Win-Win Negotiations: Should You Consider a Deal Sweetener?

How to achieve win-win negotiations without crossing a line on ethics

By PON Staffon / Win-Win Negotiations

win-win negotiations

The following question regarding win-win negotiations was asked of Andrew Wasynczuk, MBA Class of 1953 and Senior Lecturer of Business Administration Harvard Business School in the Negotiation Briefings monthly “Ask the Negotiation Coach” column:

Question: I run a mid-sized retail sports-apparel chain located in the southwestern United States. I’ve been searching for a seasoned executive to lead new store expansion in our fast-growing market. I finally found the perfect candidate, and we’ve agreed to most terms. The one sticking point is that she is obligated to give her current employer six months’ notice. I confided in her that such a delay would undermine our expansion strategy relative to an aggressive competitor. Her response has been a bit vague; she says that she feels compelled to honor her word to her current employer but will join us as soon as she can. She assures me that she is excited about my offer, but given her hesitation to leave her old firm, I’m not convinced. I’ve thought about resuming the search, but finding and hiring another perfect candidate will likely take more than six months. Should I consider a deal sweetener, such as an early-start bonus?

Discover how to handle complicated, high-level business negotiations in this free report, Win-Win or Hardball? Learn Top Strategies from Sports Contract Negotiations, from Harvard Law School.

Answer: Although there may be legal consequences if you induce someone to break a contractual obligation, it is not unusual for an employee to negotiate new terms of her separation once she has served notice of her resignation. Often the employer is eager to move ahead with a replacement rather than hold on to a lame duck. But if the departing employee is in the midst of an important project, keeping that person on board through its completion makes sense.

Getting a clearer picture of what is motivating this candidate’s reluctance to negotiate a shorter notice period with her current employer is key. Since you have already amicably agreed to most terms of her employment, it seems unlikely that she is leveraging your desperation into a more lucrative deal for herself or buying time while she waits for clarity on another job opportunity.

Taken at face value, a prospective employee who honors her word and her commitments is demonstrating integrity and character. If she wants to tie up some loose ends with her project team, that would be a good long-term signal for you and your organization.

Of course, it won’t solve your urgent managerial vacuum. Should you offer the candidate a financial incentive to negotiate an early release from her current employment agreement? My advice is a cautious yes. However, how you frame that offer is very important.

You might be tempted to simply put forth an “exploding” or “evaporating” bonus (one that would disappear either at a specific point in time or over a stretch of time). This would provide a clear extrinsic reward to the candidate to join your company as quickly as possible. But this type of bonus could also be interpreted as an inducement for the candidate to do something she would perceive to be unethical.

Instead, frame your proposal around the strategic imperatives of your business. Explain that there is a real upside to your company if the candidate were to join sooner rather than later. Since she is a valued prospective member of your team, you want to share some of that upside with her. The sooner she is able to join, the greater this shared upside can be. This argument will likely create a loftier self-narrative for her—as a principal of your team rather than as a mercenary.

Have you been a part of win-win negotiations? Did this post help answer any questions you have about achieving win-win negotiations? Share your story in the comments.

Discover how to handle complicated, high-level business negotiations in this free report, Win-Win or Hardball? Learn Top Strategies from Sports Contract Negotiations, from Harvard Law School.