Negotiating and Gardening

We moved. Our domestic side has had a reawakening. We’ve started planting: roses, an almond tree, lime and lemon trees, as well as night-blooming jasmine. We even started a small garden, where we’re growing tomatoes, squash, and herbs.

During all this, I couldn’t help noticing a certain connection: There are a lot of similarities between gardening and negotiation training.

First off, you start with good, healthy plants. When selecting a plant that you want to see flourish and provide you with good returns for a span of time, it’s not the occasion to save money. Every gardener knows, you start with the healthiest plant you can find. It’s the same with hiring the right people! A veteran sales manager once told me, “If you hire the wrong person, nothing you can do will save them. If you hire the right one, you’ll always get a good night’s sleep.”

In gardening, when you plant a seedling in its new home, you give it every opportunity. You take care to select the location with the right amount of sun. You give the plant enough room, prepare the soil around it, and use high-quality fertilizer.

Negotiation training uses much the same strategy. The two most important factors in training are content and delivery. Is the content on target for your group? Is it just generic, one-size-fits-all, or is it tailored to your specific situation? Delivery is vital! Is the training basically one long, extended lecture? Or is it a combination of lecture and hands-on exercises? Here’s what we know: People don’t improve skills by just hearing about what to do. They improve skills by hearing about something, learning about it, then doing it—in many cases, over and over in various scenarios.

Timing is key. Some plants need to be planted in early spring, others in the fall. A good time to train is at the beginning of a busy season, so people can put their new skills into practice right away and internalize the training, rather than let them get rusty on the shelf. This is how you turn information into skill—from something they’ve heard and “know” to something they can do.

A crucial element that too often gets lost in the mix: Is the training fun? To accomplish anything useful, it has to be an enjoyable experience. Even the most timely, accurate information, delivered in a boring or tedious manner, isn’t going to change behavior.

In gardening, the first several weeks after planting are critical. You need to water and fertilize and pay attention while the plant is getting established. It’s the same with business training. We’ve all been to a sales meeting that seemed great while it was happening. Everyone loved the sessions; they were excited. But six weeks after the meeting, the numbers were pretty much the same as going in. None of the material “stuck.”

That’s because there was no follow-up. No matter how great the variety and strength of the seedling you planted, it still has to be watered, weeded, and exposed to sunlight. And no matter how good the initial training session, once it’s over, new behaviors have to be integrated into the salesperson’s bag of tools. For those behaviors to take root, they must be repeated again and again. That’s especially true of negotiation. I tell salespeople in our seminars, “The study of negotiation is more akin to the study of golf or a martial art than to any other discipline. You don’t learn negotiation by reading about it. You become a good negotiator by negotiating—by doing it. Repetition is the mother of skill.”

Finally, after they have a solid rooting, some plants will still need more attention than others. And so it is with business. Some people will take the new skills and immediately begin to make a noticeable improvement in results. Others may take a bit of reminding and reinforcement.

Some of my plants are what I call “low maintenance.” Once they’re on their feet, you don’t have to do much to them at all—just be there for them and pick the fruit! That’s the kind of negotiators we all want! Unfortunately, some fall into the “high maintenance” category. (See point 1: Hire “low maintenance” people;-)

In closing, if you (a) start with the right people, (b) give them a really good initial training, (c) reinforce that training with follow-up, and (d) stay involved over time, you will have a strong team of negotiators, bringing in more business at higher margins.

If you have questions about how to help your team take root please feel free to contact me at 415-517-8150.