Monday, May 19, 2008

Ultra-competitve mindset costs dealmakers

Deepak Malhotra (co-author of "Negotiation Genius," one of last year's top 5 books) and colleagues have once again dived into the psychology of negotiators and dealmakers in May's Harvard Business Review ("When Winning is Everything").

They find that certain factors present in many deals can drive irrational thinking and, ultimately, overpaying for acquisitions. The factors are:

  1. Rivalry - animosity toward a competitive rival for an acquisition, say, can create a "win at all costs" mentality.
  2. Time Pressure - racing to meet a stated or internal deadline can lead to accepting a poor deal
  3. The Spotlight - if people are watching--coworkers or the public--a dealmaker may act less rationally than if the spotlight were off.

Malhotra et al write: "Rivalry, time pressure and a bright spotlight can each fuel competitive arousal. Collectively, they can lead to decision disasters." They point to the Boston Scientific acquisition of Guidant and Viacom's purchase of Paramount as two costly examples of this type.

What to do? As in "Negotiation Genius," Malhotra urges dealmakers, first of all, to be aware that these factors exist. Mere awareness of a feeling of time pressure is a tool to prompt reflection: "Is there a reason this has to be done this week?" Almost always, the answer is no. The world won't end if the deal is delayed.

As for rivalry and the spotlight, companies can put approaches in place to manage them. Often, it means spreading the responsibility among teams of dealmakers rather than allowing individuals to shoulder the entire burden. [Microsoft might have managed the recent Yahoo engagement better if it had not allowed it to become Steve Ballmer's deal.]

Malhotra and his colleagues are probing into new and important territory in business research. By bringing behavioral economics and psychology into the forefront of dealmaking and negotiation, they are providing a valuable service to businesspeople everywhere.

Most refreshingly, their focus on the costs of dealmakers' irrationality and aggression is a welcome antidote to the lionizing of ultracompetitive CEOs and moguls elsewhere in the business press.

(Photo: a still from the infamous Steve Ballmer monkey dance)

Related posts:
"The Best Negotating Book I've Ever Read"

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