Advice on how to negotiate a job offer often focuses on the candidate’s perspective, offering compensation negotiation tips and guidance on adding other issues to the discussion. But how can hiring organizations gain an edge when competing for star candidates?
The negotiation example of how Howard University lured Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones away from the University of North Carolina (UNC) highlights key skills of negotiation that employers and others can use to reach their goals.
A Controversial Decision
In April 2021, UNC announced it was hiring Hannah-Jones as the next Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at its Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Hannah-Jones is the creator of the 1619 Project, a New York Times magazine initiative that reframes the history of the United States through the lens of slavery.
Upon Hannah-Jones’s hiring, UNC’s tenure committee, the university’s chancellor, and the Hussman School’s dean and faculty all recommended her for tenure, which other recent Knight chairs had received. But UNC’s board of trustees instead offered her a five-year contract, the Times reports.
News that Hannah-Jones had been passed over for tenure triggered a firestorm of criticism. Media outlets reported that conservative publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr., a major UNC donor and the namesake of the school’s journalism school, had raised concerns about the 1619 Project and some of Hannah-Jones’ political views to university leaders and at least one UNC trustee, according to NC Policy Watch. Hannah-Jones, who is Black, said she wouldn’t join the faculty without tenure and threatened to sue UNC for discrimination.
Numerous universities reached out to Hannah-Jones after the controversy broke out in May, Hannah-Jones told NC Policy Watch. If UNC came through with tenure by July 1, schools would need to work quickly to put together offers. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, negotiations between Howard University, a historically Black college, and Hannah-Jones “unfolded behind the scenes with remarkable speed”—and showcased numerous types of skills of negotiation.
Acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whom Howard was also trying to woo, introduced her to Howard president Wayne A.I. Frederick. After their initial meeting, Frederick launched negotiations not only with Hannah-Jones but also with private funders to “ensure that we could support” her work, he told the Chronicle.
A Coordinated Package
Quickly, Howard raised $20 million to fund positions for Hannah-Jones, Coates, and a new Center for Journalism and Democracy. The Knight Foundation made the first commitment, agreeing in June to pay $5 million to fund a new chair position.
Envisioning a center that would train future journalists to cover “the crisis of our democracy” and strengthen journalism education at historically Black colleges and universities nationwide, Hannah-Jones asked the Ford Foundation to consider providing seed funding for such a center at Howard, writes NC Policy Watch. It chipped in another $5 million.
Having already given Hannah-Jones a fellowship in 2017, the MacArthur Foundation wanted to continue to support her career and gave $5 million. An anonymous donor provided a final $5 million.
On June 30, the UNC board reversed its decision and granted Hannah-Jones tenure. But the move came too late: The journalist announced a couple of days later that she had instead accepted a tenured position at Howard University.
Hannah-Jones had been excited about returning to her alma mater, UNC, but the news of Hussman’s alleged interference led her to decide she could not work at a school that bore his name, she told NC Policy Watch. The fact that numerous top UNC administrators stayed silent during the uproar rather than supporting her also “stung,” she said in a statement.
Skills of Negotiation Needed for Complex Deals
The following negotiation skills and strategies will help employers and others gain an edge:
- Launch a negotiation campaign. When more than one negotiation is needed to wrap up a deal, try looking at them collectively. “Whenever a number of individual agreements must be aggregated to gain sufficient support for an ultimate target agreement,” writes Harvard Business School professor James Sebenius, “it may be useful to craft a broader negotiation campaign within which a more manageable number of fronts can be orchestrated.”
- Try a coordinated approach. As part of your campaign, you might encourage the parties you’re negotiating with to coordinate deal components with each other, as the funders in Hannah-Jones’s Howard deal did. Wise negotiators recognize when cooperating will be more beneficial to them and others than competing.
- Be nimble and quick. Howard was able to make Hannah-Jones a tempting offer swiftly in part by involving her in negotiations with funders and building on its relationship with Coates. When a tight deadline looms, it’s all hands on deck.
What skills of negotiation have you found useful when you need to close a deal quickly?