Cameron and Clegg; how good were their negotiating strategies?

Went out for a curry with my colleague last night to a small restaurant in Cheshire.  Came back to my hotel and ..... Brown gone, Cameron in, Clegg deputy PM...typical, you follow something for days, nothing much happens, spend two hours out of media reach and the whole world changes!

Anyway...two procurement issues. Firstly, should Clegg have used reverse auction technology?  He could have set up a multi attribute evaluation process and got the Tories and Labour to bid online in real time...put a big screen up in Trafalgar Square....number of cabinet seats, acceptance of manifesto issues...all automated and transparent! Could have done the whole thing on line in a couple of hours I would think.  Come on guys, get with the technology!

Secondly, and more seriously....the negotiation strategies employed were fascinating.  Was he ever serious about a deal, or did Clegg use Labour to show he had an apparently strong BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated solution ) that would push the Tories into movement? Convincing Cameron that he had a serious alternative seemed to do the trick – the offer on the referendum on AV came pretty quickly.  Now, that tactic had some dangers; Clegg could not afford to alienate the Tories and lose a 'supplier' from the competition, but he obviously managed that.   He has experience from his time in Brussels, and the photo showing his list of negotiating points showed a degree of planning and structure to this approach. So well done Nick, high marks for negotiation.

What about Cameron?  The aspect that puzzled me a little at first was why he has been so generous in terms of Cabinet Seats, agreeing to Liberal wants etc.  Particularity after Clegg's flirtation with Labour, should he have played his hand more strongly? He was in many ways in the strongest position.

Perhaps, but I would argue that what he has done in procurement terms is conceded a some up-front value in order to develop a stronger relationship that will deliver more value through the life of the 'contract''.  It is equivalent to engaging in a long term collaborative relationship with a supplier, and showing your goodwill by not screwing the last couple of % points out of the initial pricing.

And this may well be an excellent tactic. I've seen too many organizations over the years who announce they are looking for 'partnership with the supplier' while the salesman is still lying bloody and bruised on the negotiating room floor.  In that situation....'partnership' ain't going to happen.

So a brave move to Cameron, because of course the supplier may repay your goodwill in the negotiation by disappointing you in the delivery phase; collaboration can turn into confrontation very easily.  But so far, interesting and impressive negotiating behavior from both parties.  But of course, only time will tell whether their strategies were really effective.

Voices (3)

  1. Andy Davies:

    The best lesson our profession can learn from the Lib-Con coalition negotiations is the importance of effective planning. Both parties demonstrated this well, while Labour showed how hard it is to manage without it.

    I enjoyed monitoring and trying to piece together the respective strategies from the various news sources. It was refreshing to see that, apart from the ever-so-slightly grubby way that Nick Clegg’s ‘secret’ talks with Labour came to light, both his party and the Conservatives seemed to share a good sense of what was ‘cricket’.

    As you would expect, Cameron oversold his opening offer (“I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats”) which was pretty pitiful in reality, majoring on those lesser Lib Dem policy concessions and a flimsy offer toward electoral reform. But Cameron did helpfully set out his ‘red lines’ on Europe, Trident and cutting the deficit this year. (That was as much to keep his own party sweet, of course, as on 7 May many Tories were reeling from the result, having agreed to the TV debates and then failed to wrest an overall majority from a tired Government.)

    Buyers will be able to learn from the exemplary demonstration of thorough planning that followed. Both teams had planned the whole process out in some detail, probably weeks in advance – carefully selecting team members, rehearsing scenarios, tactics and permutations and managing out unhelpful behaviours. Only such advance planning could explain how the ‘Fair Votes Now’ campaigners outside the Cabinet Office on that first day seemed to have got themselves and their purple banners organised so remarkably swiftly.

    The Lib Dem team made good use of their recent, relevant experience in the Scottish Parliament, where they are said to have kicked off proceedings by tabling a 26-page document setting out their detailed demands, setting the agenda and grabbing the initiative. Cameron’s very public opening offer presumably sought to pre-empt that particular move.

    It was obvious that the Lib Dems would be talking to Labour simultaneously, even last weekend. We all suspected it and Cameron knew it. Clegg’s error was letting Cameron get the moral upper hand by letting him ‘find out’ about the ‘secret’ Lib-Lab meeting. Clegg would have been better telling the Tories that he owed both his party and his voters the opportunity to hear what Labour had to offer before they made up their minds.

    The Lib-Dems said Labour’s team did not take their talks seriously, and it’s true they allowed themselves to be distracted by the leadership election posturing and former secretaries of state defaming the talks from afar. But there are really only two possibilities: either Labour failed to plan properly, or their plan proved ineffective. All the Lib Dems really wanted was an plausible BATNA, but amid increasing pressure from the media, markets and the Tories, in the end it proved a pretty unconvincing one, so Clegg rightly dropped it early on and moved to close the deal with the Conservatives as soon as possible.

    Brown, seeing the writing clearly on the wall, then moved quickly to get a slot at the Palace that evening, thereby giving himself and his family proper media time for a tearful send-off and catching Cameron on the back foot, disrupting the final negotiations and sending him to see the Queen in a sweaty shirt, stuck in the traffic.

  2. ron:

    Classic and excellent example of improving your BATNA by Clegg – and it clearly worked

  3. Jane Smith:

    Or is it a case of keep your friends close and your enemies closer…….?

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