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.
It’s been three years since I started LS International, an executive search business that operates in Europe, Asia and the USA. These three years have no doubt been challenging and a lot of hard work, but they have also been fun and hugely instructive. Through this article, I want to share my key learnings, which I believe are as relevant to entrepreneurship as they are to organizational careers and indeed, life.
I am a woman from a small town in the suburbs of New Orleans. I didn’t grow up in a big city, but I have always had high ambitions and set high standards for myself. To be honest, I had never thought of myself as a business owner- and certainly not in Executive Search. Now, I must admit that Executive search isn’t a profession about which you learn very much when growing up, but there’s a time in all our lives which, usually in hindsight, you recognize as a turning point. Mine was when I got into Head Hunting. It excited me more than anything else I had done before as it provided me with the opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds. After understanding their career goals, to be able to go back to them with opportunities at some of the best companies globally was just amazing.
As I gained experience and started understanding the nuances, I realized that I was pretty good at it. At such a stage in life, to give up a job with a decent salary and take the plunge into entrepreneurship was something else. I wavered, but eventually gathered the courage because of the love and support I got from my parents, husband, friends and other members of the family. Thanks folks!
Here are six lessons that I believe have helped me and LS International get to where we are. I genuinely believe they will be relevant and useful to you as well.
Lesson 1: You must be passionate about it
Only when you are passionate about something will you be good at it. That might sound counter-intuitive, because conventional wisdom is that you start to like what you are good at. But that’s the trick. When you are passionate about something, every waking moment (and often, sleeping hours too) is spent in thinking about how you can get better at that something. In my case, it was Head Hunting. I found new ways to get in touch with executives and talk to them about the wonderful new opportunity that was just waiting for them- even when they were not really looking for a change. That’s how I honed my skills and expanded my understanding of the fascinating field of Executive Search.
Your commitment to your job will also be shaped by how passionate you are about it. The more passionate you are, the greater the difference you can make.
Lesson 2: Fear of failure is natural, but you need perseverance to overcome it
While passion is a necessary condition for success, it is not sufficient. That is to say, passion alone won’t cut it. You must be willing to work hard and learn to take it on the chin when things don’t go the way you want them to. The past three years have been anything but a bed of roses. As a young entrepreneur, I made mistakes. I was scared of making more mistakes. There were days when I felt I had erred by choosing to become an entrepreneur, and thought of getting back to a “regular job” but then I told myself: “My family trusted me to pursue my dreams… I can’t let them down”. I could not bear the thought of having to explain to my loved ones why things didn’t work out. “Failure is not an option”, I’d tell myself! It is this fear that gave me the courage, energy and forbearance to remain steadfast on the path I had chosen. Hindsight is a wonderful thing because it is after the fact. Looking back, I am so glad I persevered. At the time, certain decisions had unknown (even unknowable) consequences. I was this close to giving up. But I stuck on. Now, I realize that even if things hadn’t gone the way I expected, it would not have been the end of the world. I would have been able to bounce back. And in any case, failing isn’t as terrible as you build it up to be in your own mind; besides, the lessons you learn are invaluable.
As you grow in your job, you may be asked to take up new challenges- moving to a new division or being asked to head the business in a new country or whatever else. Fear will only paralyze you. Free yourself of the fear and unshackle your potential and watch what miracles you can create.
Lesson 3: Dare to get outside your zone of comfort and you will be surprised by how much forward movement is possible
As an entrepreneur, I was constantly navigating new waters. I did not have a large client base to begin with; neither did I have a well-known brand name. I therefore had to try different things and sometimes do things differently. Some of what I tried worked, while others did not. The simple point is that I overcame my fear of trying new things. It wasn’t that I was not nervous or uncomfortable. But I knew that I would perhaps be no worse off if things did not work- but if they did, I would achieve breakthroughs. I was able to identify new sources of value for prospects and clients- and business grew.
As part of your job, you may encounter challenges that you (or even your boss) has not encountered before. Taking the “I don’t know how to deal with this” will not help you much. But what if you were to come up with some plans and seek your boss’s approval to try it? You may not succeed, but if you do, you will be seen as a leader everyone looks up to. It is this willingness to innovate and push the envelope more than one thought possible is what separates “high-potential” candidates from the rest of the pack, right?
Lesson 4: 100% love for your work creates your luck
If you want to be truly happy and successful at what you do, you must love it 100%. People can sense your love (or lack thereof). This cannot be faked. On the other hand, this love will help you innovate new ways to achieve your goals. Even when I first started selling my services, I was so sure that I could make a real difference to people’s lives and careers. This love manifested in my enthusiasm and unflagging energy. Even today, I feel blessed to have so much love for what I do because it is this that gets me out of bed every morning with a fresh resolve to be better than I was the day before. And it is this same love that my clients perceive when I interact with them. Indeed, it is perhaps not wrong to say that my clients buy my love for Executive Search because true love does not fail!
Call upon this same love to help you propel your career forward. When you love your work, you will find new and better ways to do it- isn’t that what innovation is?
Lesson 5: Help others
This probably goes without saying but I think the point needs to be made. I see so many people so consumed with their own day to day hustle that they don’t take the time to stop, look around and see what is right in front of them. You can help people in so many ways- by volunteering, cooking a meal for a friend in need, mentoring someone or a start up. I have found so much joy in helping others and in return, I have got back so much too. I have learned more about myself (self-awareness and emotional intelligence), besides improving my skills in communication, leadership, anticipating the future and so much more. When you help others, you end up helping yourself.
This is an important lesson even if you are in a job. After all, team-work and collaboration are all about helping one another to achieve the organization’s goals, isn’t it?
Lesson 6: Never stop learning
We live in a world that’s changing so rapidly. Unless we consciously find the time to keep abreast of new developments, we cannot be effective in growing ourselves and our businesses. For example, if you do not learn about Digital Marketing, you may not appreciate the power of LinkedIn- not just as a repository of people, but as a phenomenally powerful tool to make connections and grow your business. In my line, I get to work with companies whose business models are changing. Unless I keep myself informed of these changes, I will not be able to a good job of getting them people with the right skills to manage and grow their businesses. The same applies to you, irrespective of your line of work.
Even if you are in a job, you need to keep learning so that your skills are updated and you remain relevant. In a knowledge economy, how you apply your knowledge to deal with new situations is far more important than how old you are or how many years of experience you have. Therefore, do not stop learning. Grab every opportunity to learn- whether it is a new technique or a new language or understanding of a new market or even the experience of a role that’s different from what you have done for so long. [As an Executive Search professional, take it from me that companies are always looking for talent with the willingness to apply their skills to new areas].
As I look back at three awesome years of my journey with LS International, I wish to thank all those who have played important roles- my parents, my husband, my colleagues, my business partners, my friends and not the least, all my clients who continue to repose their trust in me and LS International. I take this opportunity to rededicate myself to LS International being a proactive and productive partner in its clients’ progress over the next three years and beyond.
The pace of change in the world is undoubtedly accelerating, forcing leadership teams to devote more and more resources (people, money, management attention) to effectively managing change in their organizations. The current wave of change is being driven by external forces such as technology (e.g. AI), regulation (e.g. GDPR), emergence of new business models (e.g. online only retailers) or even geopolitical considerations (e.g. trade wars/embargos) as well as internal imperatives (e.g. a new purpose or vision).
Over the past three decades Change Management has been extensively studied and many different frameworks and best practices have been developed. These are intended to help organizations plan for change, implement it, communicate it, help people to adapt, and measure the impact. Most large-scale organizational changes impact processes and their technology underpinnings (the systems, their user interfaces, what data is fed in and when etc.). Of course, policies and procedures also often need to be amended. But the ultimate burden of “living the change” falls on those people who are tasked with driving and managing the change and those who are called upon to make small or large adjustments to their attitudes, habits, mindsets and managerial/leadership abilities.
As Mattia Aste, Global Manufacturing Excellence Lead at Monsanto says in a recent LS International Podcast, “… a transformation is a transformation… only if it's really touching the full operating model, so you really take care of process, system and people at the same time”. So how can change in organizations be led more effectively, so that the goals are achieved with minimum “collateral damage” in the form of customer loss, employee attrition, non-compliance or other forms of resistance to change that might disrupt business?
Clearly, it’s best to start at the beginning, which is understanding why a certain change is needed and why now. All worthwhile organizational change must be around improving performance, an objective that can be achieved in many different ways. For instance, revenue from existing products could be grown faster by enhancing the efficacy of targeted marketing so that first-time purchases as also repeat purchases increases. A similar outcome is also possible through product innovation and compressing the time needed to launch them. Cost reductions could be achieved by using technology to raise productivity of employees or processes or changing mindsets so that “waste” such as excess inventory can be eliminated (the holy grail of Supply Chain transformation over the past two decades).
But not all change is about increased revenue and/or reduced costs in the short term. For instance, a merger could also be a trigger for massive enterprise-level change; in such a situation, while fresh revenue streams, synergies and cost-saving opportunities are important, perhaps even more important is the need to evolve a new culture that combines the best from the merging organizations. Such situations offer leaders an unprecedented opportunity to create something that is far better than either predecessor organization was. As a result of this headline intent, multiple functional transformation programs are identified and implemented. For example, a smarter, leaner supply chain or a more collaborative R&D network that is more tightly integrated with Marketing (to sense and respond to changes in customer preferences for instance).
As Mr. Aste points out, “A transformation is always designed around your customer”. It is important is for leaders to articulate a compelling vision of the change and why it is needed now. This needs to be communicated across the organization in ways that make sense to employees at every level. Often, large-scale change programs are encapsulated in slogans and posters. These are undoubtedly aides to spread the message, but what is also needed is a series of conversations between the leaders and those below. The first round of these conversations is too important to be delegated and must be led by the highest echelons of the organization. At one level, these conversations must be aimed at informing the middle levels and the rank and file of the proposed change and its contours, including the rollout plan. At another level, they must be forums for debating and discussing concerns and fears that, if unaddressed, could derail the program in the days ahead. This also serves to finesse the business case or plans by factoring in additional information from closer to the trenches. Additionally, such a step helps individuals to buy into the change program and take ownership. Personal commitment to change helps build accountability, which is critical to garner commitment and unleash the power of innovation.
Arguably, it is easier to drive change when the organization is doing well, as the pain associated with the change can be somewhat cushioned, but it may well be more important to drive the change when the organization is losing its competitive edge and ceding ground to competitors. Depending on the situation the organization finds itself in, leaders must convert the stark reality of under-performance (or the promise of a tremendous opportunity waiting to be tapped) into a powerful motivator for organizational change. They must infuse confidence across the organization by communicating and reinforcing important messages:
There is a clear set of reasons for the change and this is the best time to make traverse the leap across the chasm;
Necessary resources in the form of money, technology, people etc. will be made available;
The road ahead will not be easy and progress will depend on a unity of purpose, the “collective intelligence and will” of the organization;
Perseverance in the face of setbacks that may force course correction; and
Leaders are personally committed to the success of this change and will lead by example.
The process of employee engagement begins during the search and interview stages but really kicks off in earnest when s/he formally reports for work. For every new hire, irrespective of seniority, location and role, the first few days are vital. This is the time when s/he meets new colleagues, peers and team members and starts to get a feel for the new workplace, its culture and policies. What the organization, represented mainly by the Hiring Manager (and assisted by HR and other support functions), does to make the first few days smooth, easy and memorable for new hires is the essence of “Onboarding”.
Here are two data points quoted in https://blog.octanner.com/editor-picks/an-onboarding-checklist-for-success-infographic that reinforce the importance of onboarding:
Up to 20% of turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment; and
69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding.
Although organizations have been paying a lot more attention to on-boarding because they realize how critical the early days are to forge strong bonds between the new hire and the organization, the process needs to be constantly reviewed and tweaked as the workforce becomes more multicultural, multilingual and gender-diverse. The fact that work forces now include a mix of generations makes the task more challenging simply because employees from different generations have different degrees of comfort with digital technology, sticking to rules etc. On-boarding is important not just for senior hires; even more junior recruits need to be on-boarded with care and diligence.
On-boarding programs must be efficient, effective and personalized. Hiring Managers must take the lead in ensuring a pleasant on-boarding experience for the new hire(s). This needs Hiring Managers to do the following:
Paint an honest picture of the organization’s culture and ways of working during the interviewing phase, so that new hires do not experience dissonance caused by a reality that is different from what s/he expected.
Ensure that the new hire is made to feel welcome. This means having office seating, stationery, configured laptop and mobile phone, email id, etc. ready.
Introduce the new hire to his/her colleagues, managers and reports. If a buddy or mentoring system exists, facilitating such introductions should also be part of the onboarding process.
After allowing new hires a day or two to get physically settled in, Hiring Managers must spend enough time briefing the new hires on the business strategy, organizational culture, team goals, KRAs/expectations etc. Needless to say, what is covered and the level of detail will depend on the new hire’s role and seniority. Relevant documents must be shared to allow the new hire to study them and ask questions, offer suggestions etc. In fact, this is a great way for the Hiring Manager to walk the talk by showing the new hire that the organization values new ideas or that open and honest communication is encouraged.
According to research, “companies that invest in on-boarding experience 2.5 times the revenue growth and 1.9 times the profit margin of companies that don’t. (source)
Just as there is a lot of effort taken to harmonize other processes globally, on-boarding too needs to be standardized across all locations, so that new hires everywhere will have a similar experience. It may therefore be useful to have people from the HR team specialize in on-boarding. Empower them to build networks across other support functions in the organization so that they can get things done quickly. If your organization operates across countries, find out what they do so you can adopt and adapt best practices.
Here are some practices that can easily improve your organization’s on-boarding processes:
The Hiring Manager must ensure that someone from the HR team is specifically available to meet the new hire when s/he reports to the reception and helps in completing all administrative formalities (e.g. ID, biometric access, business cards, IT systems and access, bank accounts for payroll, application for corporate credit cards, cafeteria cards, parking slots etc.). Obviously, the specific tasks will depend on the new hire’s seniority, role etc.
The HR point of contact must escort the new hire to his/her Hiring Manager’s desk/room.
Hiring managers must ensure that they personally meet the new hire on the first day. If a personal meeting is unavoidable, a call is essential, and must be followed by a personal meeting at the earliest opportunity.
Ideally, on the first day itself, the Hiring Manager must send out an introductory email to people in the organization who will eventually become key members of the new hire’s professional network. This should be done after the new hire’s email has been activated so that s/he can respond and start integrating with the organization.
After the new hire has spent a couple of weeks in their role, the Hiring Manager must meet with him/her to find out how they’re settling in and if there’s something more they need. Having been told of any “gaps”, the Hiring Manager must make all reasonable attempts to plug them. If there are specific reasons why such gaps cannot be filled, s/he must close the loop with the executive. This might not sound like a big deal, but is an example of the “honest and open communication” that the candidate was told to expect.
You can read some truly fascinating statistics about on-boarding here.
An ancient saying reminds us that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. So also, the journey of employee engagement begins with on-boarding. It would be naïve to expect high levels of engagement (and hence, loyalty and performance) from employees whose on-boarding experience was disappointing.
August 20, 2018
LS International Global Compensation Survey
Check out the 2018 compensation survey from executives across the consumer goods industry.