“Trust men and they will be true to you: treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson
One evening, while out walking my dogs, I was totally distraught, feeling like I had no choice but this one Supplier. Unfortunately, this Supplier was embroiled in a serious liability issue at one of our largest manufacturing sites. “If I can make it through Christmas,” I thought, “I won’t be distracted by competing priorities and can see my way to the other side of this challenge.”
The ‘competing priorities’ were my family and my God! Surely these should come before any work or supplier issue. Fortunately, I realized how ridiculous this was and I stopped the voice inside my head from speaking any further.
When we are faced with what seems an impossible situation, panic and crazy talk seem to take charge. In my case, the contract was expiring, the needs of the manufacturing sites were significant and every day I was fending off two competing demands: “Get this Supplier out of my Plant!” or, “What is taking so long to get a contract in place, the Supplier is doing a great job and I want to have him perform other services.” How can a single Supplier elicit such dichotomy? Simple – because Services are a “People Business” and people can make or break the relationship. Together with the Supplier, I had designed a transformative solution but we were struggling to implement it. And, we began blaming each other.
Once upon a time, I envisioned the possibilities of what a long term relationship with this Supplier might mean for my company and I was excited. I had studied this Supplier and the market. I knew we had a winning approach that would bring value to both parties. Making it happen would not be easy and I would need to change the culture in over 50% of my manufacturing sites. I needed to do it fast and this liability issue was preventing me from signing a contract. My Supplier was not taking all the blame!
It became clear to me (after I stopped the crazy talk about skipping Christmas!) that I needed to focus on one problem at a time. And the problem getting in the way of progress was the outstanding liability issue. I took time to gather the facts and engaged the Supplier along the way. The Supplier brought in his insurance company who needed to do some additional fact finding; I helped the Plant understand why they needed to provide requested documentation or access to the Plant areas where the damage had occurred. After a painstaking few weeks, we had all the same version of the truth and could align to the apportioning of responsibility. The Supplier took responsibility for his part and we did the same. The check arrived and we were finally able to move on and focus on building our business partnership and implementing our transformative solution.
Over the years, this is not the only supplier challenge I have faced (though it was probably the most significant). As a result of this experience, I have found that there are three simple ways to develop a great relationship with your Supplier. I’m confident that if you take these to heart, you will master the art of achieving great things in this “People Business” of supplier relationships.
1. Think win-win. I have never met a supplier who thinks about how they can best disappoint a client. Yet, how quickly we condemn the supplier for what we believe is purposeful sub-standard or poor quality work. Relationships drive success, but they require communication, commitment and caring. Does the Supplier really understand the business needs, have you and your internal business partner spend adequate time helping your Supplier to walk in your shoes? Have you walked in his? What is in it for your Supplier – will he make money in this endeavor? It is important to define the win as well as to anticipate the obstacles. This takes time and there will be set backs.
2. Set Joint Goals – But only a few at a time. When was the last time you were really able to do two things at once? After several years of fooling ourselves, we all now realizing that there is no such thing as “Double-Tasking”. Many studies have shown that a simple interruption sets back out progress in completing important tasks by 25 – 35%. The kind of joint goal I am talking about here is a goal that will take the partnership to the next level and transform in some way the business as it exists between you today. This kind of goal is risky – full of fear, uncertainty and doubt. So, don’t set your Supplier and yourself up for failure. Pick no more than 3 Big Things on which to focus. Develop the Big Three for the year, the quarter or the month (depending on your scope), then develop action oriented projects and tasks and review progress regularly.
3. Celebrate progress – This is as simple as saying Thank-you. When was the last time you enjoyed doing something for someone when they were an ungrateful task master? Pausing to say thanks and to recognize good work will pay big dividends in the long run.
I’d love to hear about your Supplier Relationship success story! Please share in the comment section below.