Recruiters negotiate like sharks

by Giles Morgan
There are many different breeds of shark in recruitment The best negotiators are in-fact Dolphins.
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Well the ones that succeed and survive do, don’t they…?

Well, yes… and no. In my 20+ years as a recruitment professional, entrepreneur and negotiation trainer / consultant in the Human Capital space I’ve found the best negotiators are in-fact Dolphins, but that’s for another day.

I’ve found many different breeds of shark in recruitment, but to simplify and yes, this will be very, very generalistic, I’ve named just three sharks below.

We should all be able to relate to The Sand Tiger, aka The Raggy Tooth – The External Recruiter – well known for eating their own brothers and sisters to survive the womb. Although fearsome looking and voracious, they are soft and harmless, their teeth are specialised for capturing smaller prey.

As negotiators, they don’t want to damage relationships but are usually forced into price centric negotiations (win/lose) by internal stakeholders, clients and candidates. They don’t have the variables (scope) or authority (empowerment) to trade creatively so ‘sell’ to compensate. In fact, they end up selling too much and so can come across as soft in their negotiation language and behaviours and therefore, be perceived as either untrustworthy or overly arrogant and uncooperative when they can’t deliver on their sell. They need to use entirely different behaviours and skills to achieve more in a competitive negotiation.

Whale Shark – The RPO / The MSP / The Consultancy – the biggest fish in the sea yet feeds on the smallest, consuming them in such great volumes they survive. Slow moving yet powerful.

Carrying with them their own eco-system of Human Capital service providers in their wake, Negotiators in this environment have many more variables at play and a mutual feeling of dependency exists between the parties giving a sense of partnership. Yet, competitors lurk ever nearer and partners can switch from The Diplomat to The Haggler at any time, it’s their right to re-set the relationship to ensure best pricing. Do they know how to negotiate in this area; There is a process, a way to plan and behave when you are a win/win negotiator. It’s easy to see those who can and those who can’t; just appraise how they trade multiple variables, do they leave money on the table due to an inappropriate understanding of how to manage ‘trade-offs’.

Bull Shark, aka The Zambezi – The Client (the internal recruitment / talent team) – are adaptable, able to survive in either salt or fresh water. Successful in either deep or shallow water. Flexible eating habits enable them to consume across the food chain as they are at the top of it.

With choices comes power. When they negotiate they feel they have choice, to haggle or not to haggle, that is the question.. and yet, many started out as Sand Tigers so may not have learnt the art of win/win or just replicate how they were negotiated with when they were Sand Tigers. There is a process, a way to plan and behave when in win/win.

Let’s consider the largest population, The Sand Tigers – The External Recruiters

But firstly, to give some colour; here at Kah-Vay we have a framework based on our negotiation compass. It helps our clients navigate better negotiated outcomes.

Based on the circumstances they find themselves in they’re able to navigate negotiations appropriately. The differing compass headings reference appropriate tools, tactics and behaviours that would better their outcomes.

Ok, The Sand Tiger Shark. They are borne into a world of struggle and survival of the fittest. There are just so many alternatives to them as individuals and to their company as a service. It means their clients have options, they have, what is known as, BATNA’s (best alternative to a negotiated outcome (PON)), which gives the clients power! The Sand Tiger would say they are diplomatic and engineering with warm and collaborative behaviours (win/win), but this is their incredible sales skills not their negotiation skills.. two entirely different skill sets (don’t think otherwise), one is soft and gets you to the negotiation table, the other is firm and agrees deals.

These sharks ‘usually’ negotiate in a Haggler / Dealer way (win/lose) and they don’t even know it. They think they are negotiating as Diplomats and Engineers but they don’t have the scope, the power or the right circumstances to negotiate in this area of the compass.

The Sand Tiger has been forced into this Haggler / Dealer compass heading, they are nurtured into it, and they don’t even realise it….. so they are in a win/lose negotiation using the behaviours associated with win/win – which means they get exploited…. so every year they lose a bit more price, cut by cut.

To navigate around the negotiation compass, towards The Engineer and The Diplomat trust needs to be developed and a sense of dependency needs to be solidified in longer term contracts. This therefore requires the ability to trade more complexity i.e. more variables than just price, but to do so The Sand Tiger would have to expose themselves, they would have to open-up and feel safe sharing information without fear of being exploited.

Exposing themselves openly to the other party weakens their position and is used against them to achieve price concessions. It’s been happening for years and its happening all the time… So, they have a choice; toughen up and come across as arrogant, giving off a perception of power, of being untrustworthy and not caring for the relationship; the classic haggler. Or accept the price concession to encourage relationship building (the seller BTW, not the negotiator), this just encourages more price concessions. It’s here they make their biggest error. They concede without getting anything of equal or greater ‘in value’ in return! They are not firm enough, they are too softy sale’sy and to do this appropriately takes a lot more planning and empowerment. The Diplomat and Engineer know how be warm on people but tough on issues, they know how to trade these concessions correctly; there is a way to do it appropriately. In fact, it requires an entirely different set of skills, tactics, processes and more importantly behaviours.

I’ve found very few recruiters who are skilled enough to make this transition around the negotiation compass, from The Haggler to The Diplomat, most don’t get beyond The Dealer or in rare cases The Engineer. Those that do have either come from outside of recruitment, are owner/managers or have been very well trained.

The recruitment world should be more about quality and value, not just price. In an age of millennials, generation this and that, the departure of the baby boomers and of course BREXIT, talent will become more difficult to procure. The Sharks will need to evolve into dolphins and learn how to navigate together.

It’s time to change.. It’s time to navigate better negotiated outcomes.

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