Negotiating Artists

To ensure it has a team of top negotiators to seal multisourcing deals, IBM fosters skill development through in-depth training and education.


Elizabeth Feeney, IBM Global Technology Services, Somers, New York, USA


Complex negotiation is crucial to the viability of any organization engaged in multisourcing. The need only multiplies when considering the broad focus of a firm such as Armonk, New York, USA-based technology giant IBM.

“We put a large focus on negotiating skills, which are part of a holistic approach we take to our operations as a whole. Negotiation is a skill set where we expect a level of progression that is cultivated and developed over time,” says Elizabeth Feeney, vice president, worldwide sales, IBM Global Technology Services, Somers, New York, USA. “Having solid negotiation skills helps ensure that we only take on projects that complement our capabilities and limit our susceptibility to risk. Ultimately, we do this so that the interaction we have is successful not just for us but for customers as well.”

IBM executives recognize the importance of cultivating negotiation skills in its project professionals. “Development … requires a mix of formal classroom-style training, mentoring and coaching, as well as in-practice experience,” Ms. Feeney says. “While some people have a more natural affinity toward negotiation, this skill set definitely benefits from development efforts. A lot of times, people do not know what they could be good at until they have the opportunity to unleash their abilities.”

The company has implemented a three-level education program for project professionals. IBM's negotiating sellers—those at the table brokering deals for projects—are immersed in education as soon as they join the company with entry-level, new hire training. Next, the mastery program focuses on helping the employee apply negotiation skills in his or her daily work. Just 10 to 15 percent of all negotiating sellers are expected to achieve the final certification-level of training.

Based on the training, employees can achieve three skill levels:

img Acquired: The learner has an awareness-level knowledge of the topic. He or she can discuss and describe it, but may not understand how to apply it to his or her daily work.

img Applied: The learner can apply the concepts he or she has been taught. At this level, the learner both understands the conceptual definitions behind the skills and knows how to use them in the context of a work environment.

img Mastery: The learner is an expert and can teach and mentor others.

The fact that IBM encompasses many smaller units under one big umbrella adds a level of complexity that dictates the need to maintain and support project professionals' negotiation skills, Ms. Feeney says. “You need to keep [the training] fresh and focus on the ongoing care and continuous improvement of all professionals in the fold,” she says.

Leadership 2008 /
Leadership 2008



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