Procurement Act to put the focus on negotiating skills - Andy Archibald

A greater emphasis on flexibility for negotiators in the public sector will bring both challenges and opportunities, writes Andy Archibald

April marked six months until the UK public sector implements the long-awaited Procurement Act. It means the way the public sector procures supplies, services and works will change, ideally for the better. Furthermore, the Act is designed to simplify and modernise the way the public sector negotiates, ultimately providing more freedom to generate different, and ideally, better value agreements.

At this point, it’s unclear how, if at all, the Procurement Act will impact Scotland. Meanwhile, teams of people in the public sector across the rest of the UK are now busy figuring out what this actually means to procurement processes and what changes are needed, as well as the training and development needs of the people who will play a significant role in the successful implementation of the Act, including how well or otherwise they negotiate.

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As a negotiation trainer and consultant, I have worked with numerous public sector organisations to improve the negotiation skills of their negotiators. And my experience of doing so has allowed me to consider the opportunities and challenges of having greater flexibility to negotiate will mean to the public sector.

Understanding the negotiation process provides better control during meetings (Picture: the negotiation process provides better control during meetings (Picture:
Understanding the negotiation process provides better control during meetings (Picture:

There is a process to negotiating, and understanding this process provides better control during negotiations. And so for anyone who negotiates in the public sector, or manages the training and development needs, it is worth asking yourself the following.

When negotiating, are concessions traded or is value given away for free?

Is there effective preparation ahead of planned negotiations, including a clear set of objectives, variables and strategy? Or, is the approach to wing it, letting the other side go first and then taking it from there?

Is it likely that dialogue with the other party will be constructive, exchanging useful information by asking good questions and disclosing information to structure and manage expectations? Or, does dialogue resemble a discussion or argument that goes around in circles?

Andy Archibald, Senior Consultant at Scotwork UK.Andy Archibald, Senior Consultant at Scotwork UK.
Andy Archibald, Senior Consultant at Scotwork UK.

When the other side is speaking, are they being listened to, looking out for cues of flexibility from what they are saying and how? Or, is what needs to be said next and an impatience to say it clouding the ability to listen properly?

If a proposal is made, is it specific, credible and realistic? Or, are the other side left guessing as to what’s required?

Can the cues to conclude negotiations be recognised and value protected at the end of the process? Or, are late demands that erode value and encourage greed likely to be given into?

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And are all parties likely to be clear on what’s agreed at the end, with a robust implementation plan detailing who is responsible for what and by when? Or, do agreements tend to be vague and unspecific, risking disputes during the term of the agreement?

If the answer to any of these questions is the latter, then it might be time to invest in negotiation training for your negotiators.

Andy Archibald, Senior Consultant at Scotwork UK

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