During the process of hammering out a complex international negotiation, getting to the finish line—a final agreement—can seem like the hardest part. But negotiators often come to realize that implementing that agreement can impose even greater challenges and require deeper reservoirs of diplomatic skill.
Take the global climate change agreement reached in Paris in December 2015. Following a painstaking 18 months of preparatory work and innovative diplomatic negotiation techniques by the conference’s organizers, the 196 nations participating in the international negotiation succeeded in making enforceable commitments to lower their greenhouse-gas emissions to levels that could ward off environmental disasters.
The agreement will become legally binding if at least 55 countries cumulatively representing at least 55% of global greenhouse emissions sign the agreement in New York between April 22, 2016 and April 21, 2017 and have it legally ratified or otherwise accepted by their governments.
On March 31, on the sidelines of another international negotiation, a nuclear security meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S. president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping jointly vowed to sign the Paris Agreement on Earth Day, April 22. The announcement was designed to signal the commitment of the world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters to making real strides toward curbing pollution—and to encourage other nations to quickly follow suit, according to the New York Times.
Yet Obama and Xi’s united front was belied by real challenges to the task of implementing the agreement reached in the cross-cultural negotiation. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court put on hold an Obama administration regulation to reduce power plants’ greenhouse gas pollution, America’s key commitment in the Paris Agreement. As a result of the Supreme Court’s stay, legal challenges by 29 states and a number of businesses must be resolved before the administration’s regulation is put in place.
China appears to be adhering to an ambitious plan to rely increasingly on renewable energy sources. But the Supreme Court’s order, as well as the volatile U.S. presidential campaign, have some nations questioning the ability of the United States to adhere to its commitments and could dampen their enthusiasm for signing the agreement, according to the Times. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has criticized the Paris agreement, and his rival Ted Cruz has vowed that, if elected, he would withdraw the United States from the deal.
Other major polluting countries face similar roadblocks to implementation. In Brazil, for example, an ambitious plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions is threatened by the possible impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
The leaders behind the international negotiation were anxious for a show of force at the New York signing ceremony in New York on April 22. “The most important thing is how many signatures we get on that day,” Laurence Tubiana, France’s chief climate change envoy to the United Nations, told the Times. “We need to show momentum, because we know for some countries it may be difficult to sign.”
Improve a deal’s odds of survival
When conducting international business negotiations or complex domestic ones, what steps can you take to improve the deal’s odds of surviving and thriving during the implementation stage? Here are three:
1. Build the relationship.
The quality of your relationship could be the difference between a successful deal and one that collapses during the implementation phase. Ideally, the key negotiators should stay actively involved in making sure it is implemented smoothly. Strengthen your connection by promising to meet in person at regular intervals to communicate new developments, discuss areas of concern, and explore new business opportunities together.
2. Encourage long-term thinking.
All of us are susceptible to the tendency to focus on short-term concerns, such as quarterly earnings, at the expense of critical long-term goals, such as helping our organization or community thrive well into the future. How can you overcome this common bias? Rather than rewarding your negotiators based on a deal’s estimated future value, consider rewarding them on the thoroughness of their preparation process, the care with which they negotiate, and their balancing of caution and risk.
3. Improve the odds of follow-through.
Negotiators are easily swayed by glitzy presentations, rock-bottom bids, and optimistic timelines. Rather than taking the other side’s promises for granted, ask probing questions and investigate their ability to follow through. In addition, when setting your negotiation agenda, consider adding a clause that mandates renegotiation, mediation, or arbitration in the event of unforeseen circumstances or conflict. Finally, publicize the results of your deal. Both sides may work harder if your reputations would be damaged by a failed partnership.