Adapted from “Disappointed by Results? Improve Accountability,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, January 2009.
How can you make the negotiators who report to you more accountable for their behavior? When negotiators know they will have to justify their actions, they become more focused, researchers have found.
But accountability can backfire if negotiators become so vigilant about the prospect of justifying their actions that they factor every minor detail they encounter into their decisions. University of California at Berkeley professor Philip Tetlock, Harvard Kennedy School professor Jennifer Lerner, and researcher Richard Boettger found in one study that accountable decision makers tended to factor unimportant information into their decisions, such as the other side’s age and personality, to their detriment.
How can you make sure your negotiators focus on the issues that matter? Take the time to talk with them about the most important issues at stake in upcoming negotiations. If sales volume is less important than building a strong, long-term relationship with a particular customer, carefully articulate this preference. At the same time, stay open to the possibility that the negotiator will persuade you that other goals, such as a clearer delivery window, are equally important.
In addition, when it comes time to discuss performance incentives, tell your negotiators that they will be rewarded based on their ability to follow through with a sound process that achieves the goals you’ve laid out together. In doing so, you will help negotiators stay on track—and avoid being distracted by irrelevant details—once talks begin.