On this episode of the Career Success Podcast we invited Minerva Acevedo to speak with us about the art of negotiation. Minerva has worked in consumer packaged goods in both marketing and sales roles, in the health and wellness industry with Johnson & Johnson and in the food industry with McCormick & Company. Through both experiences, she have been exposed to negotiations with large corporations such as Costco, Wal-Mart and some of the top Canadian retailers and media companies.
In this episode we discuss:
Negotiation vs. Selling – what are the key differences
Why many people feel uncomfortable with negotiation and how to overcome this
How to walk away from a negotiation feeling successful
Lauren: Hi, I am Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the Career Success Podcast. Today, we will address the topic of negotiation. Negotiation is a part of everyone’s day to day, whether in their personal or professional life. I’ve spoken with many individuals who feel very uncomfortable when negotiating. And for this reason, I’ve invited Minerva Acevedo to discuss with us how she has been successful in negotiations. Welcome Minerva.Minerva: Thank you so much for having me. Lauren: Thank you for joining us today. Why don't you share with us a bit of background on yourself and your experience with negotiation?Minerva: Certainly, I have worked in consumer-packaged goods in both marketing and sales roles, in global companies, in the health and wellness industry with Johnson & Johnson and in food with McCormick & Company. Through both experiences, I have been exposed to negotiations with large corporations such as Costco, Wal-Mart and some of the top Canadian retailers and media companies. I have received one-on-one training from top firms industry and also from business school. My experience ranges from contract negotiation, releasing a brand on shelf. As well, I have experienced challenges and business impacts from making assumptions about you know what the other party expected and not really understanding their motivations and objectives. Internally, I also negotiate every other day with supply chain marketing and finance, mostly on an ongoing basis and lastly at a personal level, negotiation has been key especially for example, at the end of my marriage, which was really not a conscious uncoupling experience like Gwyneth Paltrow. So, I tried to use some of my learning’s to ensure an outcome I would be satisfied with.Lauren: Okay. So you're using it both in your professional and personal life then?Minerva:Absolutely.Lauren: And what do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about negotiation?Minerva: I think that many people assume negotiation and selling are the same thing and try to approach them in the same way while they are not. Selling is promoting the attributes of a product, service or an idea while negotiating should about you know, maximizing value and really involves a lot of planning, research, questioning, listening for what’s being said but also to what's not being said in order to have better control of the outcome. Also, some people think that negotiations are only for unions or heads of state or sales and procurement departments, major corporations conducting mergers and acquisitions but we all are involved you know, conscious or unconscious negotiations almost every day from buying a car, getting your kids to sleep at bed time or who's going to take the garbage out. To also negotiating a salary increase or even as a severance package really depending on the situation there might be value in taking the time to negotiate, but it's also important to know that not everything is worth negating.Lauren: Why do you think many people feel uncomfortable in negotiations?Minerva: I think it really is human nature and the perception that negotiations are about having conflict or maybe they fear that our proposal might be rejected by the other party which really feels very personal and it makes us feel vulnerable. It may seem like an intimidating process because we also have our egos and they get in the way and we let our emotions get involved. We tend to associate negotiations with being fair or about compromise when it really depends on the specific situation and how well we can control the process in order to achieve the outcome we desire. It's not really necessarily about winning.Lauren: Yeah. And what can be done to overcome these challenges?Minerva: Well, I think that we need to start by understanding our own position and the outcomes that we are striving for. Then at the same time, we need to identify potential trade-offs that provide value to the other party. We then need to get out of our own heads and into the other party’s head. This means doing research, asking questions to understand their strategy, their positioning and really more importantly listening to them to identify areas where we might be able to influence. Really creativity is very important. I think that maybe of the table at some point, may become a bridge to move through difficult negotiations thing; you know, carry this process forward. As an example, a contract doesn't necessarily have to be about financial value only, maybe improved delivery times or a reduction in packaging would help the other party in their effort to be more sustainable and it would be perhaps a welcomed proposition that can help deliver satisfaction to the other party as they send… as they get a sense of accomplishment.Lauren: mm-hmm. So in order to come out of a negotiation feeling successful, what would you say are the top three takeaways?Minerva: Well, I would say try to come out of every meeting with something even if it's only securing another meeting and do not be afraid of putting your proposal on the table first so that that's the one that gets talked about.Lauren: OkayMinerva: Second, once you're being comfortable… being uncomfortable, you get more clarity to choose the strategy and be flexible but never lose sight of your expected outcome and the kind of relationship that you want to have in the future after you're done negotiating. And finally, I would say embrace negotiation as a process to learn more about the other party, being curious and being genuine, being engaged; this is going to help create value not just for your own interest. Again, once the negotiation is over, continue to be aware of any changes in the other party strategy so that you're not caught off guard when their objectives change; it's an ongoing process.Lauren: Minerva, thank you so much for joining us today on our Career Success Podcast.Minerva: Thank you so much to you, Lauren.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others”. Combine the wisdom of this old African proverb with the pithy saying that “Your network is your net worth” and you will get the essence of this article: Networking is vital to personal and professional success. And yet, so many of us just don’t realize how important this skill is, or worse, make no attempt to build our networks.
Rambo is only in the movies!
Human beings are socially interdependent creatures. This applies in the context of the families we are a part of, the communities we live in, the organizations we work in and ultimately, even across the planet as a whole. An organization’s success ultimately depends on how well different departments, teams and individuals perform their respective roles. In any field it is simply not possible to be a Rambo and realistically expect to consistently accomplish missions successfully. Networking helps to build an informal ecosystem that we as individuals can rely on for advice, assistance and support.
Networking is not just exchanging business cards
Networking starts with introductions and an exchange of business cards, but it certainly does not end there, as some people mistakenly believe. Their thinking is that “once people know who I am, what I do and how to reach me, they will contact me when they need my services”. This is an erroneous assumption because yours is only one among many cards that people will collect.
And unless you have been able to stand out from the crowd because of your gregariousness, credibility or knowledge, chances are your business card may not get a second glance.
Networking is about engaging with people who do not know you and building in them the desire to keep in touch with you. This happens only after you build rapport and mutual trust. In fact, real networking is about staying in touch after the initial interaction. During the initial networking interactions, you may not even know if- and how- the other person can help you; all you are doing is creating goodwill and trust that you can draw on as needed. Networking works on the principle of reciprocity, i.e. give-and-take. You may be called upon for assistance by others. If you are in a position to help, you should, as long as what is being asked of you does not violate company policies, your personal code of ethics and morals or the laws of the land.
You must network both inside and outside the organization you work in. Each provides different benefits.
Strong networks within the organization- both within our own departments and outside- can be valuable resources. For example, they can help us access people we may not directly know, but need information from. A quick “Hi John, Susan from HR wants some info about the Executive Search firm we use in Europe. She and I used to go to the same gym. I have asked her to write to you with what she needs. Appreciate your help” kind of voicemail/ email is likely to work much faster than you writing to John introducing yourself and then stating what you need.
More effective collaboration is another benefit of networking. Let’s say you’ve volunteered (or been volunteered!) to be part of a cross-functional team that has been formed for a specific project. If some of the other members are people with whom you have networked in the past, you need much less time to break the ice. Also, you can be more confident that your ideas will get a fair hearing (and even support, if they are good) during meetings.
In global organizations, mobility across regions is common, as companies seek to deploy their best people in key markets or divisions. As an expatriate who has to relocate in a couple of months, imagine how much easier your life (and job) could get if you reached out to colleagues from the new region and networked with them.
The key to successful networking is to identify possible common areas that can help forge a bond. Other than working for the same company (albeit different departments), maybe some of you live in the same community, or have kids attending the same school or playing in the same little league. Or perhaps you go to the same gym or place of worship. Such neutral meeting grounds are great to get early conversations flowing.
If you think you are not a “natural networker”, start honing your skills by building networks within the organization; the experience will make you more adept at external networking.
Networking outside the organization is just as relevant. You could meet people at industry events or professional conferences, in airport lounges, on flights or even while on vacation. The people you meet could be functional experts, motivational speakers, leadership gurus or even potential customers/clients or employers. By networking with them, you could learn about industry developments-information that you can use in your own jobs. Or you could gather insights about self-development that will help you be more effective in your job. Or you could learn tips to manage your people better. There really are no boundaries to how networking can benefit an individual.
Knowledge apart, networking can enhance your personal brand. For example, at an event if you are a speaker or panelist or ask great questions, you will be noticed. Use coffee/lunch breaks to network, and you could discover potential hires for your team or even meet potential employers. You could even meet executive search consultants who could help you with that next career move or hire the kind of people you are looking to hire for your team/organization.
Even networking with competitors can be useful. You could gain insights into how your organization is perceived in the marketplace. Such information is very valuable as it can help shape strategic or tactical responses. Networking can also help make it easier to work with peers across companies to brainstorm collective responses to issues impacting the community or industry.
As you can imagine, a good networker can use his skill to gain significantly. But remember that those who are good at this craft are givers and sharers too. Sustainable networking is about giving others the confidence that you are approachable and willing to provide reasonable help- and then living up to the perception you have created.
The importance of networking is perhaps best summed up by Success Coach Dennis Waitley’s observation that “If you are not networking, you are not working”.
Here’s a list of conferences which I have gathered from my network that you may find useful, depending on what industry you are from or what functional role you play. These conferences are mainly around specific industries; however, most of them include sessions on HR topics, Leadership, Technology etc.
I have often been asked by family, friends, former colleagues and of course, clients why I chose to become an executive search professional. A few days ago, on a flight back to Barcelona, I gave the question deeper thought and even made some notes. As I reviewed the notes, I realized that I could actually identify and categorize the reasons and drivers into three distinct but inter-related buckets:
Who I am
What the job requires
How I benefit
The “Who I am” is essentially about the kind of person I believe I am. I see myself as a caring human being who likes to build relationships with other human beings. I genuinely like interacting with new people and getting to understand their experiences, aspirations- and often times, even fears. I enjoy change and keeping in touch with how industries are evolving under the influence of technology, regulations, customer expectations, business models etc.
Because of who I am as a person and the strengths I bring to the table, it perhaps becomes easier for me to be and do all that being a good executive search professional needs to be and do:
A good listener- to be able to understand people and assess their strengths and weaknesses
A clear communicator- to act as an effective bridge between the client organization and candidates so that information about the role, culture, compensation etc. is clearly shared.
Avid reader- to be aware of the many ways in which industries and organizations are evolving, and consequently, appreciate what skills and competencies are key.
Possess high emotional intelligence- in order to be able to separate person from issue, objectively evaluate people’s reactions and responses and remain calm through a process that can take many months and involve a series of emotional ebbs and flows.
Have a global perspective- because more and more businesses operate globally, and are willing to hire the best talent irrespective of nationality or ethnicity. Just as true is the willingness of talent to live and work in new locations far away from their home countries.
Digital savvy able to use a combination of resources to research candidates and thereafter, connect and engage with them. This also requires the ability to function effectively in an omni-channel environment, to choose the most appropriate channel to connect.
An innovator with the ability to connect even faint dots so as to identify talent for cross-industry roles.
A persuasive person who can convince organizations to give them the search mandate and then, persuade candidates that they are the best fit for a certain role.
For me, the how I benefit bucket goes far beyond the monetary rewards of successful placement. I derive immense satisfaction from helping people succeed and grow as professionals. There is also great joy from helping organizations succeed by helping them attract the right talent. This gives me the pleasure of knowing that I have contributed more directly to the client organization’s transformation than just helping them hire good talent.
There is also the fact that in the course of a day or week, one gets to wear so many hats and play so many roles. Being part of a boutique firm also means I share responsibilities for formulating the firm’s strategy, managing financial and human resources, driving expansion into new geographies or industry sectors and so much more. Each day is different because one gets to interact with different people and organizations. Each such interaction for me is an opportunity to learn. Sometimes, I learn to improve, and sometimes I learn how not to be. For an executive search professional, every engagement and every candidate is a unique story, although there are some similarities. So hey, what’s not to love about a job that enriches me in so many ways?!
Aristotle is believed to have said “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”. I would be lying if I claim to be perfect. But I can honestly say that I take pleasure in my job. With each passing day I strive to become a better head-hunter- and human being- than I was the day before.
Taking the LEAD in addressing the challenge of inadequate women in senior leadership positions
Last week, I attended a meeting in Barcelona organized by the LEAD Network (Leading Executives Advancing Diversity), whose members believe that “organizations can create more sustainable value by leveraging the full talent pool” (i.e. women as well as men). Its mission is to “attract, retain and advance women in the retail and consumer goods industry in Europe through education, leadership and business development”. Many of the world’s leading organizations are already members of the LEAD Network in their European Branches. I was lucky to attend this event and meet some great people, but overall left with some takeaways I would like to share.
Why under-representation of women in senior positions is a challenge may be appreciated from the following data points:
Women account for just under 50% of the world’s population and represent almost 52% of Europe.
In the US alone, women control US$4.3 trillion (yep- trillion with a “T”) of consumer spend.
Both in Europe and the US more women receive advanced degrees than men in most fields of study.
In 2017, women held 51.6% of all management and professional positions. Yet, only less than half (25.7%) of new Directors on the Boards of S&P 500 companies were women.
The current situation is unsatisfactory
Although diversity has been on corporate agenda in Europe and North America for many years, hard data reveals that the number of women in leadership positions is not in line with their overall proportion in the population. LEAD Network reports that on average, women constitute around 25% of Management Boards in European Retail/FMCG/CPG companies (although women constitute 55% of the total workforce in these industries). The magnitude of the gender diversity challenge at the senior leadership level can be gauged from the fact that despite many of the world’s top FMCG/CPG companies and retailers themselves being members of the LEAD Network, the best performers are P&G (32%) in FMCG and Scandinavian Retailer ICA (around 40%) is the overall leader.
Three impediments identified by the LEAD Network in this Event
The meeting discussed the following three principal categories of roadblocks women face in their quest to reach the highest echelons in organizations:
Unconscious gender bias
Work-life integration issues
Women’s fear of advancement
Unconscious gender bias
Despite regulatory requirements and company policies, many organizations are still run as “Old Boys’ Networks”, where members’ own cultural, social and familial norms and personal affiliations tend to influence decisions around hiring and promotions. This leads to candidates in their own mould being favoured- e.g. Alpha Males. Indeed, the absence of such traits is viewed as a lack of “talent”, while strong emotional intelligence traits such as listening and empathy can be ignored. The irony of this situation is that L&D programs in the very same organizations work to reinforce the need for male executives to develop precisely these competencies.
Unconscious gender bias is defined as “unintentional and automatic mental associations based on gender, stemming from traditions, norms, values, culture and/or experience. For example, managers do not assign certain projects to women because the nature of the work requires extensive travel or late nights. Funnily enough, the manager may justify such decisions on the grounds that women may not be comfortable or equipped to deal with such requirements because of their other commitments (even now it is implicitly assumed that it is the woman’s primary role to care for the family). Women are thus assigned work that the manager sees as being more suitable to a woman- and possibly, less challenging or having less organizational impact. Creditable performances are seen as no big deal and given a lower weightage. This inherently discriminates against women who shoulder the additional responsibilities of primary caregiver- e.g. those with younger children or ailing family members. A McKinsey report even cites “unfailing availability and total geographic mobility” as a criterion for selection to leadership positions at one company.
The fact that such biases often manifest even without the individual’s knowledge exacerbates the challenge. An online study by Harvard found that 76% of the 200,000 participants are gender-biased. These biases manifest in the form of “micro behaviours” and body language that make candidates less confident (e.g. interviewers leaning forward less or not being expressive). In turn, this erodes confidence that is interpreted as unwillingness or inability.
Work-life balance or integration
Work-life integration (earlier known as work-life balance), was another reason cited to explain why women are not adequately represented in senior corporate roles. The very concept of work-life integration was developed to take a broader view of life. In addition to work it is meant to include, personal well-being, home/family and community.
Those who are now in their early 20s to mid-30s have very different priorities in life and are more able to make trade-offs. As workforce demographics get more weighted in favour of Gen Z and millennials, there will be a greater force for change. Today, it was mentioned, it’s practically a must that companies offer flexibility, for example to work from home, to be able to attract more members of these generations.
I was surprised that there wasn’t more discussion on the role that maternity leave plays in keeping many women out of senior level roles at organizations. Studies have shown that the wage gap between the genders too can be attributed to the woman’s decision to go on maternity leave, as mentioned in this LS International Article. And this is a topic that, in my point of view, is still pending on a global accepted solution.
Women’s fear of advancement
The first two reasons discussed have to do with people other than the woman herself. The third reason discussed has to do with the individual. It was posited that a psychological phenomenon known as “Impostor syndrome” or “Fraud syndrome”, a term coined about 40 years ago, may also be a reason for why women hold back. Despite their qualifications or external evidence of competence, some individuals fear that their achievements are due to “luck”, or that they do not deserve what they have got or that they are “frauds” for having led others to believe that they are smarter than they really are. Early research on the “Impostor syndrome” focused on women. However, it is now recognised that the syndrome affects both men and women. Therefore, while manifestation of this syndrome could certainly be a causal factor in many cases- especially when the woman vocalizes her fears of not being worth it- it would, in my view, be incorrect to attribute this as a major reason why a larger number of women fail to reach the topmost levels of organizations despite their competencies, expertise and experience.
Highly-successful women who have been reported as suffering from this syndrome include Kate Winslet, Oprah Winfrey and Sheryl Sandberg. Women who have a high degree of impostor syndrome are reportedly more tenacious. “Their self-doubt makes them more competitive, so although they may not negotiate to their own benefit, they make highly-driven leaders”.
To women (and men) who experience this syndrome, these tips may help:
In a hyper-competitive corporate world, nobody gets ahead if they do not really possess the skills or the ability to acquire those skills. Maybe it is your sensitivity or lateral thinking ability that gave you the edge.
Nobody knows everything- including those rivals who are insinuating in hushed tones that you do not deserve what you got. Therefore, be open to learning all the time.
Keep a tab of your achievements, and don’t just maintain a list of “improvement needs”.
Seek help from friends or a coach who can be objective and hold the mirror to you. But stay away from sycophants (including those in your own team).
Set yourself high standards but refuse to let yourself be measured by other’s yardsticks.
Finding a solution
Arguably, reasons and excuses are perhaps two sides of the same coin. Just as arguably, progress depends on intent. If there is honest intent, human beings have the inherent resourcefulness to find ways to move forward. But as Ernst & Young’s Jorge Aguirre points out, many companies have taken symbolic steps to ensure that more women climb up the corporate ladder to the highest levels. These are clearly not enough and the time has come to find solutions that will deliver results quickly while also being sustainable in the longer term.
Pepsico’s Quique Hernandez made the following suggestions at the conference:
Build a business case to showcase how the qualities that women candidates possess will benefit the organization- especially for global, matrix organizations whose leaders must display higher levels of cultural sensitivity and empathy and have superior listening skills because they will need to engage with direct reports and colleagues from around the world.
Increasingly, consumers are becoming more discerning in their preferences. Companies and brands are responding by taking stands on societal issues. So companies that take the lead in creating pathways for women leaders (based on merit) can expect to not just attract talent but also tangibly differentiate itself.
I would add that companies institute in-house coaching/mentoring programs if they don’t have them in place already. Where they have such programs, a case can be made to reengineer them because of some hard-hitting data that was presented at the LEAD Network meeting:
28% of women reported that they lacked high-visibility assignments. Companies should bring in greater transparency, objectivity and consistency in the way high-visibility assignments are awarded by including this in the internal governance model. Factors such as family, ability to travel etc. must be considered after the basic suitability of candidates has been established. The candidates being considered must be given a choice in the matter and where possible, the organization must allow for flexibilities such as home-travel every two weeks or allowing the child/nanny to travel or whatever makes sense in the context of work-life integration.
29% of women were reported to lack female role models (from whom they can learn how to achieve higher levels of work-life integration). If the overall issue is addressed, this too will be resolved over a period of time as more women make it to the top.