Is Your Role Not Quite Right? Negotiate a Better “Fit”

By PON Staffon / Business Negotiations

Adapted from “Will You Thrive—Or Just Survive?” by Deborah M. Kolb, Professor, Simmons College of Management.

What happened the last time you faced a new leadership opportunity? Whether you were called on to head a team, a task force, a unit, a division, or a company, chances are you negotiated the compensation and perquisites of the appointment—your salary, title, vacation, and bonus. But did you look beyond these basics and negotiate for what you would need to succeed in the new role? New leaders often fail to address issues critical to their ability to perform on the job, including their fit with the role, Judith Williams, Carol Frohlinger, and I learned from interviews with more than 100 women who had taken on leadership positions.

Here’s an example. When offered a promotion, a job, or a stretch assignment, most people weigh the opportunity as a yea or nay. Suppose you’ve been asked to consider taking over an underperforming unit that has great potential in your company. You’re interested, but given some complications in your personal life, you don’t think it’s feasible. Reluctantly, you turn down the assignment. Or maybe you’ve been asked to lead a task force on performance management. You aren’t crazy about the particular assignment, but there are so few leadership options in your department that you feel you have to accept.

This assumption about choice frames your decision in categorical terms: “Yes, I accept” or “No, I don’t.” In the process, it forecloses other possibilities: “Yes, but…” or, even better, “Yes, and….” To recognize those possibilities, you have to view yourself as well positioned to negotiate. How? By gathering good intelligence about your value and your areas of vulnerability.

Remember that you’ve been offered a leadership opportunity because you have what the other side needs. When negotiating the terms of your acceptance, communicating the value you bring to the role is a prerequisite for getting what you want. That clarity can come from gathering good intelligence about why you were tapped for the position in the first place. It also helps to know what gaps others may perceive in your skill set or resume. From this data, you can begin to identify changes to the job description that would make it a better fit for your skills, experiences, and interests.

Helen James, a sales executive, was offered a promotion she didn’t think she could refuse; at her level, few other opportunities would come up. But with young children at home, she knew she could not take on the travel that went with the position. By gathering intelligence from her network, James learned that her superiors viewed her as the right person for the job because of her experience in global channel distribution. Armed with that knowledge, she negotiated a restructuring of the unit. Two deputies already in place would take on new responsibilities and devote time to global customers. At headquarters, James would develop strategy and meet with customers only when her expertise was needed. By negotiating the terms of an ostensibly nonnegotiable offer, James produced an alternative that worked for everyone: customers received hands-on attention, key staff members gained important experience, the company put its channel distribution in capable hands, and James’s home life remained stable.


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


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