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Bad news or ‘negotiating opportunity’?

The impact of the many challenges faced around the world over the last few years, (pandemics, war, inflation, trade deals etc.) have seen the fortunes of big business change quite dramatically. Recent winners have included banking, petrochemical and energy companies, all making massive profits. Unfortunately, there are losers too. It’s not just the tech sector currently experiencing job losses – the recent cuts announced by Ford, and British Steel highlight there are several sectors which remain affected by the gloomy economic outlook. This is despite forecasters telling us that in the UK, the downturn as a whole will be shallower than originally expected.

Thinking more specifically about job losses, a new business survey from Barclays, suggests that ‘UK SMEs are now more upbeat about their 2023 prospects’. The survey indicates that 41% are optimistic (the highest for months), with only 15% feeling pessimistic.

Particular findings from the survey are as follows:

  • 33% plan on recruiting new staff

  • 29% plan on purchasing new equipment or technology for growth

  • 23% will be reskilling/upskilling their workforce (go for Savage Macbeth negotiation skills training!)

Getting the most from these initiatives will require negotiation. Now these opportunities must be tempered against concerns that SMEs have about spending, with the backdrop of a weak economy and high inflation.

So, on the one hand, big-business job losses may provide the opportunity for negotiating new hires at SMEs; but on the other, offering a financially realistic employment package to attract and retain staff is difficult, especially for smaller companies.

Key points for a negotiator to consider when recruiting include:

Get validation - what are potential applicants’ priorities?

Don’t assume you know, research them. It may not always be about high wages for new staff – results from the recent four-day working week trials suggest that 92% of companies will stick with it. This is due to productivity levels increasing and improved staff well-being and happiness. Flexibility and work-life balance for new starters may be key. Other valued benefits might include training & development, wellness packages etc.

Value the transferable skills

Many CVs get dismissed too early as the skills and experience don’t tick pre-set inflexible boxes. Take the time to consider synergy between what people have done and what they could do. This potentially increases the size of the talent pool and can shift the power away from unreasonable salary demands from only one or two candidates.

Be creative with the variables, what can your company offer that others can’t?

Building on some of the softer package elements above, are there benefits which might be difficult for other bigger businesses to match? Are there deals to be done with local gyms, restaurants, clubs etc. – can you make the choice of employment almost part of the employee’s lifestyle choice? Hopefully, this increases the attractiveness and ultimately the stickiness for your valued employees even when it’s a jobseeker’s market.

Change in business ultimately presents negotiating opportunities. This could be new business opportunities, more volume or different needs. You then need to match this to the other part of the equation - people, processes and/or products. Think more about validation, value and variables when negotiating.

Opportunities to improve the situation are almost always present, even in the most challenging of circumstances. Keep the right mindset – look for the possible openings, rather than getting bogged down by the gloom!

Sam Macbeth, 23rd February 2023

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