Negotiation tips for IT pros

You know what would make your work life better -- stretch assignments, better training, a promotion. Here's how to convince the powers that be to say yes to your requests.

Negotiation tips for IT pros
How to get what you want at work

You know what you want. From your company: Stretch assignments, more training, a promotion. From your vendor: Better service, cheaper pricing. All you have to do is convince the other party to give you what you desire.

Are you up for the task? Probably not.

An August 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that about half of all workers take the first compensation package offered, even though 45% of employers are willing to negotiate. And a LinkedIn survey last year found that 39% of professionals feel anxious about negotiating. It's a particular concern for IT folks, who aren't as likely to pick up negotiation experience as their business-side colleagues.

For a crash course on how to negotiate, IT-style, read on.

Do your homework

Ben Franklin had it right: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” That’s why experienced negotiators promote preparation. Know what you want, why you want it and why your company should support your request.

Preparation saves the other side time and makes it easier for them to say yes, says Selena Rezvani, author of Pushback: How Smart Women Ask -- and Stand Up -- for What They Want.

If you’re asking for a flex-time arrangement, research why it’s a good idea for you, your manager and your organization. Anticipate counterarguments and plot your comebacks.

“Your plan should illuminate the key details, show how work will get done, why this will help with productivity and include evaluation checkpoints,” says Rezvani. 

 

Time your request

Once you've done your homework, you'll want time to make your case successfully, which won't happen if your manager's on her way to a big meeting or your vendor's in the middle of a project meltdown.

“Don't catch someone off guard,” warns John Reed, senior executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology.

Schedule a meeting when neither side will be rushed or preoccupied. Think about the time of day as well as your corporate cycle. Tying your meeting to an annual review or the wrap-up of a successful project lets you highlight recent wins.

By the same token, negotiating a raise is easier after the company signs a big contract; less so after losing a key client.

Find value in your request

If what you want is truly important, others will find value in it, too. It’s up to you to make that case during negotiations. If you want your company to pay for a certification, but your manager is on the fence, explain in detail how that training will help you better meet departmental needs.

“Tie the training to a specific budget or performance objective. If you can make the case that the training will allow you to help make budget goals, you will be more successful,” says Rick Giese, e-commerce manager at Great Lakes Educational Loan Services Inc. “Explain how you have used past training opportunities to grow your career or help the company expand. Be very specific.”

Identify your BATNA

BATNA, or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, is the process of determining what you’re willing to accept or what your next step will be if you don’t get your full request, summarizes Daniel Skarlicki, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of British Columbia.

By identifying which elements of your request are most important to you, you'll know where you're willing to concede and where you want to hold the line. If management won't give you the lead role on that mission-critical project, accept the second-in-command position -- and ask for a mentor so you'll be ready next time.

“Prepare for the possibility of resistance by creating a list of multiple options that would satisfy you,” advises Pushback's Rezvani.

Change the focus

It’s easy to step into negotiations thinking, “What’s in it for me?” But Lisha Wentworth, senior consultant at Ouellette & Associates Consulting Inc., says if you want to succeed, think about what’s in it for the other side.

Say you're angling for a plum assignment on a high-stakes project. You want to work alongside decision makers who can help your career, but that's not your manager's priority. He wants the project to come in on time and under budget. So rather than mentioning your career aspirations, outline how your management or technical skills will deliver results.

In short, “change the focus from ‘me and my needs’ to ‘you and your needs,’” Wentworth says.

Build relationships

Have a long-term strategy that includes networking with decision makers. “Figure out who they are and build relationships with them so they don’t just see you when you’re asking for something,” the University of British Columbia's Skarlicki says.

Barry Porozni, CIO at The Reinvestment Fund, credits having a good rapport with a current vendor for successful contract negotiations for managed Wi-Fi services.

He went to the vendor with competitive quotes in hand (that’s the homework part) and information on future opportunities with his firm. Because he had the vendor’s trust, Porozni was able to negotiate a steeply discounted price. “It was as much about the relationship with the vendor and being true to my word as it was about negotiation,” he says.

Enlist allies

Here’s where you put all those relationships to work. Line up people to support your proposal, so you can use them as leverage while negotiating, Skarlicki says. If you want to learn a new technology, let your manager know that the marketing manager wants to deploy it. That can boost your chances of getting the green light.

Jerry Luftman, managing director of the Global Institute for IT Management and a former Society for Information Management (SIM) officer, says you want to look for a champion, just as you would for any other IT project. “I look for evangelists with whom I have good relationships, and I let them do the selling,” he says.

Prepare to hear "no"

One sign of a good negotiator is how he or she handles "no."

Michael Crom, chief learning officer at Dale Carnegie Training, says most people give up too easily when they hear that answer. A CFO once told him that he’s always surprised when people walk away with a no, Crom relates. The CFO explained: “When I say ‘no,’ that’s when I expect to negotiate. ‘No’ is the beginning point.”

Crom adds: “People can push back a lot more than they think they can.”

Porozni says he mentally prepares to hear no so he’s ready to respond with questions like, “Why haven’t I convinced you? What more information can I give you?” Addressing those concerns could help get to a yes.

Alleviate fears

When you start asking for training in a new technology or funding for a skunk works, be aware it can make people nervous -- everyone from your immediate manager who fears you'll leave your job to a C-suite executive who's simply wary of IT in general.

“Companies fear that IT will come in and change stuff, and that it will be expensive, so you have to be cautious,” Skarlicki says. "You don’t want people to think that you’ll go out and get training then revamp the company’s entire infrastructure."

The best way to do that? Show how what you want is relevant to the company’s needs and provide assurance that your request will bring benefits without major costs or disruptions.

Make it easy to get to yes

You’ve done your homework and made your case. Now you’re waiting on yes. You can make it happen by finding the easiest way for the other side to get there.

“Understand what the objections would be and then keep coming back and say ‘I have a solution to your concern,’” Skarlicki advises.

That might mean cutting the cost of your request or finding further benefits for the other side. If your manager is hesitant to approve a 10% raise, consider negotiating for a smaller raise with more vacation time. Or get the company to cover the cost of a certification by agreeing to teach team members the new skills once you've completed your course.

Have a long-term strategy

Negotiations aren’t always complete in a single session.

Porozni, a SIM leader, recalls seeking an OK to attend a five-day conference at the company’s expense. He started the negotiations not with the request but with a general conversation about how his firm would need to address specific problems in the future. Discussions next moved into possible solutions, and then talk about how the conference could help the company prepare for those future needs. “So it came down to, ‘Why don’t you go?’” Porozni says.

Lesson learned: Unless you hear a hard "no" your first time out, be ready to lay out your case over multiple conversations.

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.