Tag Archives: Behaviours

Collaboration and Reputation

Just One Goat

‘Just One Goat’ – J. Davies (2020)

 

Collaboration and Reputation

“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of, for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again.”  – Socrates (470 – 399 BC)

 Why Is Reputation Important?

Effective collaborative relationships are underpinned by trust, and by extension reputation. The reputation of an organisation is a strategic asset and a significant source of corporate value as observed by Eccles et al:

“…in an economy where 70% to 80% of market value comes from hard-to-assess intangible assets such as brand equity, intellectual capital, and goodwill, organizations are especially vulnerable to anything that damages their reputations.[1]

There are significant examples of organisations who have destroyed corporate value because they did not adequately protect their reputation. These examples include poor risk management practices such as BP with the Deepwater Horizon Disaster,  fraudulent conduct such as Volkswagen’s emissions cheating practices,  and highly imprudent statements about product quality such as the Chairman of a large jewellery retail chain publicly stating that the company’s products are “complete crap”.[2]

Failure to operate your company is a ‘sound and business-like manner’ and with ‘reasonable skill and care’ is not only unlawful in most jurisdictions[3] but also a sure-fire way to erode value and destroy trust.  Doing what you say you are going to do, behaving ethically, and treating your customers with respect are all simple strategies to build up and maintain positive relationships. We also need to consider reputation more broadly between buyers and suppliers, especially with strategic suppliers and customers. 

The current global pandemic is generating extreme volatility and uncertainty in business relationships.  The temptation to retreat into silos with a ‘dog eat dog’ approach may yield very short-term benefits; however, smart companies will play the long game and focus on how the business will operate after the crisis is ended. In other words, these companies will look to preserve or even enhance their reputations

Strategies for Preserving Your Reputation in a Crisis

In a crisis, an organisation may be legally frustrated from delivering what they promised. This can apply to organisations involved from both the buy side and sell side. A black letter law approach would push businesses towards efficient breach of the contract or litigation to resolve the issue (often through legal technicalities) but as we know, such approaches destroy trust and annihilate opportunities for parties to work effectively with each other in the future. Organisations therefore need to explore options for win-win outcomes through the following:

Transparency. Be honest and do not surprise your suppliers or customers.  Early and frank disclosure will more likely preserve trust and allow for joint, mutually agreed solutions.

Demonstrate Leadership. Be a role-model to your teams, customers, and suppliers. Be proactive, be courageous, and do not let issues fester. Problems rarely go away by themselves.

Maintain Flexibility. Two millennia ago, the Roman statesman, Publilius Syrus stated that, ‘it is a poor plan that admits to no modification’. This tenet is especially relevant now. Organisations need to accept that existing Business Cases, Corporate Plans, Profit Forecasts, and Programme Charters are likely to be superseded by events. Stubborn organisations that do not adapt their strategies and plans will likely fail. Successful organisations, that work collaboratively with buyers and suppliers to promote flexibility and agility,  will more likely succeed.

Negotiate to Create Value. Negotiation does not have to be a zero sum game. Adopt a positive approach to negotiation that explores opportunities for both parties and the creation of value.

Fix the Problem and not the Blame. When the proverbial hits the fan, there is an overwhelming temptation to start pointing fingers. We need to resist this temptation and focus our energy on fixing the problem.

Adopting the above strategies will not guarantee preservation of goodwill but will be far more likely to avoid losing a cherished reputation. Organisations may also seek a crisis to enhance their reputation and prove that they can work collaboratively in both good and bad times.

Summary

When a crisis strikes, we naturally focus on short term survival. This is absolutely necessary where cash flow and solvency is at risk and other extreme risks or issues place business viability in jeopardy. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,[4] we should not ignore these critical factors but at the same time we also need to be future focused and explore how the organisation will look and work at the end of the crisis.  Short-term survival does not have to be at the expense of long-term relationship building. Organisations now have a unique opportunity to demonstrate their affinity to collaboration in good times and bad.  Playing the long-game, from a collaboration perspective, should be a strategic priority.

[1] Robert G. Eccles , Scott C. Newquist and Roland Schatz “Reputation and Its Risks” Harvard Business Review February 2007.

[2] Gerald Ratner, After Dinner Speech to UK Institute of Directors (Apr 1991).

[3] Companies Act 2006 (UK) s174; Delaware General Corporation Law Delaware s145; Canada Business Corporations Act (1975) s122; Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) s180.

[4] Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review,50(4), 370.

Disputes and Issues Resolution – Best Practice for Collaboration (Part 2)

“One is not exposed to danger who, even when in safety is always on their guard.” – Publilius Syrus (circa 60 BC)

ludit lexus

Ludit Lexus  – J.Davies (2020)

Introduction

In part one of our discussion on disputes and issues resolution, we explored strategies for effectively dealing with disputes internally. The key theme here was to resolve issues quickly, fairly and at the lowest possible level.  In some circumstances though internal mechanisms may be insufficient to resolve critical disputes.  In our current volatile and uncertain environment, some aspects of the commercial relationship may not be possible to perform and the contract could be frustrated.[1] Even force majeure can introduce substantial uncertainty to the performance of the contract.  We therefore need to anticipate mechanisms to deal with serious issues that cannot be effectively resolved through internal measures.  We should not rely on litigation or arbitration to seek resolution.  Litigation and arbitration are very time consuming, expensive and uncertain processes that are very unlikely to support future positive relationships. Consequently, we must explore other, less destructive, external resolution mechanisms.

External Disputes Resolution Options

In our first blog we recognised that disputes and issues resolution processes and largely unfettered so long as they do not ‘oust the jurisdiction of the courts’.  This means that we are free to select any form of disputes and issues resolution process so long as the commercial agreement does not fetter any party in pursuing litigation until after the dispute resolution process has run its course. For effective collaborative outcomes we need to adopt the same mantra of disputes and issues resolution principles we explored earlier; that is resolve quickly, fairly and at the lowest level practical.  Once we move to external disputes resolution, solving problems at the lowest level means anything other than arbitration or litigation. Best practice resolution here includes mediation and expert determination

Mediation

The Resolution Institute offers a succinct definition of mediation as follows;

Mediation is a confidential process where an independent and neutral third party assists the disputants to negotiate and reach a decision about their dispute.[2]

The role of the mediator is not to impose a solution or binding outcome, rather the mediator facilities a joint, win-win outcome by exploring issues and positions of the parties collaboratively.

A mediator will only participate in the process if all parties are committed to resolution of issues in good faith.  Mediation is usually the quickest and cheapest of all the external dispute resolution processes and is also more likely to preserve positive business relationships.

Expert determination

For technical disputes, an expert can be employed in a resolution role. Quite often the expert’s ruling is considered binding.  The Australian Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators recommend the following rules apply to expert determination:

  1. The Expert shall determine the Dispute as an expert in accordance with these Rules and according to law.
  2. The parties agree that:
    1. the Expert is not an arbitrator of the matters in dispute and is deemed not to be acting in an arbitral capacity;
    2. the Process is not an arbitration within the meaning of any statute.
  3. The Expert shall adopt procedures suitable to the circumstances of the particular case, avoiding unnecessary delay and expense, so as to provide an expeditious cost-effective and fair means of determining the Dispute.
  4. The Expert shall be independent of, and act fairly and impartially as between the parties, giving each party a reasonable opportunity of putting its case and dealing with that of any opposing party, and a reasonable opportunity to make submissions on the conduct of the Process. [3]

For more complex and long-term commercial arrangements, parties may pre-select the expert for each discipline area. For example, the parties could pre-select an expert for pricing issues, technical solutions, or for contract interpretation.

There are several permutations in how the expert can decide on an issue. In most cases, the expert is free to come to their own conclusions as to how the dispute should be settled. In other cases, the expert may be bound to select a course of action between the ambit of the parties’ positions.

A variation of the expert determination decision making process is final offer arbitration or baseball arbitration.[4] In this situation, an expert is only permitted to select one course of action provided by one of the parties. There is no scope to select within the middle ground. Consider the following example:

A supplier is seeking additional sums related to a substantial contract change proposal initiated by the customer.  The customer is expecting a $100,000 increase in costs associated with the change, whereas the supplier expects the change to incur an additional $500,000 in costs. If the parties wish to resolve this issue via baseball arbitration, then they will need to submit a best and final offer to the arbitrator. Each party does not get to see the final offer from their counterparts.  The arbitrator will estimate the cost of the contract change proposal and will select the best and final offer that is closest to their expert estimate.  In this example, the expert may decide that the additional costs are $250,000. If the customer digs in their heels and sticks to the $100,000 additional sum, but the supplier is more reasonable and adjusts their escalation fee to $300,000 then the arbitrator will select the $300,000 escalation fee since this figure is closest to the arbitrator’s estimate.

Baseball arbitration prevents any one party making outrageous or unfair claims for fear that their claim will be considered less equitable or fair when compared to the other party’s claim. This can be implemented relatively quickly and cheaply provided there is an arbitrator with the necessary skills available.  By design, this approach nudges parties to provide reasonable offers and will likely preserve business relationships.

Conclusions

For resolving disputes and issues, we must first craft a commercial strategy that minimises the likelihood of disputes and issues arising in the first place. Fair and equitable risk allocation, early engagement, and transparency are all tools we can adopt to achieve this. Nonetheless, we need to anticipate disputes arising and ensure our contract has effective internal disputes and issues resolution processes.  With an effective collaborative culture, we should not expert disputes and issues to require external resolution processes, but we should not create a situation where arbitration and litigation is the only step available to us.  Mediation and expert determination should be considered, especially for longer term, strategic relationships.

[1] J. Curle & C. Allin ‘Coronavirus COVID-19 and frustration: Is your contract at risk? (United Kingdom)’ (Mar 2020)  https://www.dlapiper.com/en/chile/insights/publications/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-and-frustration-is-your-contract-at-risk/

[2] Resolution Institute (2017)  https://www.resolution.institute/dispute-resolution/mediation

[3] Resolution Institute (2017) https://www.resolution.institute/dispute-resolution/expert-determination

[4] L. Samples ‘Resolving Construction Disputes through Baseball Arbitration’ American Bar Association (2019)