Win-Win or Lose-Lose: Convincing Executive Management to Embrace Collaboration

May 18, 2023

As a consummate professional in the industry, you understand that embodying a win-win approach with your contractors is the most effective way to build your project on-time, on-budget, and on-benefit.


However, that doesn’t mean everyone in your organization shares your perspective…


Especially executive management.


I don’t know what it is about being the big boss, but all too often we see executive management takes the position of wanting to beat contractors into submission.


Clearly this isn’t the case 100% of the time, but for the many of us, it’s a challenge we often face.


The question then becomes, what are you going to do about it?


To help facilitate your conversations we’ve put together some thoughts and actions you can take to help bring your executive management into your camp of win-win.


  1. Understand your audience: Before presenting win-win, take the time to understand the backgrounds, interests, and priorities of the executives you will be presenting to. In my experience operations-focused executives are often the most resistant to win-win, whereas executives experienced in capital projects tend to push back less.


Not until you have an understanding of your leadership team’s motives, will you understand the best ways to persuade them.


  1. Explain the impacts of win-lose: A win-lose approach, where one party seeks to gain at the expense of the other, is ineffective and counterproductive. Here are a few areas that suffer with this approach:
    1. Adversarial relationships hinder collaboration
    2. Quality and performance will almost undoubtably suffer
    3. Trust and long-term relationships are eroded
    4. Higher costs and project delays from contractual disputes, claims, and legal battles
    5. Negative reputation and limited contractor interest
    6. Missed opportunities for innovation and efficiency


There is more than enough historical data to demonstrate the failures of this approach. Chances are, your organization may have experienced these challenges. Use hard data and examples to demonstrate your point.


  1. Explain the benefits of win-win: A win-win, or collaborative approach, encourages open communication, mutual respect, and a focus on shared goals and interests. This allows owners and contractors to work together more effectively, increasing the probability of successful project outcomes, improved quality, cost efficiency and overall job satisfaction for all those involved (including shareholders).


What needs to be clear at the end of this, is that nobody wins unless everybody wins. In order for the company and its executives to be successful, so must their critical project partners be successful.


  1. Provide your experiences/stories: Contextualize the conversation by being prepared to talk about previous project successes and failures attributable a collaborative approach or conversely to a zero-sum mentality. Our industry is rampant with project failures so the latter should be easy to demonstrate.


Use facts, data, and verifiable information. It is difficult to dispute historical data that supports your approach, so be sure to paint the picture thoroughly and clearly.


  1. Anticipate and address objections:  Almost every executive I’ve encountered in mining will be prepared to push back regardless of how well you present win-win, so be prepared in advance!  Similar to understanding your audience do a little recon and intelligence gathering.  Which projects have each executive been exposed to… Who was the contractor? What was the outcome of the project? Did it end in a shit fight? Understanding their experiences will drastically improve your ability to anticipate (and address) their objections.


  1. Be an engaged listener: I like the way Chris Voss, author and former FBI hostage negotiator, frames it in his bestselling book Never Split the Difference:

“It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there. By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing.”


Listen to understand… it works wonders.  The process of trust begins by listening and understanding other people – what they want and what they are feeling, in short – knowing what’s important to them.  We all want to feel known and understood before we are willing to take input from another


  1. Build a coalition of support: According to a survey of 6,000 leaders presented in The Challenge Sale “widespread support is the single most important driver” for executives when making a buy decision. And make no mistake about it, you are making a sale… it might not be in the traditional sense of the word, but it is your job to sell executive management on the win-win approach. Try to build support for your idea by discussing it with colleagues, team members, or other influential individuals within the organization.


Seek out not only professionals in your camp that agree with your approach, but also those who don’t. By persuading these individuals, you are not only practicing for the big sell, but also identifying weaknesses in your presentation before the big sell, and plugging holes to make sure your case is water-tight.


These are some of the critical areas where I think we need to excel in order to be persuasive to those critical team members and executive leadership team members we rely on.


I would like to hear your thoughts – what are some of the challenges, frustrations, and successes you have experienced when trying to gain the support of executive management?


One last piece of wisdom I would like to remind you – not every executive thinks the same, so tailor your sell to the customer who you want to put the jacket on – make it personal.


To your success!





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