome as the voluntary exchange of goods and services for money, driven by the motive for profit. The exchange of money/economic value and the profit motive cannot be removed from a sale. It wouldn’t be a sale if these were removed. Both are part of our perception and understanding of sales and selling.

Impact on decisions and decision making

Money’s impact on decisions and decision making is deep and pervasive. The impact is either distorting or beneficial. This means it can either blind us to/distort reality or it can help us perceive, interpret and respond to reality better. Examples of the former include the decisions made by entrepreneurs to start certain businesses; decisions regarding job offers; decisions regarding what we spend our time and energy budgets on; decisions around “what” and “how” we respond to the challenges and needs of those around us.

The blinding and distorting impact of money is well known and I am not going to dwell on it, here. The only point I make is that when a particular person’s decision making is compromised by money, it can become impossible to build vision. A seller driven by money – by “making the sale” – is certainly not interested in discovering the nature of a potential buyer’s pain and how best to relieve it. Here we come to the fact that the impact of money on decisions and decision making often contributes, directly or indirectly, to the challenges faced in sales.

Money is also essential for survival and the ability to live a dignified life. The emotional and psychological distress of not being able to earn what is necessary to meet one’s needs and responsibilities is extremely frustrating and debilitating. As if all this were not enough, people are conditioned to believe that more for you means less for me. The next step is to believe that one person’s success is often at the expense of another’s.

Money and the profit motive “complicate” the selling interaction

Given the role and importance of money and undeniable presence of the profit motive in sales, it is important for us to understand the impact that money has on behaviors, decisions, actions, and activities during a sale. “Buyer’s remorse” is just one example. This impact is spread across buyers and sellers. When money becomes the only or most important criteria for decision making, our decision making and judgment becomes severely compromised. Many people believe that if they pay a cent more than the basic minimum – with which to get what a seller offer them – they have “lost” and the seller has “won”. The converse is also true. A large number of negotiations end up being a song and dance over “price”. That’s when it doesn’t end up as a fight. In the preceding piece, I wrote about compromise. The mindset of compromise is most often demonstrated and demanded in terms defined by the price (denominated in money or other suitable measures of economic value) that is charged and paid, for a particular sale.

The entire sales training industry has as its raison d’être, the challenges encountered in facilitating transactions involving money. The perpetual tug of war about price, the fear of being taken advantage of, the role money plays in our self-image, and the conflicting motives driving buyers and sellers can often, though not always, be traced to the impact of money on skewing sound judgment and effective decision making.

Conflicting motives and the “cloud of suspicion”

When a sales person passionately asks you and I to try something out, or buy it, how often have reacted instinctively against it? How often has this happened after we felt we had been suckered? When confronted with similar situations, how suspicious does it make us about the other person’s true motivations? Few things destroy a person’s credibility than tainted or conflicted motives, or a suspicion over a person’s true motives. Even the law frowns on “conflicts of interests”. This puts sales people in a bind because they (or their organizations) will make money on each sale.

With the passage of time, we all accumulate baggage. Buyers become increasingly suspicious of sellers and vice versa. Sellers who are “sale-driven” will be unable to hide it successfully. A person who is “sale-driven” will react – in speech or behavior – the moment the sale appears to be slipping away.

The basic challenge and difficulty arises from the perceived opposed motives of buyer and seller. A seller has an incentive to sell for the highest price and a seller to buy for the lowest. This introduces the “bargaining tension” and provides the impetus for manipulation and deception. It makes both parties unwilling to reveal the realities of their respective worlds that is essential for effective decision making. It makes them suspicious of each other, and causes emotional reactions to predominate during the entire process, and prevent both parties from seeing the realities in each other’s world, and sometimes,

All of these can be solved. Money and the profit motive need not compromise effective decision making. They also do not have to cause/create an unresolvable conflict of motives. But the existence of these in the world of selling must be acknowledged. Then, the way around it appears that much more effective and powerful. The frank acknowledgement of the deep, powerful, seen and unseen forces that the presence of money and the profit motive causes or amplifies, is a necessary first step in understanding what drives a lot of what happens (and doesn’t happen) during a sale.


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Know where to go with Negotiator-Pro

I purchased Negotiator-Pro a few weeks ago, the new Camp system App over at . If you have read any of my blog posts, you know what I’ve said about the power and effectiveness of the Camp Negotiation Management System. But any system has to be more than just powerful and effective. It must also have feasibility. Feasibility, according to the dictionary, is the state of being easily or conveniently done.

Negotiator-Pro puts the Camp Negotiation Management System at your fingertips, literally. I have found it tough to use the Camp system in certain home situations. For example, in my family, there has been an issue involving conflict with my older kids from my first marriage and their stepmother, my wife, and doing chores and following some simple guidelines that make our life easier. It has gotten pretty heated, and I haven’t been able to help. I get the brunt of everyone’s frustration with each other, because they are hesitant to be direct with each other, but have no problem giving me a piece of their mind.

So even though I am a therapist, and an advanced student of the Camp system, when I am at home and the heat is on, I find it difficult to hunker down and begin implementing the Camp system. What stopped me? I think the answer has to do with my emotions. When they run high, I lose mental control. I don’t know where to focus. Of course I should pick up a notebook and some Camp notes and start to formulate my mission and purpose and the rest of a checklist, but that takes several steps and feels very complicated when I am in the heat of a situation. Even if I do manage to get myself immersed in the system, it is hard to keep everything organized and accessible.

Negotiator-Pro solves these problems. It works when you don’t think you have even two brain cells to rub together. It lays out exactly what you need to do, and you can pick up where you leave off if life pulls you away. It keeps your negotiation preparation organized and is easy to access to make quick or lengthy amendments depending on your situation. If I just open up a new project on Negotiator-Pro, and identify my adversaries, I am on my way. Then I jot down some features and benefits to get my mission and purpose started, I am even further on my way. If I get confused at all, I have the video tutorials right at my fingertips for every section of the negotiation preparation. My emotions calm quickly with these simply laid out steps, and my vision becomes clearer. Having a mission and purpose gives me tremendous advantage by itself, even if I don’t have time to complete the checklist. Interestingly though, getting started motivates me to keep going forward and completing my preparation for the negotiation. It doesn’t feel like a complicated burden anymore. I want to prepare for more negotiations and make more progress.

As for what happened with my family situation, my wife offered to take a step that I never dreamed she would to try to improve the situation. The negotiation itself just got her talking and really looking at the pain and real problems. She began to ‘need’ to solve it the more she talked. She came up with a solution that wasn’t even on my radar yet. Negotiator-Pro got me out of my worrying, needy and emotional mind and into a state of ‘want’ that started the moment I began to use Negotiator-Pro. When we spoke, I was calm and prepared with vision building questions that kept our conversation moving where previously we had gotten stuck.

I think that is something you have to see for yourself – how Negotiator-Pro puts you in a calmer state of ‘want’ even as you look at taking on situations that tend to drive you into high stress and neediness. My particular family situation is a good case in point, it has lingered for years. I got a whole new handle on my situation because I got a whole new handle on myself. It is still a work on progress, but if we hit a snag now I know exactly where I will go – Negotiator-Pro.

Please share your thoughts.

William Chase

When the lack (or presence) of a valid System of Negotiation comes full circle (Part 2)

7 things to keep in mind when thinking about sales

1) A sale often occurs between people who up to that point were strangers to each other

One of the dogmas in the world of sales is that it occurs (or according to some versions, it occurs best) within the context of a relationship. The emphasis on win-win, trust, emotional intelligence, and lots more is directly derived from this perspective. The narrative built up is that the sale will progress smoothly if only we focus on building great relationships where both parties emerge winners.

This is well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided. This perspective has wrecked innumerable careers and organizations. Sales gurus (and a large number of negotiation gurus) wax eloquently about it in books, blogs, workshops, and pieces for publications that are regarded and regard themselves as authoritative. The attempt to challenge that dogma is, for some, definitive proof that we at CNI represent and advocate the very essence of human excess and egocentricity.

Few things are as jarring to relationship-centric people as the position taken, taught, and coached by Jim Camp:

(i) There’s no relationship without shared risk.

(ii) Relationships take time – sometimes years that may even stretch into decades – to develop and mature.

(iii) You do not require or need trust to make the sale.

A number of negotiation authorities are willing to concede on the last point, but the first two, along with Jim’s teachings about using “no” are particularly jarring to some individuals.

These perspectives about relationships and all that is associated with them have extremely complicated roots. I would like to mention three which to my mind are essential.

(i) An inability to distinguish between human relationships and human interactions. Over the course of a career in sales, the vast majority of sales that a person makes will be within the context of an interaction and not a relationship. Seen from this perspective, numerous differences exist between relationships and interactions.

(ii) Relationships and interactions always involve decisions and decision making. Being able to accurately perceive, interpret, and understand the interior and exterior structure and dynamics (in time and over time) of decision making helps us understand relationships and interactions better. From this perspective, numerous similarities exist between both.

(iii) Both relationships and interactions involve dealings between and among people. Given that we all have experience of the hard edges surrounding the dealings people have with each other, a bias for relationship appears to be a way of softening those edges. An unseen consequence of this is that it blinds people to developing an accurate perception and understanding of what effectiveness is and involves – in both relationships and interactions. By learning what such effectiveness involves, we are better able to see and understand what it is not and what it does not involve.

Interactions and relationships

An interaction is just that. It is often, though not always, voluntary. It is possible to interact, regularly, with a person or a group of people without having a relationship with them. Some tenants have lived in the same house for years without ever having a “relationship” with their landlords and vice versa. A large number of freelancers work and get paid without ever knowing who they are really working for. Cold calling is called cold calling precisely because the person making the call does not (a) know the person he/she will be speaking with (b) does not know if that person is willing and able to buy what he/she is selling. Of course in a large number of calls, both (a) and (b) are true.

When young sales professionals tout their new found wisdom about relationships, I inevitably ask them questions such as

  • When, if ever, have you had lunch or had a drink with the person you are trying to sell to/have already sold to with no desire to talk business?
  • If you or your boss miss your quota this month, which of you will make up for the loss in pay suffered by the other – on the basis of a “relationship” between the two of you?

With more experienced ones, I ask them one question:

  • How many times have you and your oldest clients shared each other’s profits and losses? Do you do that with your own suppliers?
  • How many times have you and they shared the time, effort, and money required to bring a new product out into the market, and make it succeed? How often have you assisted your own suppliers’ efforts in this regard?
  • If you were facing bankruptcy, how many would pitch in to rescue you? Would you pitch in to rescue your own suppliers?

The path to oblivion

Jim Camp rightly points out that society is strapped and trapped in a compromise mindset. Read many of the standard books on negotiation, sales, or conflict resolution and you will realize that hardly anyone writes or accepts that compromise causes rather than resolves conflicts. When the invitation to compromise is rejected, the person who rejects it can be labeled with all sorts of colorful names. The path to oblivion could be given another name: compromise.

Many people believe that compromise is expected in sales. They therefore puff up their prices and then discount them – without realizing that this destroys their credibility. Buyers who are focused on price and price alone don’t realize that by seeking the lowest cost product/service/solution, they could put their organizations in serious trouble further down the line. When they start with a low figure and move upwards, it again sets up doubts in the minds of the seller as to exactly how much they can go. This song and dance around relationship and compromise (in price) makes the sale more difficult, not less. And it destroys the trust that people falsely tout as being so important in sales.

The invitation to compromise is always an invitation to give up something that you value. This is often not done brazenly. That would be too hard edge. It’s often done with either vague promises of the future delivered with pseudo-friendliness, or by the popular tactic of trading so much of “this” for so much of “that”. This doesn’t do away with the need for compromise because ultimately, such a trade might not exist. It also makes decision making harder as people now have to evaluate various tradeoffs and the implications of each one. In complex decision making environments, this can be demand enormous amounts to time, effort, and money. In some situations, it can even be impossible. It assumes that people can rank issues that pertain to this negotiation clearly, and decide which – within the negotiation and beyond – is more important than the other.

The invitation to compromise is bad enough. The eagerness to compromise – in sales as much as in everything else – is the act of sowing the seeds of tomorrow’s problems. The greater evils of deception, manipulation, and even bullying find fertile ground in that eagerness and willingness. When trust and relationship are used against you and used to make you compromise, and to compromise “once more”, “one last time”, and “one last and final time”, what is happening? Where’s the “win-win”?

“Who should I compromise with?”; “In which order?” and “When should I stop compromising?” are questions that no self-respecting sales guru or negotiation guru or conflict resolution expert will ever write on. So, they’ll write about the stuff that appears and sounds right in a world where we are all enjoined to “go along to get along”. At the end of the day, it’s an unpleasant but harsh truth to realize that what is happening is a world in which sales, negotiations and conflict is an enthronement and manipulation of feeling and feelings. Focusing on relationship may make us feel good in the moment. The one who benefits from compromise and “win-winning” (believe me that one party “won” and the other party “lost”!) will feel good now, and each time that the game is played. But it will end up destroying careers, organizations, and in the process, the lives of individuals and families. To me, the truth of the saying “The path to hell is paved with good intentions” is clearly illustrated by this emphasis on relationship and all that is associated with it. Even in the most intimate relationships, people let each other down. In the closest and most intimate of relationships, one witnesses deception, manipulation, abuse, bullying, and more. Even in those relationships where there is no desire or intention to manipulate, deceive, or bully, people become forgetful, overwhelmed by other pressing priorities, get distracted, become irritable, and resist being told what to do. How then can it be a mark of a lack of realism and sound judgment to ask and truthfully answer the question “How possible/necessary is it to trust strangers?

I started this series quoting an article that appeared in a Harvard Business Review blog. I also mentioned some of the other influences that spurred me to write it. Who should Rick and Jim, the two central characters in the HBR blog piece compromise with? Who should the young sales professionals I interacted with, compromise with? When your boss is breathing down your neck to hit your quota, and your customer is pressuring you to cut prices (which of course cuts away your margins), where does that leave you? Do those who teach “relationship”, “win-win” and “trust” know how easy it is to use these to manipulate others? Do they provide them with any real tools to identify and counteract such manipulation? When they teach people to build relationships and the other party wants you to cut your prices in order to build relationships, what options to do you have if you still wish to make the sale without cutting prices and without coming across as intransigent or hard-headed? Recently, I started reading a book (on negotiation) that introduces the concept of “Strong Win-Win”.

“This isn’t about relationship. It’s about dollars”

When somebody states that calmly and in a friendly way, what do you do? If you don’t know what to do, or you stumble or stammer through it, or you concede and compromise, you have just demonstrated why you should choose a career other than sales. If your decisions and decision making is not solid, and you are not wholly committed to a valid M&P and consequently wholly detached from “this sale”, you will be taken for a ride again and again. A person who tells you it’s about dollars has shown you that he or she is driven by invalid goals. When you are attached to a particular sale – when you “need” that sale – so are you.

What of the other variation of “Let’s cut to the chase. What’s your best price?” What do you do when your “best price” becomes a bludgeon with which to beat your competition and their “best price” is then used to beat you up with? In the free market and in the absence of monopolies, must you not take it for granted that your buyer is talking to other sellers? Don’t you, as a seller, talk to other buyers? Doesn’t your organization do so when dealing with suppliers? (Mind you, by “talking to”, I mean “negotiating with”.) If this playing of people off each other catches you flatfooted, that’s a very bad sign. Something is wrong with your product, your prospecting, your ability to influence decisions, or all of these.

I wholeheartedly believe and advocate world class, courteous, customized, and even winsome and endearing service. Like every other person, I prefer to be treated with courtesy, respect, and warmth. I try to do that with all those I interact with, always aware that I might fail to do so, and that I actually do fail to do so. When I do so, it is not because I intend to build a relationship. I do it because it is the right and proper thing to do. As kids, we were all taught to say “please”, “thank you”, and “I’m sorry”. When I fail, I realize I failed to do the right and proper thing. That it oils the wheels of both relationships and interactions is part of the reality of human existence. When we subordinate it to the purpose of making a sale, the door to all kinds of manipulation (from both sides) opens up. Does asking for what we deserve and refusing to compromise on it make us egocentric and lacking in empathy? Some people have sadly been conditioned to think so. Some condition others to think so.

The complications arising from “building relationships” becomes even clearer when we turn our attention to other things that are peculiar about this human activity called selling. In my next post, I will turn my attention to one distinguishing factor: a sale always economic exchange. Typically this takes the form of an exchange of money whereby one person pays and the other person gets paid.


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When the lack (or presence) of a valid System of Negotiation comes full circle (Part 1)

Let me start this series by describing the chain of events that led me to write it. Most of the specific events happened over the past 72 hours. Of course the foundation and deepest influence of everything is what I have learnt, and now coach, at CNI.

1) The first influence was a piece blog piece by a person whose work I read closely, and who I admire deeply – Dr. Mark Goulston. The piece I am referring to is titled “How to give a meaningful apology” which appeared in the blog he writes for the Harvard Business Review. Everything Dr. Goulston writes provokes me to engage him seriously. My interactions with him online, and the thoughts and ideas he shares on linkedIn have led me to conclude that he is a gentleman with a heart of gold, who is driven by a valid M&P, and is committed to building the kind of world that all of us prefer to live in. (I warmly recommend all his books. The one he refers to in that piece – Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone – is the best book I have read on improving one’s ability to listen better.)

The piece alludes to but does not focus on some issues – the destructive impact of invalid goals and invalid M&Ps along with the enthronement of numbers, outcomes, and results – that I have repeatedly raised in numerous previous pieces. This is understandable because the thrust of his piece is different. In this series, I will attempt to show the unseen roots of the events he describes, and a way to tackle the problems at the roots. We will all be better, more effective, and more authentically human if we learn to truly give a meaningful apology when you and I lose it. But that alone will not prevent the blow ups he describes from happening. The roots lie much deeper. Exposing those roots will not prevent blow ups. But they will make them far less frequent.

2) The second influence was a couple of email exchanges with a young man who recently discovered the work we do at CNI. He has just started learning the Camp System of Negotiation. This is part of what he wrote me:

I work for a company that has a mission and vision that is internally focused i.e. to be a billion dollar company by 2018 and to have a 4% return on sales. Now that I am making an internal shift through CNI should I be looking for another place to hang my hat soon? I feel there may be a clash of belief and procedures the more I move forward with the Camp System.

In another mail, he wrote

Your writings have an impact of deep wisdom. Maybe CNI is a program of wisdom? Thank you for helping me with clarity early in my studies.

Yes I will set aside the time to invest in a life M and P to guide these big decisions and I will keep in mind the goal of desiring to be effective and respected.

3) The third influence is a conversation I had with a young friend just started working selling insurance. After 2 weeks of training, he was sent out into the field. Shortly afterwards, he came to meet me. During our conversation, he described

  • The dysfunctional competition that he perceives between his colleagues, and between his branch and other branches.
  • How the industry was battling for credibility and the uphill battle he and others face as a result of the baggage that has arisen as a result of the ways in which insurance agents have conned customers in the past.
  • The prevailing attitude in his firm being that the only thing that really matters are his results. As long as his results come rolling in, he’ll be left pretty much alone.
  • How a substantial percentage of his pay is linked directly to the results he produces. He will not get paid in full if he doesn’t produce what is expected of him. (This, of course is standard practice in sales, across industries.)

This person is just setting out in the world of sales. He has been taught a few tricks and techniques, but neither he nor his organization are aware of the existence or importance of a valid System of Negotiation to succeed in sales. That being the case, it is not surprising that they do not see the link between mastery of such a System and consistent superior performance. The approach being used is one I described some time back in a piece I titled “Sales Quotas and the Great Jackass Theory of Human Motivation”. I also wrote extensively about this when I wrote about “Quota Land” in my Negotiation and Cold Calling series.

4) The fourth and final incident that triggered this piece was a video that a fellow training professional sent me, yesterday. When she sent it, she included a brief comment: “Thought of you when I saw this.” The video is a presentation made by the celebrated author, Daniel Pink and is titled “The Surprising Truth About Moving Others”. There’s a lot in there that is worth listening to. However, I am convinced that Mr. Pink makes a very good (but incomplete) diagnosis and does not offer a very effective prescription.

All these triggers relate, directly or indirectly to sales. Dr. Goulston’s piece (which involves a Senior VP, a sales manager and the team the former leads and the latter belongs to), the emails I received from the young professional who has just set out on the road to mastering the Camp System of Negotiation, my interaction with the young professional selling insurance, and watching Daniel Pink’s presentation combine to reveal what goes on in millions of organizations across the globe.

One last trigger

Despite the fact that the voluntary exchange of goods and services is an essential feature of human existence and contributes to human prosperity, some people have a lot of baggage with sales. They have had too many unpleasant encounters with pushy, manipulative, or deceptive sales professionals. The young insurance agent brought that to the fore when he mentioned the struggle he and his colleagues face in even getting people to listen to what they have to say.

To me, all these reveal that there’s something amiss in the world of selling. What lies at the root of this, the consequences of this, and how to fix it is the basic thrust of this series.

Sales is a challenging profession

The key words in the sub-title above are the adjective “challenging” and the noun “profession”. It is challenging and those who are unwilling to rise up to the challenge ought never enter it. It is precisely because it is a profession where mastery takes substantial effort that the stripes earned in sales are treasured – and rightly so. Those who enter it and are unwilling to rise to the challenge will eventually leave it. However, for far too many people, it is challenging for the wrong reasons. I will explain this, in detail, further down.

Denying that selling is a profession that takes as much effort, learning, and perfect practice to master as does any other profession reveals ignorance, prejudice, or perhaps, both. Part of this ignorance and prejudice is on display when the gung-ho extroverted sales person who makes things happen is contrasted with the sweet and quiet person who builds relationships and is willing to compromise to ensure that everybody walks away a winner. In relation to true effectiveness, both caricatures are just that – caricatures. Of course the stereotype that is propagated – even within the profession – is that the successful sales person is an extroverted (and sometimes hard charging) person who is willing to do what it takes to sign the deal. (In the video mentioned above, Daniel Pink states that empirical evidence shows that such gung-ho go getters are not more likely to succeed in sales than their introverted/quiet counterparts.) To my mind, this stereotype is what allows all kinds of charlatans to enter and thrive in sales – once they discover the way to game the system. This cannot last indefinitely, but for the period it does last, they end up causing grave damage.

The consequences of the pressures inherent in this profession make the dark side of sales appear really dark. Too many people in the profession undergo emotional and psychological abuse, deformation, conditioning, and scarring. I have met hundreds of them and I’m sure you have too. After a significant time spent selling, some sales people seem to acquire a persona and personality that is often completely at variance with their true selves. This in itself is tremendously damaging because a person cannot live in a state of conflict with himself or herself for the greater part of the work week and still be happy and fulfilled.

Another source of damage arises from the fact that selling is often an arena where power and leverage is sought and used – in order to “make the sale happen”. The search for, and use of power often makes it an emotionally charged interaction. The using of power is intimately connected with seeking to control others – to get them to make decisions they don’t want to take, or don’t feel emotionally safe and comfortable taking. The dynamic of power of course varies across the spectrum of those involved in the sale: buyers, sellers, middle men, competitors who are trying to upstage any of the previous three, regulatory authorities who have vested interests, or those who engage in rent-seeking behavior and can thereby prevent or derail the sale. The emotional and psychological pressures of dealing with all these can be very great.

Yet another deep challenge that sales offers is that of measuring, elevating, and rewarding effectiveness in a way that is not psychologically and emotionally deforming. Since results in sales can be easily tracked and measured (absolute values, percentages, ratios and more can be easily computed), those involved in sales can and often do develop an ineffective and destructive mindset that enthrones numbers, outcomes, and results. The manner in which performance is tracked and rewarded creates unhealthy, dysfunctional, and toxic competition. The pressures that people in it face daily to produce those “easily tracked and measured results” – is often strong enough to cause many otherwise good and decent people to engage in manipulation and deception – all in an effort to “close the sale”/“sign the deal”. Others who don’t like this cold-blooded approach swing to the opposite end and build relationships, go for win-win, and open themselves to all kinds of manipulation. They are often manipulated, repeatedly. When they become aware of it, they become embittered and psychological and emotional damage results, yet again.

There are dozens of other ways in which sales people are either exposed to emotional pressures and damage of all kinds, or expose themselves to such pressures and damage. The pressures arise from within and outside the team. To perceive one’s own team members as rivals defies the basic premise of teamwork. An organization that lumps people together so that it becomes easier to manage, track, or reward their performance, or one that seeks to grow while playing off one team member against another (or one branch, business unit, or operating geography against another) is essentially clueless about what teamwork is and what it is not.

Challenging dominant paradigms

When challenging conventional wisdom, it is important to keep in mind the existence of the backfire effect. This cognitive bias is one that all of us can easily fall into without realizing. An attempt to show a better, more effective, or more accurate way of perceiving reality can be deeply threatening to the narrative and the version people have built for themselves. Reality ends up as our nemesis only when we work at variance with it. When we work in conformity with it, it becomes our ally.

Too many sales professionals consider the damaging emotional and psychological effects to be “normal”. What this means is that they don’t even consider these effects as “damaging” or “abnormal”. They consider it to be part and parcel of sales, and the price that must be paid to excel in it. Sometimes, I even get the feeling that the implicit reasoning is “If you can’t bear the heat, get out of the kitchen”.

Many sales professionals are very defensive about the aspects of sales that I have raised in the preceding sub-section. This is not surprising. Many of my colleagues in my field of training and coaching become defensive when the issue of the effectiveness of training and coaching is raised. I know that those in the HR profession similarly become defensive when HR is called to provide justification for the budgets they demand/require or the initiatives they champion. Likewise, those in the legal profession become defensive when the issue of the excesses of lawyers is brought up; as do many doctors when the issue of medical malpractice comes up. Even teachers who make tremendous amounts of sacrifice in teaching young children become defensive when parents express concern about their teaching methods and/or how to improve learning in the classroom. Only a small minority of professionals in every field are willing to make the distinction between acknowledging things that are going wrong in that profession, being open and willing to take a hard look at the root causes and systemic impacts of what is going wrong, and not feel that this is a smear on the basic goodness and integrity of the people who are engaged in that profession. The backfire effect is universal.


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Skin in the game (and a bit more) – The Camp System, decisions, and budgets (Conclusion)

March 12, 2013 · Posted in Camp System, Decision Making, Negotiation · Comment 

Spending the right budget in the right way

A sure sign of effectiveness is the ability to have a bias towards focusing our efforts only on what is under one’s control; influencing what can be influenced; and leaving what cannot be influenced or controlled well and truly alone. The inability to do this is one of the biggest “budget-wasters” of individuals and groups.

If something is not under one’s control, spending a budget trying to control is as effective as trying to control gravity, the weather, or another person. In itself, this consequence of wasting one’s is bad enough. But it goes deeper. Trying to control what cannot be controlled also prevents one from focusing on what he or she ought to focus on. No one is endowed with unlimited focus just as no one is endowed with an unlimited budget.

The greater the budget we are spending, the lesser the budget that is available for other things

Our budgets are not fixed, unchanging, and static. Growth is evidence that this is not so. However, the existence of limits and constraints also shows that no one has unlimited budgets. At a particular point in time, our budgets might well be fixed – there’s only so much to go around. We only have so many hours each day and week, so much energy available on a particular day, so much financial resources at a particular moment in time, and so much emotional investment that we can bring to bear on a particular activity or task.

Over the course of my life, I have built many castles in the air and wasted enormous budgets in pursuit of what I thought – at the time – was both important and worthwhile. After learning what I have learnt at CNI, I have arrived at the firm conviction that wasting budgets is very often a sign of a lack of clarity and focus, and the absence of those “tracks” for effective decision making that I referred to in the previous post of this series. This happens for many reasons. I will narrow my considerations to a few that I think are particular important:

1) Lack of clarity, focus, and “tracks” for effective decision making

Biting off more than we can chew or spreading ourselves too thin on every good thing that we or others think as good and important (for you, them, or both you and them) is a good way of winding up frustrated, burnt out, and exhausted. I am certain that my experience of building castles in the air is not unique. And yet, I don’t know a single person who sets out to deliberately waste his or her time, energy, money, and emotion budgets. The fact that people build castles in the air does not mean that they do so, deliberately. It also means that one can be genuinely and sincerely committed to some end and still end up wasting one’s budget.

If we don’t see, and don’t focus on what is important, and are aware of when our decisions leave those tracks that keep them effective, unified, and aligned, we will waste and squander our budgets.

2) Often, the elements of a budget can be quantified only vaguely

Many people ask me “How long does it take to complete the CNI certification?” My answer is always “It depends on many things and primarily, you.” No two people have the same personal and professional circumstances; no two people have the same degree of willingness to fail and keep trying until they succeed in mastering concepts, principles, rules etc. or the willingness to apply these in actual negotiations; no two people have the same power of recall; and no one – whatever their power of recall or degree of willingness – has control over the future. What this means is that the time it takes to finish the certification can vary, significantly. I can provide an approximate answer, but I don’t – because numbers often produce the anchoring effect  and/or intellectual objections instead of building vision – which actually drives decisions. The same thing applies to questions such as “How long does it take to write a blog post?”; “How long does it take to negotiate an agreement?”; “How long does it take to complete an organizational learning effort?” or “How long does it take to complete a project?”  to mention just a few.

Some questions just don’t have an answer that can be quantified. This fact has to be reconciled to the one I raised earlier – that no person or group has unlimited budgets. To reconcile the inherent tension between these; and to help you see better what you are spending your budget on, and what you ought to spend your budget on, I present some questions for your careful consideration.

Some clarity-inducing questions

  • Do my individual (and our collective) decisions run on the tracks of a valid M&P? (The effort to build one – through multiple and sometimes seemingly endless revisions – does a phenomenal job in helping us see better and more clearly.)
  • Does our strategy and strategic objectives flow from, and serve a valid M&P?
  • Does our strategy help us see clearly the problems and challenges we are up against, and show a clear way to achieve our long term aim(s)?
  • Are my daily and weekly priorities guided by a valid M&P that is aligned to and derived from the overall valid M&P?
  • How do my efforts contribute to executing our strategy, achieving strategic objectives, and moving my organization’s valid M&P?
  • Is the substrate of all my efforts only things that are under my control?
  • Do I have the ability to see the negotiations that my valid M&P, strategy, and strategic objectives call for, and do I have a systematic means to influence the decisions of others – when those decisions help/hinder my efforts?

(At a later point, I will refer to the fact that the budgets of individual team members are intimately linked to the budgets of the team as a whole and of each of the other team members. It is therefore useful to ask these same questions at a team level. In certain cases, it is not simply useful. It is actually essential.)

Every effort you make (or waste) is mediated through your activities and behaviors

This appears obvious and yet it often slips past our awareness. What you and I do (our activities) and how we do it (our behaviors) are the only way we can advance our M&P, and achieve good, important, and worthwhile things. It is also who we build castles in the air and chase shadows. That’s why I started this series by stating: “If you are alive, you don’t get to decide whether or not you will spend a budget each day, week, month, and year of your life.

We spend, waste, or grow our budgets through our activities and behaviors. Of course our decisions act as the unseen mover of our activities and behaviors. Despite the fact that our activities and behaviors are under our control – we can stop and start an activity at will and we can develop replace ineffective behavioral habits with effective ones – these activities and behaviors are necessarily (or ought to necessarily be) linked to valid objectives and plans. If they are not, we will build, spend, and waste our budgets. Moreover, our budgets will be what can best be described as a “reactive” budget.  This is primarily because a budget cannot, by itself, provide guidance with regards what it ought to be spent on, or how much of it ought to be spent on what. We can only derive its meaning in relation to plans, objectives, priorities, and above all, a valid M&P. Activities and behaviors that are not protected and guided by a valid M&P are necessarily going to end up being reactive and spending a “reactive” budget.

What this boils down to is that humans can have only 2 kinds of budgets:

1) A valid M&P driven budget.

2) An invalid M&P and “reactive” budget.

Either my budget – even when I am unable to quantify it precisely – is at the service of a valid M&P (and by extension of objectives, plans, and priorities) or it is at the service of an invalid M&P/invalid goal. Those who chase numbers or results have often made this choice – often without being explicitly aware of it.

The effort to manage our budgets requires the ability to learn and grow.

I have learnt a few lessons about managing budgets. The first – as implied by the preceding subtitle – is that there is no fixed formula (or computer program) into which you and I can plug figures and which will spit out a perfectly calculated time, energy, money, and emotional budget suited to our particular circumstances, situations, or personal/family/team/organizational valid M&P. Budgets will therefore always have an element of trial and error within them. I have also learnt that

  • A “yes” to certain decisions implies saying “no” to others. Distinguishing both is an act of judgment that we can only become progressively better at.
  • A valid M&P, valid plans, and valid objectives are excellent at simplifying our lives and giving our efforts cohesion and discipline.
  • Overinvesting any part of our budgets (especially our emotional budget) makes us lose focus. It also makes it harder to perceive and interpret reality accurately and respond to it appropriately.
  • Some lessons are best learnt by failure and experience. It is the experience of overinvesting a budget in the past that helps alert us to the fact that we may be overinvesting in the present. Failure and experience also helps us (i) track our budgets and (ii) grow our budgets.
  • Growing our budgets often requires growing our abilities, knowledge, skills, and team/organizational capabilities. These then provide us the means to engage in activities and employ our behaviors in a way that gives a bigger bang for our buck. Negotiation mastery is one way you can do this.

Managing team budgets

Everything I have written in this series applies to those who lead teams as much as it does to those who make up a team. The awareness of the 4 components of a budget; existence of “tracks” on which decisions are made; existence and importance of a valid M&P; importance of the 6 characteristics of peak performers; and the pain and effort of learning and growth apply to each individual on a team as well as to the team as a whole.

If you are responsible for the results produced by a team, assisting your subordinates manage their budgets is one of your most important duties. Of course you can choose to ignore this and get caught up in the thick of thin things, daily and weekly. Your team members will then take a cue from you and get caught up in similar pursuits. Those who know better will quit at the first opportunity.

When individual objectives and priorities are aligned to team objectives and priorities, and when the decisions, activities, and behaviors of team members complement each other’s own, the team becomes that much more cohesive and disciplined. Of course, the valid M&P that unites the team, strategic objectives, and daily and weekly priorities all coalesce to form reference points for effective decision making with regards tracking, spending, and growing budgets. Teams that focus on trying to control results (or control what is not and will never be under their control) will necessarily end up wasting and squandering their budgets. They will create and remain trapped in vicious cycles of ineffective decision making – and all that this implies.

Managers often spend their time, energy, and emotion budgets fighting fires. The sources and spread of some of those fires may not be under their control. Every effective manager knows that. However, what is tragic and needless is the fact that many fires rage as a result of the activities and behaviors of fellow team members. Every effective manager knows this and every ineffective one doesn’t even see it, much less accept it. The budgets of members of a team are intertwined. It is often impossible to sort out the exact budget of each individual on a team. Sure everyone has a couple of hours each day. But this is just as equally available to effective teams as it is to ineffective/dysfunctional ones. As individuals and groups, we must have skin in the game. But we must be careful that our budgets don’t bleed away as a result of a thousand and one wounds to that skin – received from our encounters with reality.


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Negotiating with those who have harmed, hurt, or humiliated you

March 11, 2013 · Posted in Conflict Resolution, Negotiation, Reality, Vision · Comment 

Humankind has always been a hurting race. We are a race in which individuals and groups hurt and get hurt by others. Sometimes, we are unaware that we are hurting others, and sometimes we are quite aware that we are doing so. Sometimes we are culpable of the hurt we cause, and sometimes, we are not. In this regards, I have come across two sayings which capture the situation very expressively: “Hurt people hurt people” and “We often do unto others what was done unto us”.

When one party hurts another, a vicious cycle may be born which then flows across time, space, and generations. This might involve an individual family or an entire population. To an outsider who is not personally (and emotionally) involved, it can easily appear as though the parties to the conflict are trapped in an “emotional bubble” that defies reason, logic, clear thinking, or effective decision.

In such a world, merely existing side by side with a certain person or group can be a deeply emotionally trying process. Interacting is much harder. Negotiating is almost impossible.

It is hard to negotiate when I don’t even see the other as being fully human. I am of the opinion (and I may well be wrong in this) that nothing tests a person or group’s willingness to negotiate, or their mastery of negotiation as much as negotiating with those who have harmed, hurt, or humiliated them or those they know or love. These negotiations reveal our deepest own insecurities, vulnerabilities, and antipathies. Often, each side is fully – logically and rationally – convinced they are right and the other is wrong. They perceive their respective actions and behaviors as being benign and innocent and perceive the other’s as being filled with malice and dripping with guilt. Far too often, right and wrong don’t even figure too much. The focus and effort to hurt the other takes over and overwhelms every other consideration.

Hurt people who hurt others can manifest in the most diverse of ways: war, genocide, family feuds, demagoguery, gossip, organizational politics, mob justice and mob violence, emotional (or verbal, physical, or psychological) abuse, sibling rivalry, love triangles, close relationships that disintegrate into acrimony and blame, marriages that end up in court, class warfare and class struggle, and more. To all this, when we add the consideration that we humans are capable and willing to pervert every good and noble human reality into a means and cause for strife, division, and dissension – education, knowledge, wealth, power, fame, position, physical strength or beauty, gender, religion, age, history, access to resources, human rights, economic or military strength, ideology etc. – the picture that emerges is one that is monstrous and ugly.

How does all this arise?

I don’t know! Tracing the roots of all these are deep waters into which I dare not step. It’s easy to come up with simplistic answers of humans being bad and rotten through and through, or good who have chosen to go bad. It’s easy to trace the effects to a traumatic childhood, or to mental ill health, or to emotional damage. It’s easy to mention the impact of ideas that reduce the human person to a “thing”. We might locate a traumatic event that affected a person deeply and caused some physiological damage which spilled over to behavior. All these have their place. But none of them, singly, can capture the full complexity of the human person.

Complex questions often have complex answers. The simple answers that might be put forward are the fruit of engaging complexity, not running away from, or minimizing it. I cannot adequately understand, much less explain how some people end up as psychopaths and sociopaths; how siblings end up as sworn mortal enemies consumed by desires of revenge; why adults harm, maim, and deform children; or why people kill in the name of God. The more I study, reflect, and observe these things, the more I come to the conviction that no single explanation suffices – regardless of who proffers it.

Many wake up to, and live in, a very hostile world, daily

Innumerable people are under tremendous psychological pressure from the moment they wake up till the moment they fall into an uneasy and fitful sleep, daily. Too many lives are totally devoid of peace, serenity, or harmony. It is not surprising at all that this spills over in many ways into the lives of others. Every mob is composed of people who are venting their frustration – regardless of whether who or what they vent their frustrations on are actually responsible for such frustration. It is also not surprising that people seek and use numerous ways to compensate for this lack of joy, peace, meaning, happiness, fulfillment, or harmony. If you have a boss, peer, subordinate, client, vendor, business partner, or family member who is living such a life, you will be exposed to the effects of these raging storms. If you are a person who experiences such inner turmoil, those who live, work, and interact with you are not shielded from its effects.

The perception of a hostile world is something that all of us can easily fall prey to. Such a perception can profoundly affect your decision making and judgment, and mine. A hostile world is filled with threats. Survival becomes paramount.

Such a world is one in which

  • Power gives us a sense of worth, security, or emotional/psychological comfort
  • Our self-image gets a boost only at the expense of others
  • We must wear masks to hide our vulnerabilities, project a certain image, or hide our deficiencies or insufficiencies
  • Forgiveness is seen as a sign of weakness
  • The wounds left on us by those we love (or the wounds we leave on them) create thick and impregnable walls to develop between us and them
  • “Winning” is all that counts. If “winning” is not possible, the least acceptable is “not losing”.
  • “Adversary” means “adversary/threat/enemy/rival/opponent”
  • The concept of a “respected opponent” who remains both respected and an opponent without being seen as a threat seems to be an oxymoron
  • The best of us easily fall into the WIIFM mindset and exhibit WIIFM behaviors
  • Differences are unsettling and threatening
  • Fear of others, their motives, their intentions, their basic goodness etc. is a dominant force
  • Individuals and entire populations live trapped in and by the past – and all this means in terms of suspicion and baggage that is faithfully transmitted from one generation to the next

Time, willingness, and openness to healing and growth

When people harm us, it is normal for us to experience an emotional reaction. Such emotional reactions alert us to danger, and help us protect ourselves. It takes time to heal, for emotions to rage and then become calm, for us to grieve our losses, and then accept and embrace them, and for the memory to perceive the same reality differently. We cannot force or hasten the process.

We must never underestimate the power of habit and conditioning. We must also never use habit and conditioning as a crutch, a trap, or an excuse. It takes time to heal but it also takes personal responsibility, openness and willingness. It’s easy to get trapped in and by the past. But we must leave it, and progressively let go of it. This leaving and letting go can only occur at our own pace. It cannot happen until we actually begin to perceive and interpret it differently. When we are able to do that, our emotional reactions begin to change.

Few of us will have as dramatic a life as Nelson Mandela. I have often be fascinated by his words – which I also found quoted in this article titled “Ubuntu and Forgiveness: Keys to Living an Abundant Life”:

As I walked out the door toward my freedom I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind I would still be in prison.”

Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” makes for gripping reading and introduces us to a normal human being who underwent a transformative experience over time until he stopped seeing his oppressors as the enemy. Without compromising and without giving in, he slowly humanized himself in their eyes and came to see them as fully human, in his own. Then, he was able to see them as equals and treat them as his “respected opponents”.

What can you and I do?

In certain situations or for a certain period of time of strife and conflict, there’s not much we can do. Sometimes, the most we can do is to absorb the effects of the brokenness and dysfunction of others. Just as often, we must learn to be patient with our own brokenness and dysfunction. It takes time to stop perceiving those who have harmed, hurt, or humiliated us as “threats” to our peace, happiness, and well-being. No amount of preaching, teaching, or intellectualizing can do this for us. We can’t force or hasten the process. But we can stop impeding the process. The less we feel “threatened” by the events, circumstances, experiences, or people, the more we can engage them. It must be done gradually and compassionately. We must extend such compassion to ourselves and to others. In this way, we will be open to humanizing the other. As we see the extent of our feebleness, foibles, blindness or ignorance, we will see that the other is also not immune to such things. They may or may not accept the damage they have done to us. The more we do it, the less their behaviors and responses will matter. We will learn that our happiness cannot be held hostage to the behavior or reciprocation of others.

The necessity of compassion towards self becomes important when we see the hurt we have caused others. Often, there’s little or nothing we can say or do that will reverse or undo the hurt. Of course we must satisfy – in whatever way we can and is appropriate – the demands of justice and truth. But we will encounter the human limits that cannot be crossed on the basis of our willingness or desire to set things right.

A crucial decision: Should I negotiate or not?

Very often, we must continue living, working, or interacting with those who have hurt us, or with those we have hurt. Other times, in order to move on with life, we might have to have one last negotiation – before setting out on our respective journeys. At such moments, the question “Should I negotiate or not” becomes acute. There’s no easy answer and it is always a question of exercising sound judgment.

I of course have a professional bias towards choosing negotiation as the first, second, and third course of action. And yet, I recognize that there are some situations in which negotiation is not feasible, or even advisable. Some people must experience the pain and the cost of not negotiating in order to feel drawn to the negotiation table. Some people are so deeply conditioned by their decisions, habits, perceptions, and interpretations that building vision becomes possible only after they and their near and dear ones experience the pain they inflict on others. But these situations are few and far between.

It is also important to recognize that there are situations in which a person may feel that the decision of whether or not to negotiate is out of his/her hands. This is an illusion. The fact that others are unwilling to negotiate must not lead us to thinking that we are constrained to either negotiate or stay away from negotiation. We might choose to build their vision of pain in order to bring them to the negotiation table. But we must never believe that certain problems are of such a nature that their very nature precludes negotiation.

The problems that come between people or that are created on the basis of the behaviors, activities, and decisions of one or both of them must be identified, engaged, negotiated, and solved. In such situations, the ability to negotiate a valid 5-point agenda is indispensable.

When our emotions are raging

In many situations of (protracted) conflict, it is a lie to say or believe that one party was or is wholly responsible for what has gone wrong or is going wrong.

We must be honest with ourselves. In situations and circumstances of hurt and pain, is building a valid M&P an attempt to square a circle? Is it possible to build a valid M&P that is set in the world of those who have hurt or harmed us, and set to their benefit? I know it is not impossible. I also know that you and I will often need help to do so, and to be held accountable to such a valid M&P.

Given that we might be in a state of emotional turmoil and find it hard to commit to a valid M&P, it might help to:

1) Get support from another person who will help you, unflinchingly, to be faithful to your valid M&P.

2) Take it in small steps – one decision at a time.

3) Envision what is a threat and what is not, and distinguish between both.

4) Recognize your own contribution to the problem.

5) Negotiate baggage unflinchingly.

6) Negotiate an agenda.

7) Negotiate on the basis of a valid M&P. (More on this, below.)

We can use the help of a third party to negotiate for a bit more time – until we are able to start making effective decisions. Building a valid M&P that is set in the adversary’ world and to the adversary’s benefit, and seeing the adversary as our “respected opponent” is, perhaps, the initial hill that must be climbed. We can’t do it by gritting our teeth and forcing ourselves on the basis of will power alone.

The effort to build a valid M&P is a mark of the utmost realism. It also requires courage. Even if the negotiation involves each party going his or her separate way, a valid M&P gives us the strength, focus and resolution to make all the decisions required to do so.

The best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones

Lots of alternatives to negotiation exist. I hope you won’t be shocked if I state that killing, maiming, blackmailing, or hurting the other, are some such “options”. It goes on uninterruptedly, all around us. Other options include escalating the conflict with threats, counter-threats, ultimatums, displays of power, acts of intimidation and more. We can scream, shout, play to the gallery, or cast aspersions on their good names, or assassinate their characters. We can demonize the other. None of these requires any special skill or ability. Very ordinary people demonstrate a capacity to do all this and more. What does take skill, ability, maturity, insight, emotional calm and balance, and more is to build a valid M&P that helps us see the benefits we are bringing to the other side, during the negotiation. Thinking in terms of benefitting someone who has harmed us is something that only the truly courageous can embark upon.

Despite the words, deeds, and example of the Gandhis, Martin Luther King Jnrs, Mother Teresas, Dag Hammarskjolds, Nelson Mandelas, or John Paul IIs of this world, the state of our homes, organizations, and societies is what it is. We can celebrate their lives and feel attracted to their words, deeds, and example. But no other person can walk our own road for us, or make the decisions that we alone can make. This is why the best gift we can give ourselves and our loved ones is to master negotiation.

Negotiation mastery enables us to engage the most difficult problems that arise in human interactions and relationships. It gives us the confidence to engage those problems and to confront our own mistakes as well as our own contributions to those problems. We can learn to gradually overcome our conditioning and not to perceive the other as a threat to our happiness, joy, and well-being. Whether we choose to let go of a dysfunctional relationship or to try and fix the problems that are causing such dysfunction, we won’t simply be resorting to flight, fright, or fight reactions. Gradually, we will be able to remove the labels we stick on the foreheads of others. Negotiation mastery – and the effort to negotiate – will be a unique stage in our personal growth and evolution.

Nelson Mandela famously said: “Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” Recognizing the prisons we build for ourselves or for others, and then unlocking the doors and stepping out and allowing others to step out is the first step to negotiating. It is the first of many steps to freedom, and though the walk may be long, it always leads to a better place.


Skin in the game (and a bit more): The Camp System, decisions, and budgets (Part 2)

March 8, 2013 · Posted in Camp System, Decision Making, Negotiation · Comment 

The intersection between decisions, budgets, activities and behaviors

Good things don’t come cheap. The effort to achieve strategic objectives and priorities requires, at the very least, a time and energy budget. Building capabilities at an individual, team, and organizational level that make it possible to achieve those objectives and priorities often also requires a money budget. For sustained efforts of any kind, you and I require an emotion budget. This is why I find the concept of a budget to provide an effective way of thinking about the total “cost” of individual, team, or organizational effort.

In order to spend the right budget for the right reason, it is important to see where, and on what, your efforts are focused. Otherwise, at the outset, the decisions you make will be ineffective, and the budget will be wasted. This can be seen by the fact that there is a huge difference in the kind and quality of decisions made by those who manage people and/or manage results, and those who manage performance by helping people manage their activities, behaviors and helping them improve their decision making. Decision making will not and cannot improve unless individuals, teams, and organizations are willing to examine and where necessary, overhaul the tracks on which those decisions are made and habitual decision making runs.

Budgets cannot but be misspent if certain mindsets and paradigms are not replaced. These mindsets and paradigms are the tracks on which our decisions run. It is important to be aware of the existence of these tracks, and their unseen and pervasive impact and influence.

Hidden and unseen tracks that our decisions are made on and our decision making runs

Because your decisions and mine run on these unseen tracks, they influence and impact everything else. That is not an exaggeration. They actually do influence and impact everything else.

Our decisions flow into the here and now through the choices we make. These are manifested in our activities and behaviors. These decisions, activities and behaviors combine to produce our performance, which in turn produces the results that we all covet. We often spend the budgets we do, for the sake of these results. The link between decisions and behaviors and activities, on the one hand, and our performance and the results we produce, on the other, helps us see how the decisions we make can either elevate our performance or cause it to stagnate. In the worst case scenario, our performance can become worse. This is why I stated that these tracks influence and impact everything else. It is therefore indispensable to see the tracks on which you and I make decisions, and the kind and quality of the decisions we make on those tracks.

Most individuals, teams, or organizations are unaware of the existence or the nature of such tracks. They don’t see the tremendous harm arising from decisions and decision making that does not run on the right tracks. As a result, very few bother to examine them carefully, and replace the wrong ones with the right ones. The consequence is that budgets are misspent without even knowing that they are being, or have been, misspent. The “why” and the “how” they were misspent also remains hidden.

The wasting of budgets also reveals another very important function that these tracks serve. They alert us to the fact that we are going wrong, or that we have gone wrong. When our decisions and decision making moves away from these tracks onto some other tracks, we can stop as soon as we become aware of such a shift. Stopping that shift becomes the most effective decision we can make at that point in time. Once we stop, returning to those tracks becomes the next “most effective decision” we can make. The tracks thus serve to protect us from decisions that arise from intense emotional reactions (impatience, neediness, excitement, fear of failure etc.), and from the universal tendency to attempt to control what cannot be controlled and to neglect or refuse to control only what is under our control. They also protect us from reacting to the pressures and exigencies of the moment, from being negatively influenced by the decisions, actions, activities, and behaviors of those who don’t know, have, use, or want to make use of such tracks.

I concluded my previous piece, by stating “We all spend budgets regardless of (the level of) our willingness to spend one. It is, therefore, important to see clearly the budget required for a certain effort or activity, and then build, spend, track and even grow budgets. This comes into sharp focus when we consider three “activities” that all organizations are involved in: internal and external negotiation, focus on strategic objectives and priorities, and daily operations.” I am of the opinion that through these three “activities”, the decisions that are made and the decision making that runs on these tracks impact every decision an individual, team, or organization makes.

What are these tracks?

A good starting point is to consider the 4 components of a budget as a track on which decisions and decision making runs. Thinking of the budget being spent – in terms of each of the 4 components – on a particular effort helps us see the true price being paid, and the actual cost of the effort.

I have written and alluded to other tracks, in some of my previous posts. The list of 6 characteristics of peak performers that is taught at CNI, is another such set of tracks. I have written about it here and here.) Though I have baggage with all kinds of lists, this one provided me with deep insight into how to become a more effective decision maker, and showed me how and why I have wrong in the past, in my decisions and decision making. I have found this list to be useful for effective decision making in very diverse situations and settings – when attempting to simplify complexity, coach people, acquire a particular skill, learn a language, become familiar with a body of knowledge, manage finances, master a human performance event, or even write blog pieces. Though Jim Camp did not invent this list, he has integrated it harmoniously with what he did invent – the Camp Negotiation Management System. I tried to show this in relation to the how I learnt a more effective approach to goal setting based on the integration of the list to the Camp System.

The concept of a budget with 4 components is part of the Camp Negotiation Management System. The System itself provides numerous sets of tracks that help individuals, teams, and organizations make effective decisions. The careful arrangement of the structure and the alignment of its various principles, rules, tools, behaviors, and activities provide numerous tracks for effective decision making – within the unity of a valid System of human performance. That the System enables the user become an increasingly more effective decision maker is proven by the fact that the user acquires a distinct mindset which he/she can then bring to bear even in situations that are not negotiations. It goes without saying that the mindset guides the user in a step-by-step manner in all negotiations. I the future, I may write a couple of pieces on how the System helps individuals exercise effective leadership and build effective high-performing teams.

Numerous other situation-specific tools and approaches also provide tracks for effective decision making. Systems Thinking, Root Cause Analysis, Mind mapping, the 6 Thinking Hats, 6 Sigma, Theory of Constraints, and numerous others fit seamlessly with both the 6 characteristics and with the Camp System. The advantage of constantly seeking to improve the quality of one’s decisions and decision making is that, progressively, one acquires the judgment to fit the tool to the situation. In this way, you and I learn to conserve our budgets and to spend them wisely in line with clearly defined objectives, and always guided by a valid M&P. Our ability to plan based on an accurate perception and interpretation of reality, and our ability to respond to reality in an appropriate manner improves. Failure and success both contribute to our learning and growth.

Experience has taught me that bedrock truths provide a stable foundation on which you and I can build, confidently, profitably, and continuously. At that point, all passing fads and all tricks and techniques lose their appeal. We intuitively sense that these do not help us improve the quality of our decisions and decision making.

The flourishing of ineffective decisions and decision-making

Today, I can look back at many mistaken and ineffective decisions and habitual ineffective decision making prior to what I learn at CNI. I look back at habits I had developed which compromised my decision making, and which led me to make, and to persist in, numerous ineffective decisions. This in no way implies that I am immune from making ineffective decisions. Quite the contrary! Just as I have learnt to make more effective decisions, I have also learnt to not persist in making ineffective ones – at least as soon as I am aware of them. It might be more accurate to state that I am learning not to persist in making ineffective ones. This is, and will remain, a life-long journey. When I do persist in such decisions, I am aware that I am squandering my budget and that I will also require a budget to cope with the consequences of these ineffective decisions and decision-making, and of squandering my budget.

Based on my experience, I can state that people make ineffective decisions as a result of ignorance. To an extent, this is true. People don’t know what they don’t know. But like I stated in the paragraph above, I still find myself persisting in certain ineffective decisions. To bring this point into sharper focus, I can perhaps frame the question as “Why do individuals and groups become trapped in a cycle of ineffective and/or destructive decision making?”

It is tempting to look for simplistic reasons. At CNI, we teach that every person makes decisions emotionally, based on a vision they always see and sometimes, feel. We teach that the intellect plays a validating or rejecting role of a decision that has already been made on the basis of vision. The question then arises “What are the roots and components of such vision?” I know that these two questions don’t admit for easy answers. Hundreds of books, articles, research projects, studies, surveys and more have attempted to answer such questions and their variants.

In seeking answers to the two questions above, one must factor in the role of habits, conditioning, emotional and/or mental ill health, a poor self-image that makes people compensate in unhealthy ways (e.g. the unhealthy sense of competition and/or unfettered ambition that burns like a wildfire in many lives; the unrelenting pressure to prove to oneself and others that one is worthy of admiration, acceptance, love etc.; the desire to merge into a crowd and not draw attention to oneself); addictions, peer/social pressure; the blurring of the line between what is ethical and moral and what is unethical and immoral, and much more. This is why these questions don’t admit for easy answers. I remember how struck I was by the observations of those who treated some of the unseen and unnamed protagonists in the documentary “Inside Job”. In this regard, this article also makes for interesting reading. In the final analysis, the apparent complexity of the answers is testament to the fact that the human subject is complex. Groups, teams, and collective settings of all sorts heighten the impact of this complexity. This was demonstrated admirably by the two pieces that appeared in the McKinsey Quarterly which I referred to in my previous piece.

Becoming aware of the existence, impact, and influence of these tracks on which our decisions run, and the basis on which you and I make the decisions we make can appear like a maze where it is so easy to get lost. To avoid getting lost, we must rely on the one foundation that unifies, harmonizes, and focuses our efforts: a valid M&P. This alone provides the guidance (it also provides tracks for effective decisions and decision-making) that individuals, teams, and organizations require to track, build, spend, and grow their budgets in line with what is important and the priorities and strategic objectives that ought to provide a point of focus for their efforts. I shall address that, next.


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Skin in the game (and a bit more): The Camp System, decisions, and budgets (Part 1)

March 6, 2013 · Posted in Camp System, Decision Making, Negotiation · Comment 

If you are alive, you don’t get to decide whether or not you will spend a budget each day, week, month, and year of your life. As you read this, you cannot even decide whether or not you will spend a budget on reading it. I spent a budget writing it and you’re spending a budget reading it. The same happens for every activity that a team, project, group, family, or organization is engaged in, and every individual or joint effort they make.

Budgets are pervasive. A large number of decisions in your life require a budget. Certainly every important decision in your life requires one. Often, you require a budget in your interactions with others. Their decisions impact you just as yours impact them. Similarly, their budgets or the lack of budgets will impact yours – driving it up or down. Even if their budgets leave yours unchanged, it is rare for their budgets to have zero impact on you, and your budgets. Of course negotiating with others always requires a budget on your part.

We will necessarily spend a budget whether or not we are engaged in something important or worthwhile; we do things because our heart is in it, or we are trying to keep up appearances; we want to quell feelings of guilt; or we do things for a noble or base motive. Every habit develops because of a budget we have invested in building it. We replace ineffective habits with effective ones only if we correspondingly spend a budget on it. The unwillingness to build, spend, track, and grow a budget on what is important is a characteristic feature of “shoppers and droppers”. When we don’t spend or plan our budgets effectively, the consequences always catch up with us – often at a later time, place, circumstance, or situation that we may not be able to decide upon. Decisions about budgets have a way of bringing home to you and I that “What you sow is what you reap” and “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind”.

A holistic view of budgets

Those familiar with the Camp System know that the concept of budget as taught at CNI has 4 components: time, energy, money, and emotion. Before I encountered this explanation of a negotiator’s budget, I had always thought only in terms of time and money. I had never considered that one has, and ought to, budget energy and emotion. I had also never thought that budgets tend to increase in “weight” in the order of time, energy, money and emotion. Both were eye-opening observations that I was able to validate from my own experiences and the experiences of others.

With the passage of time, this approach to thinking about budgets has become part of the fabric of my perception, thinking, evaluating, judging, and decision making. It even helps me understand my failures, stupidities, and impulsiveness. (Recently, I decided to start learning a new language. I set a very ambitious objective for myself. A few weeks later, I became painfully aware of what I had committed to, and what that decision required of me in terms of time, energy, money, and emotion. I have become much more aware of the limits of my physical and intellectual energies.)

I also think in terms of these 4 components when negotiating with myself. It helps me see whether or not I am serious and committed to achieve a particular objective. It also helps me see whether others are committed to achieve what they say they wish to achieve. It’s what helps me see whether I or some other person has skin in the game, and especially, in “this game”.

Team and organizational budgets

The ability to build, manage, and track budget at an organizational level receives a lot of coverage. With internal controls and decision rights at numerous levels, budgets and budgetary approvals are a staple feature of organizational life. The importance of managing budgets is well understood when complex projects are begun. And yet, I am convinced that a number of missing links exists between budgets and strategy, strategic objectives, individual, team, and organizational priorities. This was brought home to me, powerfully after reading two pieces that appeared in the McKinsey Quarterly: “Making time management the organization’s priority” and “A personal approach to organizational time management”.

Both pieces establish the individual and system-wide implications of using as well as not using time well, and link this to important strategic objectives. They mention the challenges of

  • Being stretched too thin/having one’s plate too full, and the attendant consequences
  • The link between “time-management” and effective decision making
  • The differences that exist in the way people spend their time based on what they see as being more or less important and sometimes, as being more or less demanding
  • How time management transcends the individual and “individual efficiency”

On the whole, I agreed with the analyses in both pieces while simultaneously remaining convinced that the authors of both came up short in two crucial areas:

i) Both pieces lack reference to the link between “time-management” and a valid M&P, and how this impacts what individuals spend their time on.

ii) Both define the efforts to pursue organizational priorities through the lens of a single variable – time – when the efforts to achieve organizational priorities and reach strategic objectives ought to include the concept of a budget – understood as having components other than time alone.

“Why spend time on this?”

As important as it is to put the effective use of time at the forefront, it must be recognized and this pursuit of “time management” – a misnomer if ever there was one – often degenerates into an unhealthy pursuit of efficiency at all costs, a perpetuation of keeping up appearances, an excellent way for a command and control organizational culture to take root and flourish, and a total lack of understanding of the drivers of human behaviors and human motivation. Understanding what one is spending time on, and what one ought to spend time on, is indispensable. But this makes little sense if the question “Why am I spending time on this?” is left unanswered. It’s so easy for activities to become an end in themselves – which the authors of both pieces allude to.

Finding an answer to this “why” always starts with a valid M&P. This is and will remain the ultimate foundation of any sustained human effort. Strategy and strategic objectives only come to life when they are seen as the means to actualize, live, and bring to life the organization’s valid M&P. An M&P builds the vision in the mind’s eye of individuals (and thereby of teams and organizations) about what their individual and collective long term aim is and what their continuing and never ending tasks and responsibilities are. They see what they are engaged in, and why they are engaged in it. They also see why they are not engaged in something else, and also why they ought not to be engaged in those things they have chosen to forego.

Ultimately, a valid M&P is what helps an organization live and exist in the world of its customers and clients. It moves the focus outward to understand their needs, and develop solutions that fit those needs. It helps individuals and teams identify objectives that are necessary to build those solutions and make them available to their customers and clients. A valid overall M&P and aligned M&Ps at various lower levels helps individuals see the connection between their efforts and what the organization as a whole is engaged in. Without this clear vision, people get trapped in what the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey repeatedly referred to as the “thick of thin things”. This is also what begets a “going through the motions” culture.

“Are we spending time or are we spending a budget?”

It is essential to expand one’s understanding of what it costs individuals, teams and organizations to build and deliver the solutions, services, or products that they do. The extreme example of the CEO and the senior executive referred to at the beginning of the article I quoted above – “Making time management the organization’s top priority” – captures this in a very graphic way. It also highlights the shortcomings in the perception of many managers who attempt to micro-manage their subordinates, believe in all kinds of external motivation approaches, and who are easily fooled by disengaged employees who are simply going through the motions. A holistic understanding of budgets – in the light of a valid M&P – helps one see why employees can become, and remain, disengaged.

Organizations spend a lot more than only time to keep themselves in the game. Every activity that a person or team engages in requires time – and a lot more. The obstacles that stand in the way of achieving strategic objectives cannot always be taken care of adequately simply because time is spent more effectively. (I fully appreciate the fact that the authors of both pieces do not imply that time is the only critical variable.)

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, spending a budget is often beyond one’s control. We all spend budgets regardless of (the level of) our willingness to spend one. It is, therefore, important to see clearly the budget required for a certain effort or activity, and then build, spend, track and even grow budgets. This comes into sharp focus when we consider three “activities” that all organizations are involved in: internal and external negotiation, focus on strategic objectives and priorities, and daily operations.

Please share your thoughts by adding a comment below.


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