From John Glenn, Managing Director:

Firstly, let me say I was not disappointed. It was a very impressive experience – the Harvard executive education program is like no other education experience I have enjoyed. Polished, professional, engaging, demanding – everything from the instruction to the accommodation and the food. Harvard is known for its “case” approach to instruction and, as with all their courses, it was the basis for this one.

You worked. Typically from about 7:30am to 9:00pm with a mix of individual case readings, inquisitorial case-based lectures and practical simulations with Socratic style debriefs. The program was delivered by researchers and faculty of the Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School: Wheeler, Sebenius, Subramanian and Gino.  These, amongst colleagues like Fisher and Ury of “Getting to Yes” fame, are the people that established “negotiations” as a formal course program at Harvard, an approach now adopted widely internationally.

I loved the work, the pace, the participatory delivery. You could hide in the class if you wished, but why would you? The value derived from the contribution and insight of so many senior executives in the room was incalculable. About half of the 42 participants were from outside the US: Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South America, UK, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Zambia, Greece, India, Angola, Nigeria. There was as much to learn at mealtimes as there was in the class room, and that was pretty fulfilling itself.

I was asked if I could summarise my most important Harvard tip in three words. I can.

Strategy – Structure – Tactics

Strategic Negotiation is about setting and executing a strategy for engagement, structuring the deal, engaging tactically, and then modifying all elements as the engagement unfolds. We tend to focus too much on techniques for engaging at the table. While sound tactical engagement is essential, it is insufficient by itself to deliver the best outcome.

Most of the program focused on business to business transactions – not surprising as it was the Harvard Business School. I took the time offered by the long journey home to ponder the relevance to public-private sector activity. Here are some initial thoughts:

  • We negotiate to further our interests. We negotiate broadly and often. For example, when dealing with the public over an environmental or planning issue, a major procurement, social service program delivery, aligning inter-and intra-organisational programs or dealing with disputes and wayward programs. Mostly I see “action and reaction” rather than “control and influence”. Adopting a strategic approach will better deliver our interests.
  • A good strategy finds a way to address the other’s interests in order to further our own. The art is to discover the other parties’ interests and synthesise an approach that either addresses or realigns them. We should engage the learnings of the top negotiators in a broad context more often.
  • Interestingly, industry adopts strategic selling methodologies that map opportunities and interests into engagement programs, well before prospects coalesce into tenders. The rigour with which they embrace the practices varies considerably, but the public sector lacks similar rigour entirely. Adopting strategic negotiation approaches will fill this gap.
  • Tendering in both the public and private sectors needs a rethink. There is no debate that competitive pressure is essential. However, we tend to invoke a tender process that doesn’t properly consider the potential participants and market dynamics before tender release, structures the deal without adequate consideration of the interests or behaviours of the other party, and prematurely reduces competition by early down selection. Alternative strategic approaches can enhance competition and increase the opportunity to create value.

I have the grist for several more blogs!  In the meantime if you would like to know more, perhaps an introductory Master Class on these topics for your team, please contact us.