Episode 130 – Accelerate your Career – Skills For Success

Original Air Date

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33 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 130 – Accelerate your Career – Skills For Success

About This Episode

Mark Herschberg

Negotiating, recruiting, career planning, interviewing… have you been taught these skills? Want to learn how to be a better interviewer? Mark Herschberg joins us to talk about these rarely taught, crucial skills which are indispensable to career success. Mark shares valuable career advice about pivoting, setting goals, and recognizing change as an opportunity not a setback. Mark authored The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You, and we take a look at some pragmatic advice he offers in this book. Hear about how to effectively communicate to make sure you get the right information from the right people at the right time, particularly while working remote.

Most project managers have never had formal training on how to conduct job interviews, yet hiring the right people is often the hardest part of the job. Mark explains how to be more intentional with asking the right questions and avoiding the bad questions. Finally, we talk about negotiation skills. Mark stresses the importance of preparation and determining your ideal outcome before starting negotiations. He explains the value of knowing your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) tactic which delivers significant negotiating power.

Educated at MIT, Mark has spent his career launching and fixing new ventures at startups, Fortune 500s, and academia. He’s developed new software languages, online marketplaces, new authentication systems, and tracked criminals and terrorists on the dark web. Mark helped create the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, MIT’s “Career Success Accelerator”, where he’s taught for twenty years.

Favorite Quotes from Episode

"…prepare ahead of time, think about what is it that you want to get out of this negotiation. … What’s your BATNA, your Best Alternative To Negotiate Agreement? That’s the point at which you walk away. You shouldn’t take anything less."

Mark Herschberg

"…when I interview people, I make sure to look at that meta level as well, not just what you’re answering, but how you’re approaching that answer. And that tells me something to these other skills and characteristics that we’re looking for."

Mark Herschberg

Negotiating, recruiting, career planning, interviewing… rarely taught, crucial skills that are indispensable to career success. Listen in as Mark Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You, gives valuable career advice about pivoting and about the value of knowing your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) tactic to deliver significant negotiating power.  

Table of Contents

01:40 … Meet Mark
02:58 … Pivoting Your Career
04:56 … Impact Of COVID on Career Progress
06:27 … Post Pandemic Work Shift
08:19 … Being Intentional with Relationships
11:01 … How to be Better at Interviewing
15:11 … What are Good Interview Questions?
21:17 … Preparation for Negotiations
23:48 … The BATNA Approach
27:10 … How to Anchor your Negotiations
31:37 … How to Contact Mark
32:48 … Closing.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  So you want to prepare ahead of time, think about what is it that you want to get out of this negotiation.  What’s your ideal outcome?  What’s your BATNA, your Best Alternative To Negotiate Agreement?  That’s the point at which you walk away.  You shouldn’t take anything less.  What are some possible scenarios that might come up?  What are some tradeoffs you might want to do?  And what might the other side be doing? 

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Thank you for joining us today.  I am Wendy Grounds, and joining us on Skype is Bill Yates.  Today we’re talking to Mark Herschberg.  Mark was educated at MIT, and he’s spent his career launching and fixing new ventures at startups, Fortune 500s, and academia.  Mark helped create the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, MIT’s career success accelerator, where he’s taught for 20 years.  Bill, you’ve read Mark’s book, and you’re going to tell us a little bit about that.

BILL YATES:  Yes.  The goal of his book is to be a career success accelerator, just like you mentioned.  And there is so much application to project management.  He’s got a chapter on communications, and the leadership chapter talks about how do we motivate team members, different ways to do that.  There’s some familiar topics here, things like Tuckman’s Ladder, the five different stages for project team development, looking at the 5 Whys technique, the Iron Triangle.  So he goes into some of these things that we’ll look at as project managers and go, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that.  And then he goes deeper, and those are the topics that we want to talk to him about today, things like negotiation, interviewing, tips that I think project managers can really benefit from.

Meet Mark

WENDY GROUNDS:  Mark, welcome to Manage This.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Thanks for having me.  It’s a pleasure to be here today.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I want to hear a little bit about your book.  You authored “The Career Toolkit:  Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You.”  What prompted you to write this book?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Years ago, when I first started hiring people, software engineers, project managers, I found when I had asked them a technical question, I’d get a technical answer.  But when I would ask a question like what makes someone a good teammate, what are the communication challenges we face, I would get blank stares.  And I realized we never teach this in our undergraduate curriculum.  So I had to start training up folks that I was trying to hire.

At the same time, MIT was getting similar feedback from corporate America and began to put together their own program.  So I heard about this.  I was about a year ahead of them.  I said, “You know, I’ve been working on this.  Can I help?”  So I then got involved with MIT.  I helped develop this program.  I’ve been teaching for the past 20 years.  But of course these skills, it’s not just for MIT students.  It’s not just for students.  They are universal skills.  Again, corporate America said these are the skills we want to see, but can’t find.  So I wanted to reach a larger audience with them.  And that’s why I turned a lot of what I’ve been teaching at MIT and elsewhere into a book.

Pivoting Your Career

WENDY GROUNDS:  I’d like to start with pivoting one’s career.  You know the pandemic has caused a lot of disruption.  There’s a lot of people, and I’m sure project managers as well, who have had  projects canceled.  Work has changed.  The environment has changed.  What advice do you have for people who are kind of at that point where they’re looking to pivot their careers?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  It’s to make sure you have a clear understanding of where you want to go; right?  And that starts by saying where do I want to be five, 10, 20 years, if you can.  It doesn’t have to be a specific job.  It might be an idea; right?  I want to be leading a team of 50.  I want to be in this particular industry.  So don’t worry about fixating on a job title.  Once you have that goal, you want to work backwards.  And now project managers will get this better than anyone.  Because so many people say, well, you can’t really plan for your career.  You would never say, “Hey, we’ve got a six-month project.  Let’s just wing it.”  Right?  Of course you’re going to create a plan.

You also know it’s not going to go according to plan.  We know things are going to come up along the way, and we’re going to revise our plan.  Our careers are longer than six months.  Of course we need a plan.  So you want to create that plan.  You want to think about what is your goal.  And of course in certain types of projects, especially software projects, it might be more Agile, where, well, we have an idea, but the goal’s not defined.  As opposed to bridge building, where it’s a very well-defined goal.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  So you want to set as close as you can what that outcome is, specific or general; create that plan to get there; and then do regular check-ins every six or so months.  Are we on track?  Is this where I want to go?  Have I stepped closer?  Because you don’t just say, well, in six years bridge is built.  Right?  You don’t just say, well, in six years I’ll be here.  Where do you need to be in four years?  In two years?  And then how do you measure progress to that?  And so when  you’re going to pivot, whether you’re pivoting or staying on a path, it doesn’t matter.  You have your goal.  You have your path to get there.  And do the check-ins along the way.

Impact of COVID on Career Progress

BILL YATES:  Mark, have you seen any impact of the pandemic on this approach or on these steps that people should take?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  I actually reference this in the book because when we have our plans, we know there are certain things that some might go a little faster or slower, the usual project management, the bumps along the way.  But we also know sometimes you’re in the middle of a project, and then a massive lawsuit upends the company and the project and puts it on hold.  Or there’s a big strategic shift, or M&A.  All these things can happen.  In our personal lives, same thing.  It could be your boss leaves.  It could be your division gets shut down.  A pandemic happens.  And that’s why we want, just like in our project plans, we want to be prepared for when something happens.  Same thing in our personal life.

Now, when we see these changes, we know they can be setbacks.  They can be opportunities.  It’s just how we look at it.  Right now, with the pandemic, I think a lot of people have put their careers on hold.  They were just focused on heads down, let’s keep the job, and let’s make sure the company survives this.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  I think we’re about to see a massive shift in people moving between companies.  All that pent-up change is going to be happening over the second half of this year.  And that’s a huge opportunity for your career, whether you’re staying where you are, and you’re going to become more senior perhaps, you’re going to take on more responsibility, or you’re going to shift into a new role.

Post Pandemic Work Shift

BILL YATES:  Related to that, how do you think that those roles are going to shift in the future?  So when the pandemic is over, and we return to work, for a project manager, how do you think that work will look different?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  I don’t think there’s going to be as massive a shift as other people are predicting.  It’s not like the world is suddenly going to look entirely different.  We will see more remote work.  The conversation of course went from can this work to we know it works.  And certainly one thing we really need to think about as project managers, it is about that communication.  And in fact in my book I have two chapters on management.  One is on people management; one is on process management.  At the core of them, as well as the communication chapter, it is about communication; right?  It is about engaging with people and making sure you get the right information from the right people at the right time.

Now, when we are remote, that gets harder.  We all know you’ve got your audio channel.  You’ve got tone of voice.  You’ve got body language.  You have images.  And so depending on how much you engage, and how you engage, this gets easier or harder.  Even simple things like being in the meeting room a couple minutes ahead of time and saying, “Oh, yeah, how’s that project going, Bill?” and finding something out that may not happen when we’re offline.  We’re not going to run into each other at the water cooler.

So as we move to a slightly more remote, not massively more remote, slightly overall, though for an individual company you could go fully remote or 50% remote.  But overall, as we get a little more remote, remember that you’re losing some of that serendipity, and that the width of that conversation channel gets narrower.  So we want to be more proactive in sussing out that information and ensuring that it gets communicated in our roles.

Being Intentional with Relationships

BILL YATES:  It’s a matter of being intentional; right?  We have to be more intentional about touching base remotely because we don’t have those water cooler conversations that help tease out ideas and help build relationships so that then we have that foundation of trust.  So when we need to make decisions later, we know where people stand.  Yeah, I’ve found I’ve had to be more intentional with it.  And I think that’s something that’s going to carry over as we move into hybrid teams.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  And of course the subtle trick, we can be – I like that word “intentional” – more intentional and formal and let’s make sure we meet about this and discuss this in a regular cadence, or report this in through email or Slack or whatever the channel is.  But you also have to create room for some of that serendipity.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  Some of that, oh, just had a thought moment.  That’s very hard to create, and that’s going to be a little specific to the culture and dynamics of the people.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Another thing I’ve found is to be better at being independent.  I always enjoyed the office environment and being able to bounce ideas off people and just having that support.  But the way that work has changed, I’ve had to be a lot more independent and just get my stuff done.  And it’s really helped me to grow a lot, I think, as well.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Now, that raises an interesting point.  Some anecdotal feedback, I haven’t seen large surveys on this, is that the younger generations tend to want to return into the office, while the older generations want to stay home.  Now, I’m sure this is not universally true.  The general thinking is that older folks, they have families.  They’re living in the suburbs further away.  The commute’s more of a hassle.  Younger folks actually get some of their social life from their peers in the office.  This can create an interesting challenge for any type of hybrid role when some people are in the office more and others less, because now you have shifting dynamics.

I’ve run remote teams in the past.  My preference is always everyone in one office is easiest to run, or maybe two offices.  You’ve got two different cities.  Or you’re fully remote.  The hardest is where you’re semi-remote.  Where, oh, wait, is Sarah in this meeting?  Okay, wait.  And is she remote today?  And you get that confusion, and even when you have processes like there’s always a video hangout for the call, still it’s a little chaos.  There’s a little overhead.  There’s, oh, we were going to use the whiteboard, but the camera’s not set up to see it.  It just adds a little friction. 

And so ideally you’re consistent.  Practically speaking, it will be different where some people are more in the office, some are more out.  And that’s going to make it even more challenging for those of us who are trying to continue to herd the cats.

How to be Better at Interviewing

BILL YATES:  Mark, one of the questions that I wanted to ask you is about interviewing.  For project managers, one of the challenges that we have is trying to get the right people on the team.  And interviewing can impact our team dynamic; right?  Sometimes I have made the mistake of bringing somebody onto the team, not having any idea of how the rest of the team was going to accept this person until they arrived; right?  The deal is done, and here he or she is, and then the team looks at me and goes, what were you thinking?  You know.  So I think you can look at it from both aspects, both how can you learn to be a better interviewee, and then we’ll parlay that into the skill set of being a better interviewer, as well.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  You’ve hit upon a common problem, that it’s in such plain sight, but missed so often, which is that we do no interview training.  Would you ever hire someone to be a project manager who has had no experience doing it?  Now, some people may have their PMP certification.  Others maybe have just spent time in the field.  They’ve been on projects.  And you say, okay, you’ve seen how we run projects.  We’ve talked to that.  Here you go.  But you’d never just say, “Hey, you, yeah, why don’t you run the project?  Good luck to you.”


MARK HERSCHBERG:  But this is what we do with interviewing.  I have met people throughout their careers, even senior execs at big companies that you would know of, and they’ve said, yeah, I’ve never had any interview training.  Zero.  But they’ve hired scores of people, hundreds of people.  And we’ve given them no training.  And to your point, hiring the wrong person has such a negative impact on what we do as a team.  So any training is already a win; right?  We’re going from zero to non-zero.  This doesn’t have to be the level of your PMP training.  But spend some time getting better.

The common mistakes are; as people go in and they say, well, okay, I’ve never learned how to interview.  I guess I’m just going to ask you the questions that people ask me because I guess that’s how it’s done.  And some of those questions might be good.  Some might not.  It’s like saying, how did you learn to cook?  Well, I learned from my mom, or my dad.  Okay, maybe they were great, but maybe not.  So you don’t want to put me into the restaurant until you know, like, I’ve really thought through and understood this, and maybe even sent me for some training.

So what you can do is start with the job description.  Because most people get this wrong.  For most people a job description is X years of experience of this, knowledge of that.  And that’s it.  And those are important.  Certainly you want someone who understands the tools, understands specific domain knowledge.  But you don’t think about some of these other important attributes.  Do they have the right fit for the team?  Is it important that they’re a strong communicator?  If so, what does that mean?  I see so many job descriptions.  Strong leadership and communication skills.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  Okay.  So strong communicator.  You write great poetry.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  You write great emails.  You can speak well to your team.  You can speak well to other teams.  And you can convey complex information to other people.  I can put you in front of a customer.  You can go out and speak at conferences.  All of those are potential communication skills.  You might not need all of those.  You might need some of those.  And being explicit about what are these other skills that are needed, and why?  Then the team focuses on it.

And when you’re more explicit about what you’re looking for, not just with the knowledge and experience, but these other skills, when you say you want someone smart, smart about what?  Do they have to be a genius?  Do they just have to be very knowledgeable about the field?  Because then people come together, and they can say, she was smart, and here’s why.  She was able to understand this complex problem and see the solution quickly.  Okay.  That’s what we want.  Versus, well, we really wanted someone with deep knowledge.  And she might have been smart, really innovative.  But we need someone who can quote the book, and she couldn’t do that.  So we want to be explicit in our job descriptions and then create questions that are aligned to elicit our understanding of their capability to these specific attributes we’re looking for.

What are Good Interview Questions?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Do you have some questions that are, like, no-nos?  Just don’t ask these type of questions?  You know, like what fruit do you see yourself as or something like that?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  You know, I’m not opposed to what fruit do you see yourself as because that actually tells me something about you; right?  It gives me a sense of your value, what’s important.  I give the example in the book of what animal do you think you are.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  Because there’s a difference.  Are you choosing an animal that’s part of a pack?  Are you choosing an animal that’s a loner?  Is it an eagle because you like to soar high?  Is it the whale because you’re the biggest in the ocean?  But of course the answer shouldn’t just be, and a lot of candidates screw this up, you don’t just say, okay, what fruit would you be?  Banana.  That doesn’t tell you anything.  A banana because.  Then you start to understand what that’s about.

One of my other pet peeves in questions, people screw up the brain teaser questions.  Now, I’m a fan of brain teasers, but you have to think about why you’re using it.  There’s the classic, “Why are manhole covers round?”  And when you think about this question, there is almost a binary response.  Now, if you haven’t heard this question, the answers are typically either because it’s easier to roll on the ground – manhole covers are heavy, and so you can roll it on the ground – or because it can’t fall through.  You can’t actually drop it down into the manhole.  Whereas if it were, say, a square, if you align it along the diagonal, it can fall through and hurt someone, and it’s heavy to pick up.  You either get that, or you don’t.  There’s no partial credit.

And so what happens is the candidate sits there for some period of time, and they either have it or they don’t.  And there’s no understanding.  It’s almost did they happen to know that knowledge.  It’s hard for someone to figure this out in two minutes. 

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  Yeah, this is – so it’s binary.  You don’t want to ask binary questions.  You want to ask something where somebody’s thinking out loud.  I think the example you had in the book was how many ping pong balls in a, I don’t know, 737 or something like that.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Yeah.  So it’s a classic find the number question.  And there at least someone can think through it.  And they can say, okay, well, the airplane’s going to be this long, this high, this wide.  Okay, and I’m going to do some estimates.  And it’s not about whether or not they get the estimate right.  I don’t care if you know how long a plane is.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  But can you think through it correctly?

BILL YATES:  I think that’s the key, Mark, is you want to engage this candidate.  You just want to hear how they process things; right?  You want to see what’s their communication ability.  As they talk through, is it easy for me to follow based on what they’re saying to me?  And then also what is their problem-solving approach.  One of your points in the book is diversity, diversity on the team.  So it may be that I’m looking for somebody who just takes a very different approach than I do, or others on my team take, because that’s what I want to add to my team.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Looking at words and sentence structure, that is a really strong signal that I use in my interviews.  And that can be as simple as are you using “I” versus “we,” to how are you addressing the problem?  Now, a lot of people these days are trained in the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, and Results.  But when you’re describing a situation, even if I ask you, tell me about what you did on this project, are you giving it in the STAR method?  Are you giving it a historical context, a timeline context, a challenge-response context, a context of the business, a context of the engineering problem?  That tells me something about you and how you think.

So when I interview people, I make sure to look at that meta level as well, not just what you’re answering, but how you’re approaching that answer.  And that tells me something to these other skills and characteristics that we’re looking for.

WENDY GROUNDS:  The best story I heard was someone told me many years ago he was going for an interview, I think it was an accounting job.  And he was in a waiting area, and people who were having their interviews before him would come out, and he’d say to them, you know, “How did it go, and what did they ask you?”  And they said one question was the guy asked me what’s one plus one.  So he said, “Well, what did you say?”  And they all said two.  So a couple of people came out, and he asked them the same question, and they also answered two.

So he went in, had his interview, and right at the end this boss said to him, “What’s one plus one?”  He got up, and he went, and he closed the blinds over the window, and leant right over the desk and got close to the boss, and he said, “What do you want it to be?”  And he got the job.

BILL YATES:  That’s great.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Yeah, that’s something, especially for younger interviewers.  This is so important, that you need to stand out in some way.  And this is true of many of our answers.  Now, if it’s answering some brain teaser question, yes, you’re going to hopefully answer it the right way, and other people answer it the right way.  But when you can stand out and be unique, especially to a question where most people are going to give a similar answer, that’s going to really help your candidacy.

BILL YATES:  That’s great.  Mark, you’ve got excellent advice about interview questions.  So this is very practical for project managers, if they just look in the book at your chapters on interviewing, and get some ideas for questions to ask, to Wendy’s point questions to avoid, and really putting thought into it.  It reminds me of something we’ve done with our team at Velociteach is we’ve tried to be more intentional with, okay, why are we asking these questions?  What attribute are we trying to get at with a candidate?  I’ve talked about Patrick Lencioni before and the ideal team player.  A lot of it’s related to that.

We’ve even taken the approach of, okay, let’s say Wendy, Danny, and I are interviewing a candidate.  Wendy’s going to focus on one attribute, so her questions are going to be focused on that.  And I’ll be listening, too.  But then my purpose or my thought is to ask about a different area, and I’ve got another attribute.  And then Danny has a third attribute that he’s really focused on.  So this is something that I feel like I never arrive, you know, as an interviewer.  I can always grow.

Preparation for Negotiations

WENDY GROUNDS:  Another thing we wanted to ask you about, Mark, was negotiation.  If you are a good negotiator, you are able to do better with vendors, with sponsors, with your team.  So we want to just pick your brain.  How important is preparation in negotiation?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  It is amazing when you think about that people put almost no time into their negotiation.  Now, let’s think about watching your favorite sports team.  You see them take the field and play the game.  But how much of what they do happens off the field?  That game is a couple hours a day, a week.  But they’re spending many more hours practicing, training, running drills, preparing, looking at what the other team is going to do.  That’s how they win games.  Unfortunately, those of us in business, we get no down time.  We don’t have an off season.  We don’t have practices and drills for the most part.  So we’re always playing.  As a founder of EXOS says, “Every day is game day.”


MARK HERSCHBERG:  But when we go into a specific project, stepping back for a moment and doing a little bit of preparation, doing a little bit of training and thoughtfulness makes us so much better.  Just as even if 10 minutes before you step onto the field you say, “Hey, you know what, the other team’s going to play with this strategy.  So here’s what we’re going to do.”  That’s much better than trying to figure it out while you’re in the middle of the game.  Same thing with negotiations, spending some time.  And it turns out it doesn’t have to be a huge amount.  In research studies, just as little as an hour, I believe, can help you improve your outcomes.

So you want to prepare ahead of time, think about what is it that you want to get out of this negotiation.  What’s your ideal outcome?  What’s your BATNA, your Best Alternative To Negotiate Agreement?  That’s the point at which you walk away.  You shouldn’t take anything less.  What are some possible scenarios that might come up?  What are some tradeoffs you might want to do?  And what might the other side be doing?  What are they looking for?  What might their BATNA be?  And what things might they want to trade off?  How are you going to try and appeal to them?  Are you going to appeal out of fairness?  Are you going to use leverage?  Or are you going to take an emotional approach? 

You want to have all this prepared ahead of time.  And just like our project plans, you’re not going to say, oh, I have exactly what I’m going to say and how it’s all going to flow.  We know that.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  But you’ve got the plan prepared.  So when in the heat of it you have a little chaos, you can say, okay, well, I’m not totally lost.  I’ve got my plan.

The BATNA Approach

BILL YATES:  If you look at a day in the life of a project manager, negotiations, it comes up all the time.  You’re negotiating with team members.  You’re negotiating obviously with the customer or the sponsor.  You have all kind of attributes to your project that you have to negotiate with them.  And then you also have these other vendors or partners, the active participants, they’re almost like team members, and you’re relying on them.  So you have to negotiate with them.

I think one of my biggest takeaways from this conversation is just the need for preparation.  As you’ve stated, it’s silly for us to be so disciplined in certain areas of our project.  It’s like, I’m never going to show this schedule to my customer until I’ve gone over it personally and talked with the team about it.  But I’ll walk into a meeting with that customer, and in my mind I’m thinking, I really need to get them to push the delivery date back a couple of weeks for our team.  But I haven’t even spent any time prepping.  So what am I going to do?  Just go in there and throw the idea out there?  I need to be prepared ahead of time.  Talk about BATNA a little bit and walk us through, okay, how would a project manager arrive at a BATNA for a common situation?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Sure.  Now, BATNA, and again it means Best Alternative To Negotiate Agreement, this is your worse-case scenario.  This is the minimum you can accept.  And if you don’t get this, it’s not worth doing the deal.  You’re better off not having that negotiate agreement.  It might be there’s a certain minimum deadline.  We all know our bosses above say, hey, I need this.  I need it yesterday.  I need this done in two days.  And your team’s saying, if we don’t have at least this much time, it’s going to be chaos.  It’s not going to be stable.  It’s going to fall apart. 

And so your team might say this is the minimum we need.  It’s not going to be pretty.  It’s not going to be great.  But we can at least say it’s going to meet some minimum requirement.  It’s going to last some set amount of time, perhaps a minimum amount of stability or functionality.

So your BATNA might be a certain amount of time, or a minimum number of features that you’ll need in order to make this a robust product.  There could be different tradeoffs.  Your BATNA might not be a single position.  It could be different levels.  It could say, look, your BATNA is – it’s going to be this reliable if here, this reliable if there.  So I’ll give it to you at any of these levels.  But understand there’s a certain risk that comes with it.  Do you accept a 30% risk, a 50% risk?  Or I can give you this reliability with only these features, or this reliability with those features.  So there might be multiple BATNAs.  But you say, look, beyond this I just don’t feel comfortable, and I think you’re going to be unhappy with the product.

BILL YATES:  I love bringing options and bringing solutions to a customer, to a vendor even.  You know, I’m able to say, if we agree to that date, there’s a 30% likelihood this bad risk will occur.  If you push it out a couple weeks, then that goes down to 10%, and here’s the fallout.  So then it kind of bleeds in from a project manager’s standpoint as I negotiate.  Then I’m taking into account risk.  So I’m able to put some science into this and talk with the team about the risks that we’ve identified and say, okay, if I’m given enough time, this risk goes away.  Now I’m able to offer options to my customer, my sponsor and say, “Okay, we can hit your deadline, but here’s what it’s going to cost you.

How to Anchor your Negotiations

So one other question related to this, and I think it relates to the example that you gave with a timeframe of how far do we push something or ask the customer to, is an anchor.  So talk about the concept of anchor, and maybe you could work that into an example with pushing back a deadline with a customer.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  When we negotiate, there’s that classic question of should we give the first offer.  And when that first offer is made, it tends to anchor.  So when the CEO shows up and says, hey, here’s what I want to do, here’s the project, and we should really do it in six months.  Go figure it out.  And so everyone has in their mind, okay, six months.  And you start to work it out, and you discover, well, we’re not even close to this.  There’s no way we can fit all of this into six months.  It’s a question of maybe we can do it in nine.  We’d really like to do it in 12.  And that’s somewhere between nine and 12, depending on what the scope is.

But the boss says six months, and everyone in the company hears six months.  And no, no, we’re off from that six months.  So we got anchored to that six months because that was the starting point.  And you have to now convince everyone six was wrong, and you have to move them off of that six months. 

If the CEO just said, figure it out and come back to me, and you say, well, look, it’s going to be about nine to 12 months, and the CEO says, “Unacceptable, we’ve got these other deadlines, how do we get to six,” now you’re anchored in the longer time frame.  And so the CEO says “I want six,” and you say, “Well, look, you’ve got to do tradeoffs if you want to move it off of that initial point.”  So anchoring establishes psychologically that starting point that you have to move away from.

BILL YATES:  When I think of negotiations, and I think of BATNA, and I think of a concept like anchoring, I’m usually thinking of, like, a house that maybe you and a spouse are going to purchase, something that has a dollar figure on it, usually some kind of consumable good or whatever.  But I see so much application to project management conversations that we have.  You know, when I walk out of a room with a customer or sponsor, and I’m just shaking my head going, why did I ever even mention that number, or why did I ever even mention that date? 

So this is good information, and it’s good thought for project managers to dig into because many times that first word that anchors that first impression that I’ve now given that customer.  So I want to control that, and I really want to be thoughtful about how I present that.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  And of course when it comes to that house, for example, this is what we often begin negotiation lessons with.  And I do it in my chapter.  I had a negotiation professor I’ve worked with criticize that, with some validity, saying this is how a lot of business folks lay out negotiations, and they hate it because it is a linear example.  When we think about used car sales, we’re just kind of trading off money.  There’s not a lot of other things. 

Now, the reason we choose to do it, it illustrates a few basic examples in a very simple way.  But to  his point, most negotiations are not one-dimensional.  Our project management, already we know we’re trading off.  We’ve got that engineering triangle; right?  Time, scope, cost.  There’s risk factors.  There might be resource constraints along the way; right?  Oh, I only have access to these machines during this period.

So you’ve got all these different constraints.  And it’s a much more complex negotiation.  And most of our negotiations, even when we’re selling something to the customer, it’s not just about money.  It’s also about timing.  It’s also about support and service and add-ons.  And there’s all these different factors.  So really we want to think about complex negotiations because beginning negotiators often think I’m just going to focus on one thing, get this done, and move to the next.  Just focus on the money and then move to the next.

But when we want to focus on multiple issues, that’s what allows us to create these interesting tradeoffs, and it helps to dilute some of that anchoring because that initial anchor, well, it was a set.  It wasn’t just $10,000.  It was $10,000 with this delivery time and this level of service.  So when you’re thinking, you know, it’s not going to be 10,000 anymore, you say that was 10,000 with these constraints.


MARK HERSCHBERG:  So throw that number out because now we’re talking about different constraints.  And it makes it easier to shift around.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s an excellent point.  Excellent point.

How to Contact Mark

WENDY GROUNDS:  Mark, there’s been so much really good advice.  And we’ll definitely put a link to your book in the transcript.  But if our listeners want to reach out to you, find out a bit more about your work and what you do, what’s the best way they can contact you?

MARK HERSCHBERG:  You can go to my website, TheCareerToolkitBook.com.  You can learn more about the book.  Contact me.  Download the free companion app that will help reinforce these lessons.  Each day the app is just going to pop up once a day a little notification reminding you of one of the lessons in the book.  Or you can open it up, say right before a negotiation, and quickly skim through those tips to get that refresher right before you plan your negotiation. 

You can also find a number of other books and resources on the resources page, including a download for how you can create peer learning groups within your company.  Many of you have had peer study groups to learn for the PMP.  You can use peer learning groups to help learn this type of content.  And I explain how in a free download.  All of this is on the website, TheCareerToolkitBook.com.

WENDY GROUNDS:  We really appreciate your time.  Thank you so much for talking with us today.


BILL YATES:  Thank you, Mark.

MARK HERSCHBERG:  Thank you for having me on the show.  It’s really been great.  I’ve enjoyed being here.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  You just earned some Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.

Thank you for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.


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