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How to use non-negotiables to create business clarity

When you’re clear on what is not negotiable in your business, you put yourself in a position to make better decisions and move forward. Here’s some expert advice for establishing non-negotiables.

Imagine if we were all crystal clear on what we wanted or needed and how we communicated this.

In an article recently published in a prominent Sydney newspaper titled Ceasefire ‘not negotiable’, it reads, “US President Barack Obama has delivered a blunt ultimatum to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, threatening military action if he ignored non-negotiable United Nations demands for a ceasefire and a retreat from rebel bastions.” It is crystal clear that unless Libya ceases fire and retreats from rebel bastions then a probable consequence is military action.

A tool I have used in coaching since 2002 to help others create clarity is to establish non-negotiables. In short, the question I ask is what are the three to six key components you will not negotiate on due to importance and consequence? Another way to look at non-negotiables is what are the three to six most important components that must be considered in this decision?

Clarifying your non-negotiables can help in most personal or professional situations when you are in a decision making phase, be it finding a new career path with a company that has the right cultural fit, developing a more effective relationship, the right place to invest/spend your budget, hiring new talent such as a sales leader or a personal assistant or simply deciding on which contractor or supplier you will work with.

I recently worked with a leader in a large financial institution who was in the process of employing a senior operations manager who would be a direct report and with whom he would be working closely with. He had two equally suitable candidates for the role however after much consideration he was still at a stalemate…unable to make a decision. Candidate A had greater technical skills and Candidate B seemed to fit from a behavioural perspective and also had a breadth of industry experience. His intuition was telling him that the final piece of the puzzle for the first candidate was slightly askew but on paper this person looked the best. He couldn’t decide.

So what we did was take a step back and look at it from a different angle. I suggested my client to do two things:

Task 1: Write a list of the first 20 attributes that come in to your head when thinking about this role or person that will fill this role, that are most important.

Task 2: Refine or rate the list to realise the top three to six attributes of which will become your non-negotiables.

When he was clear on the non-negotiables relating to this role I asked him to take another look at both candidates to establish whether the key attributes were present in order to gain further clarity on who might best fit the role.

Be aware though, I have seen a number of clients compromise on their established non-negotiables due to desperation. Non-negotiables are just that, they cannot be adjusted nor should they be due to the important reasoning that established them in the first place. Even if just one non negotiable is ignored you end up back at square one, having to start the process over again. It is like Libya ignoring the ceasefire and now continues to live with the consequence of loss of life and unrest.

Having established his non-negotiables for the role and reviewing the fit of each candidate he realised he was none the clearer. As his coach I had been witness to two recent situations that had triggered an emotional reaction, so was able to draw on my observations to ask an important final question.

Question: As you will be working closely with this person five days a week up to 10 hours a day what do you need from this person, what is the one of the most important attributes you deem critical in this relationship?

In my clients case he realised that in each of the two most recent situations that evoked an emotional reaction his ‘trust’ was betrayed. By understanding this he deemed ‘trust’ as a new non-negotiable. He needed to have a person he could trust on his team.

What he did then was create interview questions that would delve in to how this person views trust. He created a breadth of questions and workplace scenarios that would initiate responses pertinent to issues relating to trust. At the end of the final interviews with Candidates A and B it became obvious who would be more likely to ‘stand by’ offering support and allegiance if times got tough. Candidate B was hired much to the surprise of his fellow colleagues. Trust was not negotiable.

This model can similarly be applied to a change management process, outplacement programs, sales people who compromise on pricing in a sales negotiation, creating effective working relationships, and many other situations.

When you are clear on what is not negotiable, you are in a position to make better decisions and move forward.