• Getting a Better Employment Agreement, Part 1: How to Prepare

    Anyone can land a job. A good employment agreement, however, is the result of effective negotiation. Follow the seven keys we’ll lay out in this two-part series on contract negotiation, and you can markedly increase your chances of getting more than just a job. This month: four keys to preparing well.

    1. Articulate your goals

    Every negotiation has a “point” — an end goal that each party involved has in mind. In any negotiation, you have to be able to articulate (at least to yourself) what you want. What constitutes a good result for you?

    If you don’t know that much, you can never know if you were “successful.” That said, it isn’t enough to just have a goal. The goal must be measurable, reasonable and obtainable. In an employment context, “measurable” is pretty easy — did you, for example, get the salary you were looking for? Did you get the buy-in terms spelled out?

    Coming up with a “reasonable” goal may be more difficult. That requires homework — learning what market conditions are. What are other employers paying? Are restrictive covenants enforceable in your state?

    2. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

    Be brutally honest in your own assessment of your skills. The stronger you are, the bolder you can be. Of course, that feeling of strength must be based on a set of perceptions that matches up pretty closely to what the other party thinks. If not, you either educate them or no deal.

    You also need to know what kind of negotiator you are. Are you, by default, a “nice guy”? Or are you usually the “tough cop”? Knowing your defaults, and how easy or difficult it is to switch gears when necessary, will help you make the moves you need.

    It’s also good to know what your emotional triggers are. Does someone yelling make you feel like you have to close up shop and shut down? If so, be aware. Some folks are wired to rant and rave in a negotiating context. They take things (or appear to) personally and then go on the attack. But afterwards, they are as soft and easy to get along with as a kitten. If you don’t know how to step outside of your own emotional response, you’ll often hit a brick wall in discussions — and the other party will often use those tactics to “scare” you into accepting a less-than-acceptable deal. Or scare you away from what could be a really good deal, if you could learn to hold your emption in check. Learn when you might be able to “tough” things out and you’ll be better able to do the calculus required to actually get the deal done.

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    3. Size up your negotiating partner.

    Are you dealing with an 800-pound gorilla or just one of many chimps trying to get the lowest-hanging fruit off the branches? Is the employer in Los Angeles, where droves of residents want to live, or are they in upstate New York, where recruiting is difficult? Is one of the partners getting ready to retire? What do they bring to the table in terms of what you want? Do they respond well to tough-guy tactics or will they get angry and break off negotiations? What are their goals? Their needs? Are they likely to be swayed by arguments appealing to intellect or emotional appeals? Will an appeal for "fairness" or equity move them?

    These are all important questions, but that does not make them easy to answer. How, then, do you get this knowledge? One word: Ask. Ask people who have dealt with the other party before. Do your research. And, after you’ve done that, ask the other party what they are looking for, what they need and then listen.

    As to your research: Find out what average starting salaries, bonus arrangements and fringe benefits are for your market. What is your market? Find out by using resources such as the Health Care Group’s Starting Salary Survey, MGMA’s Physician Compensation Survey or any one of a number of tools available through the Academy and the YO Committee, e.g., Professional Choices.

    4. Identify and eliminate what both parties agree to.

    Narrowing down the number of points for negotiation will almost always result in a successful outcome, however you define success. Often the way you’ll find this out is when the contract or term sheet is handed to you. Go through the terms and see what is acceptable — what doesn’t need changing. For example, say the employer is offering a salary, bonus and benefits package you know you’ll take, and is asking for a 10-mile non-compete. You may, in fact, be willing to move five miles from the existing office if things don’t work out, so in addition to removing the compensation and benefits from the list of items to be discussed, you might be able to move from the negotiation on whether there will be a covenant not to compete and concentrate to a negotiation over how big the non-compete area will be.

    In Conclusion

    Follow these keys and you should be better able to articulate your needs and wants going into the negotiation process. Next month, we’ll conclude the series with a look at how to do your best in the negotiation itself.

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    About the author: Rob Wade is an attorney with extensive experience representing health care providers and related organizations. His practice focuses on physician-related contracting matters. An author of numerous articles on health care law and practice management issues, Mr. Wade lectures nationally on practice management, financial and legal issues and has led seminars for many organizations, including the Academy. He was the keynote speaker at the 2009 YO Program in San Francisco.