Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hawaii or San Diego?

The Story
During my last semester of undergrad at BYU-Hawaii, I obtained a well-paying job that aligned perfectly with my major. This was nice for a student on the North Shore, because I hadn’t gotten to enjoy too many of the more costly activities on the islands.

However, I set myself up with one problem. My intention was to move back to the main-land in about four-months, and my boss thought he was hiring a long-term employee who would stay in Hawaii. During the semester, I read Getting to Yes and hoped I was increasing my negotiating skills so that I could convince him to allow me to work for him from San Diego. But as I was reading the book, I was not considering what I could do to strengthen my BATNA, nor was I worrying in the slightest about his interests.

Without addressing it with my boss, I graduated, flew home to Utah, and moved my stuff to California. I worked from home for a week or two and my boss kept asking when I planned on returning to Honolulu. One night, I called to discuss with him options for me to stay, but he didn’t answer his phone. A bit nervous, I left a voicemail saying I would not be returning and wanted to work for him—but in California.

After about three-weeks of this, my boss called me and said if I wasn’t willing to return to Hawaii, he’d have to let me go.

The Takeaways

Organize a BATNA

Having read a book on negotiation, I assumed I was a good negotiator. Had I really be working to have a BATNA, I would have seen that I needed to be looking for a different position since my true interest was remaining in San Diego.

In Getting to Yes, the authors give an example (Chapter 6, p 102) of catching an airplane and how when one is running late, getting on that plane seems like the only option. In truth, there are more options: another plane, driving, the bus, etc… For some reason, I had a fear showing me that stringing my boss along was my only option for staying in San Diego.

Also, had I setup a BATNA, I might have seen that living in Hawaii wasn’t such a bad BATNA either.

Invent options for Mutual Gain

I knew my boss’s concerns in this situation--he had a previous employee who stole money and equipment when she was contracting from the mainland. He did not want to experience this again. Using that little but of knowledge, I figured this was going to be difficult and so I didn’t engage in negotiation. Looking back, I feel we could have come up with many options:

6 months of me in Hawaii, while I slowly phased into a telecommuting status
Rotation of 1 month in Hawaii, 1 month in my location of choice
Me training a replacement for a few months while I found a job in the location I wanted to be

I actually think the first one may of worked and possibly the third. The point is, I didn’t discuss it with him, I sprung upon him my definition of how it was going to be (and the story shows a few weeks later, he told me how it was going to be).

Next Time?

The biggest mistake was setting up my employer’s expectations that I knew I wasn’t going to fulfill, and then depending on my boss to help me get what I wanted. I definitely had the right to live where I wanted, but I was just waiting for a crash by hoping he’d see it totally my way. Next time, I would actually enter into negotiation and I would do it much earlier.

I would also put a lot more time in to accomplishing my real goals. I’m not very proud of this story. I don’t feel I was wrong in not divulging that I didn’t plan on working on his terms, but at the same time I do feel like I swindled my employer. The fact is, I wanted this job up until I graduated school and it would have killed it if I told him early on that I was not planning on staying—two weeks’ notice is all I felt obligated to give.

Next time, I would not leave myself in a position to be dependent upon my boss. I would first obtain a position in San Diego and then let him know I could telecommute or just quit outright. Spending a few more months in Hawaii would not have been that devastating—impatience to start a life in San Diego hampered my ability to start out with a solid financial foundation in that city. I eventually moved back to my hometown in Utah where I had a better network to find a position (I really missed Hawaii after that).

........ but I did meet my wife in Utah, so it was a happy ending. I think this is an important lesson too. Don't get so worked up about one negotiation or one event in your life that you let a lot of "happy endings" go unnoticed.

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