We go to great lengths to ensure our employees are happy and productive. We design comfortable workspaces, provide break rooms, paid time off – even if just for “personal” reasons – enroll them in training and educational programs and reward them for a job well done with a periodic bonus. We do this to keep them focused, as we all know the hunt for talent is grueling at best, and when we find that rare gem of a top-rate employee, we bend over backwards to keep them on the team.
Why, then, do we treat vendors like second class citizens? We often go through great lengths to sell the vendor to the organization, but once we win over our colleagues and hire the vendor, we often fail miserably at keeping them happy and focused. Worse, we typically don’t give vendors an incentive for jobs well done, rather, our lawyers structure agreements that penalize for jobs poorly done. We aren’t taking the time to understand their needs or what motivates them as individuals, rather, we’re concerned with covering our own rear ends and think nothing of hanging a vendor out to dry when the going gets tough. We pay them, they owe us – quite a bit like late nineteenth century factory foremen dealing with their workers.
In my work evaluating system implementations for some very large companies, the vendor-client relationship often seems to be a contentious one, starting out with great promise but disintegrating into a blame-fest. Why is this so?
From my perspective, it’s the easy way out, a path of least resistance. Remarkable that some companies would rather scrap hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars and abort a bad project with a bad vendor than take the time to rehabilitate it provided the vendor gets the blame. To be sure, sometimes this is the right decision. But who’s to blame, really?
Selecting the right vendor is, of course, critically important to project success. We’re often so dazzled by demos that we forget to run the vendor through the proper paces. We also fail to indoctrinate the vendor into our way of doing things. Rather, we see vendors forcing their way onto the client without considering the client’s culture or the available skills of its employees. So the first step to good vendor relations is – surprise, surprise – selecting a good one in the first place.
Next, provide incentives for vendors rather than penalties. Would you think for a second of fining an employee for a late project, of actually taking money from their pocket? Probably not, unless your last name is Machiavelli. You may give them little or no bonus; you may fire them. But I’m sure you wouldn’t actually take money from them.
We make considerable investments in outside products and services and, as the world continues to flatten and we focus on our core businesses to remain competitive, there will be a greater need to better manage vendor relationships. Start to think of them a bit more like you think of your employees, and you’ll soon see the same enthusiasm, diligence and attention to detail you so value in your best employees.