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How To Say “That’s Not In The Contract”. . .(Politely)

October 11, 2021

The more experience I got in showbiz, the less I read the contracts. Now I don’t bother. If I can’t make the deal in a phone call, and have them understand it, then it’s not a worthwhile deal. You’re making a deal with the people, not with the contract.

Penn Jillette – Magician, author and producer

I love Penn Jillette. He’s a wonderful magician, an extraordinary entertainer and seems like a really nice guy. (Although I’ve never met him.) And if I were to ever book him for a show I would be confident that whatever we said over the phone, or accompanying a handshake would be good enough.

With that said, I’d really like to take his advice on contracts. Basically, just decide what you are going to do, talk about it with the client and everyone just does the right thing. It’s my experience that is not how business works. Even when two companies want to work together, a contract, like a backyard fence, helps keep straight the boundary lines.

In my previous role at Teleperformance, we had a very large and detailed contract to cover how to would build a call center for our clients. The contract had multiple pages and multiple sections. It included sections on

  • Facilities
  • Backups
  • Inspections
  • Computer types
  • Headset make and model
  • Outage notification process
  • Call trees for escalations
  • What could be shown on the televisions
  • Turnstiles
  • Security
  • Background and drug tests

And dozens more. Most of the contract was fairly standard. And while each call center was slightly different, the processes and procedures were virtually the same across all sites. I became very familiar with the contract language.

Business relations, especially between companies are a little like negotiating with my teenagers about curfew.

Can I come home at 12:30 on Friday night?

You’re curfew is 12:00.

I know. But, the party might go a little late and Jamie is my ride. I didn’t want to have to ask him to leave before it’s over.

Okay. You can come home at 12:30.

Jamie might be dropping other people off also. How about 12:45?

If you have raised teenagers then you know this discussion only has one conclusion. It will continue until you, as the parent say, “No.” Typically negotiating with my kids meant they were going to attempt to get as much as possible and would only stop when they reached a boundary.

Companies are similar. Even companies that are on good, great terms with each other, are obligated to increase shareholder value for their own shareholders. And that’s where contracts come into play.

In my previous role, I often did audits or inspections with our client’s team. And sometimes (pretty much all the time) they would press for additional items or restrictions.

Rodney, we’d really like you to encrypt your harddrives on all the workstations.

We haven’t done that in the past.

I know, but we feel it would add an additional layer of security.

I’m all for security too. But, with a remote workforce I would have to arrange for 2000 employees to unhook the computer at home, bring it to my call center, have my desktop team disinfect it, have the same desktop team encrypt the hard drive and have the agent take the computer back home and then plug it all back in.

Oh, and the agent gets paid for their trip to the office. And since we only get paid from the client when the agent is taking calls, this represents a pretty substantial financial commitment. All so they can feel a little better about security. (We didn’t store ANY data on the hard drive, so encrypting it was kind of like locking an empty cupboard. Even if someone broke in there is nothing to steal.)

Before telling the client yes or no, I went to the contract and to my security team. We all scoured the requirements and no where did it say we had to encrypt the hard drives. Okay, the contract is in my favor. Now what?

What I didn’t do at this point is say, “It’s not in the contract. We’re not doing it.” Granted that is what I wanted to say, but it’s not good for business relations. What I did say was,

My team agrees that we can encrypt the hard drives. I’m not sure the business folks would sign off on the time off the phones. We are looking through the contract to verify our obligations. If you could look your copy of the contract and help me identify where that requirement is documented, that would go a long ways toward convincing the business to block out the time for it.

I knew it wasn’t in the contract. And I’m pretty sure my counter-part at the client knew it wasn’t in the contract. But, I didn’t want to tell him no and I also didn’t want to spend the money to go through the exercise. This answer prevented me from having to do either.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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