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“I don’t negotiate”

Ellis Croft
Negotiation Work From Home [Converted]
© Adobe Stock


When I worked in a learning and talent team, I used to hear this refrain a lot from folk both inside and outside my own organisation. On occasion, even from individuals in commercial or procurement roles, which always used to fire all manner of synapses in my brain (“what do you do? Surrender? Threaten the other party? Draw lots?!?” and so on). But I was always interested in the seemingly majority-held viewpoint that negotiation is an exclusively commercial activity; something with which those outside the buying and selling of goods or services are simply not required to get involved.

But in my experience, organisations face multiple conflict situations away from the buying and selling front line – examples abound from marketing (budget setting), technology (project parameters), finance (too many to mention), operations (resource management) and more. Take a current HR conflict, for example: the post-pandemic smorgasbord that is “hybrid working”. Broadly speaking, organisations tend to want more control over when and where employees perform their roles, while employees tend to want to retain a level of control experienced over the pandemic. Currently, hybrid working does not even enjoy a legal definition. While most of us would offer something along the lines of “part office, part home” as an explanation, this still leaves an awful lot of wriggle room (What proportion allocates to each? Who decides which days are spent where? Are teams bound by the same rules or is it individual choice? And so on). Which means that, from a negotiator’s perspective, there is conflict on the horizon. The old-fashioned view of HR as corporate police, who can impose policy on an obedient workforce, is clearly a ship that has sailed – as competition for talent hots up (tipping the power balance in favour of the employee), variables such as where you work and when and who makes that choice rise up the scale of importance. Some surveys indicate that in certain sectors and skill sets, the hybrid working set-up of an organisation is priced in higher than salary. This makes imposing an office-based contract on employees potentially risky – organisations doing so may find attrition levels rising, worse still from the top right of the potential/performance 9 box grid, leaving them with the bottom left. Equally, the general sense since the pandemic from larger organisations seems to be that untrammelled home work, where teams are entirely virtual and little or no face-to-face contact takes place, carries consequences that for many teams and organisations are sub-optimal. So simply giving in isn’t an attractive option, either.

Persuading potential employees that one policy is better than another is not a strategy that tends to be pursued beyond its useful extent (a sensible thing!), leaving organisations struggling to implement what they see as sensible hybrid working policies in the face of a post-pandemic workforce that has become used to ways of working that are undeniably attractive. My view would be that if you’re not negotiating by now (either as a team leader within the business looking to preserve the hybrid status quo or as an HR team wanting to drive change), buckle up for a long and potentially bumpy ride. And at the risk of ending on a sales pitch – if you want a quicker journey that might even be more smooth? Feel free to get in touch!

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