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Suppliers: How do you treat yours?

Just recently I’ve been helping a friend of mine turn his traditionally run, paper-based cleaning business into a digitally-enabled and slick operation. His team now work on mobile apps marking jobs complete and payments collected. It’s drastically reduced admin time.

But with a few thousand customers, various schedules of runs as well as his appetite for growth, finding a trusted partner to provide the technical infrastructure to cope and that can be relied on was an important milestone. He’s been lucky to find a great organisation to work with, containing some very switched on clued up cookies in the world of software development that I know will take his business from strength to strength. That is, as long as they build and maintain a great working ‘customer:partner’ relationship.

It’s got me thinking about the work we do in HR and L&D, the partners, or suppliers if you want to call them that, we work with and what I’ve learned along the way.

How do you treat yours?

We all work with suppliers. These external businesses provide their products and services to support what we do. Payroll, learning, appraisal, recruitment, training record platforms are amongst the products and services we purchase. There’s also content that some of us may have developed externally as well as, for example, legal and accounting support.  Working with these suppliers brings a level of expertise and focus that we can’t always source internally. We are often blessed with savings in respect of time and cost.

But as well as having relationships at an organisation to organisation level, it’s wise to think about the personable relationship from human to human that exists between the people of those organisations and the dynamic this ‘extended teamwork’ approach brings.

I’ve a few examples I can think of where the best relationships between supplier and customer have been built on solid relationships between the individuals in those organisations. In those situations, I’d much prefer to describe the relationship as a ‘partnership’. Thinking through some of the most successful partnerships I’ve come across, I’ve seen some great collaborations between customers and suppliers. They work closely together with strong currents of communication flow and teamwork between them. On a social level, birthday cards are exchanged, new-baby gifts from team to team are shared and social gatherings take place with all involved. I’ve seen people between organisations becoming good friends. In those settings, it’s like the people working in that external organisation are truly viewed as an extension of the team.

Yet on a more disappointing opposite end of the scale, I’ve seen people treat their ‘suppliers’ like nothing more than a provider. They view their supplier organisation and the individuals within people who should jump at their every demand; after all, they are the paying customer. They expect the world to be re-aligned because of the ‘fee’ they pay. At worst, people that conduct their supplier relationships in this way leave such a bitter taste for the employees in that supplier organisation that those employees would rather leave than have to deal with that particular client any more. JUST WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE? 

Reviewing these two scenarios, it should be very easy to spot in which your supplier (or partner) is most likely to be willing to provide a great level of service to you, developing what they do to make whatever it is better and your life easier. It’s obvious which is more likely to be motivated to do their best.

So, whether we view the organisations that provide products and services to us as suppliers or partners is entirely up to us.  What is true though, is whatever we put into making those relationships as effective and human as they can be, directly effects the level of commitment and effort from those external organisations.

You can imagine the advice I’ve given to my friend as he embarks on the next journey with this new cleaning round technical partner.

I’m interested in your suppliers (or partners) and how you treat yours? How do you encourage a true partnership relationship?

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  • I wonder Ady, if those that treat their suppliers simply as a provider, treat other relationships they have similarly?  I have certainly witnessed that kind of approach/dynamic in internal relationships too - outputs including commitment, motivation and effort (including discretionary) are impacted similarly.

    • I can certainly imagine that to be the case!

      It reminds me of customer service. I think it's fair to say that in many cases, those that are great at providing service to customers are often the best customers themselves. They've got that human to human contact nailed! 

      You raise a great point there Kathryn. Maybe the best leaders have the best motivation, commitment and effort from their teams for a reason.  It can't be purely co-incidence.

      Relationships are key.

      Here's to effective relationships - internally and externally!

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