In many large business organizations, internal teams and departments can either “hire” other departments in-house for work needed, often getting the best possible price for those contracts, or they can outsource the work, if there’s a good reason to do so. It all depends on the discretion of the budgeting department, who acts as the main intermediary while one team makes a bid to another team, negotiating to work together rather than hire help from the outside.
I was working in one such company with a senior executive, who was in the middle of a bidding process, trying to get his team hired for an internal project. He was very focused, as the head of his department, on keeping the contract in-house. It was one that could have potentially been outsourced, but he wanted it for his own team so they could show what they were capable of, so they could have the satisfaction of further growing the company, and certainly so that they would all remain employed. It looked as if his team had been hired, so they excitedly began planning out the project when he found out that the budget had been cut. The project was a no-go. Frustrated and disappointed, since he had already planned on his team having the income as well as the work, he was furious because he believed there was a personality issue behind the cut-back decision.
When he came to me for coaching, I started by just listening to his story. Once he’d had the chance to talk, without any focus on action steps, a fascinating thing came out of the conversation. He effortlessly set aside all his frustration about the office politics, and got clear that his main priority was really quite simple: the budget. Would he have the funds to retain his staff? That’s the main thing he cared about. With this focus, he knew he wanted a valid project to keep his team engaged so he wouldn’t have to lay anyone off.
We talked both about his goal of keeping all his workers employed, and about what him standing up for his team meant for the company as a whole, values-wise. As we spoke, he was also able to empathically connect with the person who controlled the budget, and what must’ve been going on for them in terms of integrity when they broke the news to him about the cut. He touched into the pressures that exist politically for the budgeting department, and particularly connected – mentally, at least – with the person who’d made the top-down budgetary decision at hand.
Suddenly, two completely different strategies came to him, neither of which had occurred to him before. First, he wanted to approach the budget-decider and listen empathically to them to make sure he really did understand the constraints they felt they were under. And then, if there was room on their end to entertain a creative solution, he had a renegotiation in mind.
“I understand,” he said when he had a chance to begin the conversation with them, “that you were asked to cut a certain amount from the budget at large, and that you did it from a number of different departments. Is that true?” “Yes, that’s it.” “And so you feel that you can’t give us the money that we’d hoped for anymore, right?” “Right.” “Okay, well I have a completely different idea that would be good for the company and keep my team intact, working on something really important. Are you open to hearing it?” The person was open, and nodded their head. He said, “This company is committed to spending a certain amount of money on public service advocacy. I have a project in mind that would cost about X amount and is in line with our values here.” (Coincidentally, the amount was about the same as the amount of money cut from the team budget.)
He then went on to outline an education-based outreach project in Africa that would focus on hygienic treatment of bottled milk products. He had the data on what it would involve, the number of lives saved, etc. And then he wrapped up with a few more statistics to reflect the way the pitch was in alignment with the company’s social mission.
Long story short, a connection was made and the budget request for this service project was ultimately approved. My client’s team – all of it – had the resources they needed to work on something incredibly meaningful to them, far more satisfying than the original project would have been. And his relationship with his colleague in the budgeting department was restored. He was so happy, saying things never would have unfolded so well if, during our conversation, he hadn’t cleared through his resentment to get reoriented around his core needs, which essentially boiled down to relationships and collaboration.