CWS 3.0: August 8, 2012

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Supplier-Client Relationships Are a Two-Way Street

In the contingent workforce world, the word partnership is greatly overused, not to mention misused. But I was pleasantly surprised as I finished the review process for our 2012 CWS Case Study Contest. There was a unexpected number of submissions from some of the world’s best-known companies. Some shared stories about global expansion, while others discussed process improvement and savings. Each case had its own success element. While the cases were all different, there were a few things that were consistent. The most common thread amongst almost all of the case studies boils down to one word: partnership.  

Our rules asked for the submissions to be provided by the buyers of staffing services. And respondents went out of their way to recognize the contributions made by executives, stakeholders and providers toward the programs’ success.

It truly takes a village to sustain a successful contingent workforce program and good CW managers know that. But a popular program has to rely on a healthy supplier base with clear lines of accountability and service level expectations that hold the parties accountable, but are realistic. The contracts are clear with appropriate incentives for all parties — buyer and supplier — to perform.  

There’s that word again: Partnership, which brings me back to that small group of buyers who continue to sacrifice long-term organizational benefit for short-term gain. In my last column I recommended firing suppliers that don’t play by the program rules. Today, I’m calling on providers to fire clients that don’t appreciate their suppliers’ partnership. There can be many ways in which a buying company can throw the supplier under a bus. And we will explore many of them. (Look for my series of articles addressing stupid buyer tricks beginning next week.)

Today, however, I would like to ask the supplier community to be careful before accepting any new client. No, I am not crazy. But if you want your program to be a success, then the service agreement has to work for both parties. Suppliers shouldn’t agree to clauses that could render them bankrupt down the road — and buyers shouldn’t push for them. You have to realize your suppliers are in business, too. And the smart ones do.

So suppliers should vet their potential clients just as buyers must vet their providers. A partnership is defined as the joining of separate groups working together for some unified purpose. So make sure you are both working towards that common goal. And then you are truly partners.

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