WE’RE a nation of innovators and inventors, we’re told. The march of the makers, the white heat of technological innovation, the slogans roll off the tongues off our politicians in a constant barrage of optimism – close to or devoid of reality, depending on your view.
But we’re not a nation of negotiators. Or so says recent research by YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), commissioned by legendary corporate problem-solver Clive Rich. The CEBR analysed responses to a survey by 1,000 senior UK managers, and concluded that UK firms are losing up to £17bn a year through antiquated negotiation skills.
But what does this mean? Negotiation is clearly critical to anyone in business – from the freshest young start-up entrepreneur to the crustiest corporate grandee. Effective negotiation with suppliers or clients can broaden profit margins, break open new markets, or secure new investment in your firm. Poor negotiation could mean that, however good your product or service, your best efforts are left languishing on the shelf.
There’s no need to be too concerned, however. I recently had dinner with a hugely successful young entrepreneur, unlikely to win any prizes at charm school. But he had ideas, financial nous, and ambition. Crucially, he had assembled the perfect combination of personalities to successfully build his business from bottom up.
As Rich concludes in the preface to his research, “collaboration and partnerships are vital to business success.” Success in a capitalist market economy of course requires a degree of macho competitiveness – a take what you need attitude. But as Rich’s research shows, equally important is nimbleness, subtlety, and a willingness to adapt – whether at the negotiating table, or in choosing the right spectrum of personalities for your team. Don’t worry if you can’t negotiate. Just make sure you know someone who can.
Tom Welsh is business features editor at City A.M.