Negotiating: Do You Want Lemons or Lemonade?

December 27, 2010

This time of year, there’s lots of negotiating going on. Children asking for better presents, employees negotiating raises and vacation days, and so on. Really, any interaction between two people (other than a simple exchange of facts) is a type of negotiation – from a simple discussion of what to have to dinner to the more complex negotiations of salary, benefits and bonuses involved in a new job offer. Understanding how these interactions work, and how to place yourself in the best possible position, will lead you to more successful outcomes in your own negotiations.

To enhance my own abilities, I attended a conference session entitled “Negotiating Between Parties with Unequal Power”, presented by Beverly A. Caley, JD, CMPP, of Caley-Reidenbach Consulting, LLP.  Part of the “High-Performance Freelancing” series, this session focused on individuals who have to negotiate with large organizations.

Probably the most useful take-home message from this session was that knowledge is power. The more prepared you are for a negotiation, and the better you understand the other side, and the better you will be able to respond to the their offers. By deciding ahead of time what you really need to get out the deal, what you want, and what would be nice to have, you can make sure that you get what is most important to you. You can also determine ahead of time what your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BANTA) is, so you know how hard you need to work to come to a successful agreement.

Performing due diligence, or doing background research on other party, you may be able to discern some of their needs, wants, and nice-to-haves. For example, if you know what salaries, bonuses and benefits have been offered to other recent hires at the same company, you will be in a much better position to negotiate your own starting package. (Online social networking sites such as LinkedIn can be a great source of names of recent hires at a particular company.)

A second great idea was that negotiations have a much better chance of success if everyone expects to arrive at a satisfactory agreement. When presented with an option that doesn’t match what you expected or wanted, keep a positive attitude, and answer “Yes, but….” instead of “No”, and telling the other party what you will need to make that proposal work. This small change keeps the negotiation moving forward, and keeps the participants focused on working out the details.

The classic negotiation story is of two chefs who are fighting over a single lemon, and finally to split it in half. Back in their own kitchens, one chef complains about the small amount of juice he can able to get from his half for lemonade, and the other complains about the small amount of rind she was able to get from her half for lemon pie. If they had each been clear about what they needed (juice vs. rind), they could each have had exactly what they wanted.

So next time you are negotiating with someone, take the time to really understand what you, and they, need. If their position doesn’t seem to make sense, put yourself in their shoes and see if you can identify any information gaps or other constraints that might be affecting their position. Hopefully with good preparation and clear communication, you can have both lemonade AND lemon pie.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

Delaying Your Retirement

December 20, 2010

Do you want or need to delay your retirement? You are not alone. Many baby boomers are delaying their retirement. One-third plan to retire after age 65 according to an Employment Benefit Research Institute survey. In another recent survey of more than 2,200 U.S. workers by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 44% of respondents age 50 or older said they plan to postpone retirement; half of those say they plan to work at least three years longer than they previously expected.

However, at the same time companies continue to have layoffs. How can you remain employed even past the conventional retirement age of sixty-five years even if your company reduces staff?

The key to continue working past typical retirement age is to capitalize on skills you’ve developed over the course of your career and not compete directly with younger (and lower-paid) coworkers. Capitalize on these skills by sharing them. Become a resource for younger coworkers.

You can improve your odds of delaying your retirement by becoming involved in several of the programs described below.

Mentoring programs

Become a mentor. Many companies have instituted mentoring programs and are now taking advantage of information technology to make them more effective. For example, in December 2009 IBM created an online tool to support its mentoring program. Older employees list their skills in a database. Younger coworkers seeking to develop particular competencies can search the database to identify coworkers having these competencies. More than 3,500 IBM employees have registered to be mentors and more than 2,600 coworkers, mostly younger employees, have consulted with them. See if your organization has a program like this.

Continuing education

Talk to your manager about instituting a continuing education program. Offer to serve as an instructor sharing your skills and experiences accumulated over the course of a long, productive career. Having senior employees serve as instructors can have advantages over sending younger employees to external training programs or bringing in consultants to teach these courses. Senior employees can present information and advice in the context of the company’s culture and provide examples from their own experience. This gives information an immediacy and relevance that instructors from outside the company often can’t provide.
Workshops often offer an attractive alternative to internal short courses that require a longer time commitment.

Consultants to project teams

Offer to serve as a consultant to project teams using your experience to help team members save time and not waste their efforts. For example, a senior chemist may know of a reactor built years ago and placed in storage when an R&D program was finished. Refurbishing and using this reactor in a current project can save both time and money.
Older chemists’ experience may enable them to use a team’s discovery in the context of the firm’s earlier R&D. They can provide useful advice on such issues as the relevance of earlier projects to the current work and whether the current work should be the subject of a patent application.

Reverse” mentoring

Don’t be reluctant to consult younger coworkers to learn new skills you need to remain employed. These include things such as online social networking, and wikis.


Make your own manager and other managers in the company aware of your involvement in these programs and the value you provide to the organization – value that cannot be provided by younger coworkers. Make sure you get appropriate recognition for your efforts. It was comedian George Carlin who said, “The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets the all publicity.” Make sure you’re not the caterpillar.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

Managing Your Manager

December 13, 2010

Managing your manager is critical in achieving promotions, winning coveted assignments and receiving raises. Many chemical professionals do not devote sufficient attention to this aspect of their jobs. It’s not about manipulation; it’s about helping your manager do her job better while still doing your own job well. The key to managing your supervisor is to meet their needs.

Managing upwards requires insight to figure out what motivates your manager so you can decide on the proper approaches for communicating and collaborating with him or her. It also may take initiative to give managers what they need to be successful. Once you have helped them build their record of success, they will likely be more willing to do the same for you.

By understanding what motivates your manager, you can tailor your performance to offer him precisely what he wants and how he wants it. Some managers make it perfectly clear what they are looking for above and beyond conventional performance expectations. However, with others, this is harder to determine and this requires clarifying expectations and continually working towards a greater level of understanding.

Don’t expect your manager do all the work in developing a productive working relationship. The manager – subordinate relationship is a two-way street; both of you are responsible for developing an effective working relationship.
To manage your supervisor, you have to understand her management style and personality.

Manager styles

The four main manager styles are:

  • Command & control
  • Influencers
  • Calm & steady
  • Cautious

Dozens of different management styles have been proposed. The above four are based in part on the analyses of management Ken Blanchard author of The One Minute Manager.  Command & control managers are extroverts oriented towards accomplishment and success. They thrive on competition and deadlines. They look for both personal advance and greater recognition for the people who report to them. These are often the “movers and shakers” who quickly climb the organization ladder. Good command & control managers are not micromanagers. They are willing, often eager, to delegate authority and responsibility. 

Good command & control managers do not stifle individual initiative. They want staff members to offer creative options but they require control over choosing which option to pursue.

Influencers are also extroverts but are often more people-oriented than command and control managers. They are friendly and seek opportunities for social contact with staff members. They often enjoy being the center of attention but the good ones are also excellent motivators. They encourage participation welcoming ideas and thus encouraging imagination and spontaneity. They are often great at running brainstorming sessions.

Influencers need reassurance that their management style is working. So offer positive feedback to show your appreciation for all they do to help the staff and you in particular to succeed. If you mirror their optimism and enthusiasm, they are more likely to listen to what you say.

Calm & steady managers are competent and reliable. They get the job done but may sometimes resist change. They prefer doing things the same way they’ve always done them. They are often more reserved and have less contact with staff members than the two types of managers discussed above. The contact they have with staff members is often more structured and less spontaneous than the two types of managers previously discussed.

Calm & steady managers appreciate staff members’ loyalty and getting the job done “without rocking the boat.” Earn their trust and they will ask you for feedback and other assistance. If you want to try a new way to do things, try to sell your manager on the benefits of the change and stress its similarity to current work processes.

Cautious managers are looking for ways to improve things or be more efficient. However, they prefer approaches that let them take things step by step. Not necessarily rigid, they may improve work processes but through a series of carefully considered steps implemented sequentially. Detailed oriented, this type of manager often is susceptible to the false lure of micromanagement. If you work for a cautious manager, demonstrate your attention to detail. Let him know he can rely on you to successfully do things the way he wants them done.

Giving managers what they need

Knowing how your manager defines success allows you to better communicate your successes to him. Does your manager like numbers? Offer him statistics. Does he value initiative and innovation? Collect and present success stories from others about how they have benefited from your ideas. If you work for a cautious manager and more senior managers are mandating changes, show him you know how to make changes without causing chaos.

Respectful candor should be the basis of communications with your supervisor.  There’s an art to presenting information to managers, particularly issues needing a decision. Frame your advice positively. Avoid emotionally laden language. Don’t just bring your manager a problem – offer them a recommended solution as well.

Another concern is whether your supervisor prefers to learn just the bottom line – the final results of your work – or prefers to understand the details of how you got the job done. This isn’t hard to learn. Your boss will either tell you to get to the bottom line or his body language will do so while you discuss a project. Adapt your communication style accordingly. This can require some self-discipline as we often present ideas to others as we would like them presented to us.

Learn your supervisor’s preferences

Learn your manager’s preference in other areas besides communications. Understanding what makes your supervisor tick is essential to developing and managing your relationship. For example, what are his pet peeves? Learn his values, priorities, strengths, weaknesses and expertise.

No matter what type of manager you have, when you look good, he looks good. Perfecting your personal performance while tailoring your work processes and communications to her preferences form the backbone of your relationship with your manager.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

Hiring in China – Opportunities in the Asia-Pacific Region

December 7, 2010

For this article, I interviewed two executives from HR Partners, Monicca Yan, CEO and Senior Consulting Director Asia Pacific, and KT Goh, Managing Director for China.  HR Partners is an established executive search company primarily focusing on Asia Pacific, and is the premier partner for the IRC network.  They conduct exclusively retained searches in various industries including industrials, electronics, healthcare, chemicals, supply chain and FMCG/services, and maintain offices in key Asian cities including Singapore (headquarters), Shanghai (China), Hong Kong and Taipei (Taiwan).

Question:  What kinds of positions and people does your company specialize in matching?

Answer:  Generally, as we only do retained searches, most of our clients hire us for Senior Manager, Director and General Manager-level assignments. We also help our clients with niche or specialty jobs where a standard search may not yield results as a more strategic and creative approach may be required.

Often times we engage with our clients as they enter into the high growth Asia Pacific markets (where they may not have any presence or are just starting to build up serious growth centers).

Question:  What sorts of positions are currently available in China?

Answer:  China is obviously a high growth area and attracts all manners of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), so virtually all major companies in any industry are present. In this respect, you will expect vacancies in almost all functions and industries.

Question:  For what type of individual are you looking?  Are there specific skills, or personality characteristics, that make a potential  employee more valuable?

Answer:  In China and probably for all high growth areas in Asia Pacific (arguably similar to anywhere else globally), we look for candidates who have a proven track record of growing businesses profitably, understanding the local markets and their peculiarities / customs, improving operational efficiencies and effectiveness, reducing costs including supply chain and world class purchasing, supporting good HR practices to enable talent growth and replenishment and good governance (Finance, Legal, Compliance, Risk etc).

Also very important, we look for candidates that have superior leadership skills, autonomous in their dealings, able to communicate and present effectively (including in local languages, example Mandarin in China), and possess generally good energy to simply make things happen. In senior positions, of course some trade-offs are considered such as lack of local language capability vs. proven track record of growing business in new countries.

Candidates should also understand very quickly that what could have worked in developed countries may only attain limited success in developing countries, so the ability to marry best practices elsewhere should complement understanding of new market conditions.

For example, a simple suggestion would be for the new global generation to learn Mandarin. These additional skills, in addition of  English would already accord the incumbent a very powerful advantage in the coming years.

Question:  Are jobs primarily for Chinese expatriates returning to  China, or are there possibilities for US citizens?

The possibilities are numerous for various types of candidates. It is not a given that a returning Chinese expatriate is more effective if  they could not adapt to their original countries (simply because they have been away far too long), they carry a larger baggage as they would be viewed even more severely than say an American who has no prior knowledge of the new country, as the former category could be viewed as someone who has ‘lost their roots’. The latter are most often times, ‘forgiven’.

Question:  How would someone in the US find out about these jobs? Should they approach a recruiting firm like yours and indicate their interest in moving overseas?

Answer:  There is no one good and only method. We can offer some suggestions:

1) Do research and approach a few known headhunters, call them and have a discussion if possible. And for those the candidates trust [areas of interest match, they respect confidentiality, no fees to candidates, etc.], they can send their resumes.

2) Note that for retained search, the resume may sit in database until a suitable opportunity arises. The headhunter may call for a cursory understanding of the candidates but this obviously differs from one company to another.

3) Approach country Chamber of Commerce or groupings in the country they wish to look for the next career opportunity like AmCham.

4) Have a  clear career search strategy: identify which industries, which companies and study them and their career websites. Call the HR folks or drop resumes into company websites.

In short, be proactive.  A retained headhunter is useful as they will interview the candidate and would already have done their assessment.

Question:  Is there anything candidates can/should do to make themselves more attractive for these types of positions?

Answer:  Depending on the position that is being applied for, the resume may have to be modified to highlight relevant experience, key achievements and very importantly, how these achievements were gotten and could they be repeated in a new company, new environment, new industry etc ….

Question:  Do you see mainly permanent positions in China, or do candidates work  there for a few years and then return to their home country?

Answer:  For non-Mandarin speaking candidates, it would be highly likely that the position will be replaced by a local, unless there is  some very specific or niche talent and experience. Cost is also a  factor if they expect or are on expatriate package. As in everything else, work experience, relevance and specialty will determine negotiations on how ‘permanent’ a job will be.

Question:  What trends do you see for the future of employment within China, and in the chemistry market overall?

Answer:  China today is probably at only the start of the first wave of their “Industrialization Era” as US and Europe experienced many tens of years ago. This, coupled with a local culture that prizes education and excellence, should stand China in good stead for many years to come, assuming that the political and social environment remains stable. China is also a vast market with 1st tier cities extending to 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th tier cities that could be developed from labor and land standpoint to maintain their competitiveness. These factors are not always available to other countries. So the future is very bright indeed for China.

And as China grows, so will the rest of Asia Pacific and the world as the economies are increasingly inter-dependent, as much as currently Asia Pacific depends so heavily on USA, Europe and Japan today.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).