Leverage the Moment

Charlie was an experienced and capable engineer for a technology company.  He was bored with his current role as a sole contributor and eager to get promoted to a management position, looking forward to the greater responsibility and compensation that career advancement would bring.  Charlie felt like he already performed a number of management functions informally, and deserved to get the title of manager.  Nevertheless, when he raised the topic with the company’s human resources (HR) representative, she stonewalled, explaining that they did not have any open management slots at that time.

Recently Charlie’s boss Agnes that announced she was leaving the company.  Because Agnes’ replacement had not yet been identified, Charlie would have to take on more responsibility for the next few months.  Charlie would be quite busy, but also was looking forward to the new challenge.  When I asked him if he was planning to raise the topic of promotion with HR he said, “Yes, but not right now.  HR is so busy dealing with this change, and I will be busier than usual myself.  In a few months’ time, when the new manager has been found and gotten comfortable in the position, I will of course press them to give me a promotion.”

Charlie’s plan was a major mistake for a negotiator on two levels.  First, his moment of greatest leverage to demand a promotion was now, while the company was most dependent on his help to get through a difficult transition.  Indeed, the fact that he would be acting as a manager would lend legitimacy to his request.  Second, sometimes the greatest hurdle in negotiating with a bureaucratic institution is just getting heard.  While in the past his HR representative (and her managers) were able to not engage seriously with Charlie, that would not be possible now.  Charlie would have their attention, and it would be foolish to squander the moment.

Leverage can take many forms in negotiation; the moment when someone needs something from you is often a prime opportunity to make your own needs known.