Ombudsmanship & Successful Contract Negotiations

19 July 2010

Over the last six months I’ve been working on a long-term “contingency” project, something I said I’d never do anymore, but this time I just “knew” I could provide experience and skills needed to solve a long-standing deadlock.  In addition to that, a conservative modeling of the contract projected gross earnings of $2,000,000 the first year had a significant influence too, not to mention new jobs and filling a recognized gap in corporate communities nationwide.  The client contacted me and for about an hour at the beginning of 2010, she laid out a long and winding road of cycling back and forth over decisions between her and a Fortune 500 company seeking her organizations Wellness Program services.  She “knew” she didn’t have “control” over the situation and was perplexed as to how to get out of the whirlpool of wasting time, energy and resources and find a mutual solution for both sides.  Not to keep you, the reader, bored with all the background details, I’ll just say that after 12 full months all terms have been re-negotiated and the contract signed as of this month.  Success… here is what made the difference and you can consider it too.

First, I took an “asymmetrical” approach and to save even more time I simply offered to work day by day with her on whatever issue popped up and we would look at it and find the solution.  Key to this was COMMUNICATION and having complete open channels and reciprocity between us at all times.  I chose this approach after doing a case history and realizing the company was good at serving the end customer directly, very knowledgeable and skilled, but not at all familiar with partnering or sub-contracting to a larger entity.  All of the principles of The 6 C’s of Sociocratic Peace Building were also applied between “our team” and their entity.

Second, we re-established communications with the Fortune client on the basis or “excuse”, that it’s a new year and “whatever happened to our contract discussion from last summer” and within 24 hours an “invitation” came back indicating they’d like to pick them up and begin again IF some substantial changes could be made.

Third, the “terms” came over and an analysis began. In “corporate speak” there is a lot of talking, but no communicating and the “terms” I read indicated that I had a client that didn’t “speak the language” and her Fortune client knew what they wanted, but didn’t know the “how” to get it and this is the “unspoken” path to success… if one can “sense” it and see it.

Fourth, we replied with a proposal and began to negotiate the terms.  The “key word” that really opened things up and caused an immediate “surge” in activity was to propose a “pilot program” lasting 90 days.  This offers “both sides” the opportunity to discover if it’s going to work or not and then a decision is made.  We are now, the moment of this writing, PAST the pilot program point and a full open end contract was awarded.

Fifth, if you see “gaps” in terms between the two entities one side has to come forward and break the dysfunctional cycling of “talk” and demonstrate “substantive” solutions.  This has a cost attached, always, and for the first time, yet another barrier was over come because we put actual costs in a proposal.  In the closing rounds the Fortune client tried to get into a position so as not to have to pay for custom operational and administrative infrastructure required to manage the partnership and this took the longest time of back and forth discussion and providing substantiation of costs.  There’s a danger in this at this stage, but I won’t go into that to keep short here, but let’s just say there are “levels” of disclosure towards the objectives and goals as long as you keep pointing them out and repeating them as needed.

Sixth, the “compass” or guiding principle I gave my client in the beginning was to always answer this question in your own head at any given moment and stage of negotiations. “When are you in adversarial, neutral or consensus mode with your customer/client/partner?”  The practical answer to this question is that at any given time one never really knows, but you must “sense” where you are and RESPOND appropriately to keep a once stalled process moving forward.  You could be adversarial about points in the contract and communicating from a neutral stance and be in consensus on intentions and you have to constantly contemplate all of these dynamics.

In closing, most of “our” work is ad hoc to some situation, contract, relationship “gone bad”, but as I’ve written before and in this case specifically, you can provide “intervention” during the process of coming to terms between entities without lawyers and other “polarizing” traditions.  The minute you say, “I’ll have my lawyer look at this contract before I sign it”, you just performed a “mea culpa” that you may NEVER get an opportunity, as a party to an agreement, to bring to favorable outcome.  In this case my client never did this, but rather stayed neutral and kept a diplomatic position enabling and empower everyone to later move forward once communicating details of every single point was covered and substantive demonstrations of the capacity to “perform” were provided. This provides “confidence” on both sides to “get married” and begin a mutually beneficial, job producing, health preserving program.  For me personally, my “formula” for combining ombudsman ADR during a business activity as an ombudmanship skill continues to be viable and therefore substantiate my work in “the blue ocean” of opportunity.  Good luck in your endeavors too…