Planning and Flexibility

I travel quite a bit and find myself constantly in need of the GPS feature on my phone. I’ve grown to have great trust in it. A few days ago, I set out to a team strategy session about an hour and a half’s drive from my office. My GPS told me we would arrive at 8:02, which was perfect.

Along the way, traffic thickened, and the going got slower and slower. The tiny woman in the GPS piped up to tell me that a twenty-one-minute slowdown was ahead but that we were on the fastest route and would arrive around 8:17.

A few minutes later, Ms. GPS chimed in again to say an alternative route had been discovered that would save me six minutes. Did I want to take it?

I said yes and turned onto a side road that led to a series of back roads. I had no idea where I was—I was just following the GPS. I ended up back on a freeway, though a different one from the original. Thirty minutes later, I ran into more congestion, with a message alerting me to another slowdown but assuring me that I was on the fastest route. Sure enough, in a few minutes, the familiar voice returned. She had discovered an alternative route that would save me nine minutes. Did I want to take it? I did.

Setting off on this new detour, I was struck by the similarity between what I was experiencing in traffic, and the planning and execution of a negotiation. At the beginning of the trip, my plan was set. I had done my homework, and I knew precisely where I was going and how I would get there.

As the trip progressed, however, conditions changed along the way. The road grew crowded; slowdowns occurred; opportunities presented themselves.

The bottom line was, at the end of all that shifting from the original plan, I got to the meeting two minutes early.

Here is the strategy that works: Plan well. Allow for every eventuality, but when the negotiation starts, have access to new information and be flexible enough to respond to changes in the environment.

Even in an everyday sales negotiation, unexpected events have a way of showing up:

  • Someone’s uncle is introduced into the situation.
  • A new boss enters the picture.
  • A merger takes place.
  • A solution from another source appears.
  • The competition introduces a superior product.

Well, you get the idea.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, plans are sometimes of little importance, but planning is invaluable because of the clarity it brings you.

Negotiate well.