CWS 3.0: February 15, 2012

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Perspective: Choosing the Right Vendor

The search for the right managed services provider or vendor management system can be daunting, and it’s the single most important decision that you will make as a contingent workforce manager. If you’re in the process of selecting a vendor or headed down that path, more than likely you have been working with an RFP template that includes numerous boxes you need to check. It can be overwhelming.

The Right Partner
My position has always been not to lose the forest for the trees. Remember what you are trying to achieve. Ultimately you need a partner who knows more than you do, whose culture melds with yours, and who has the resources to get it all done.

Expertise. This goes without saying — you want a partner who knows more than you do. Your selection process should leave you feeling that your program is in capable hands. Thus, ensure that your selection process is set up with that objective in mind.

  • Has the organization demonstrated their expertise in implementing and managing a program of your scope and nature?
    • Are you clear on the methodology that will be used to conduct discovery, implementation and on-going management?
  • Have you talked in detail with several of the vendor’s clients with similarly scoped programs?

Culture. Program managers often underestimate the impact that a vendor’s culture can have on the success of their program. A good partnership starts with a clear understanding and respect for and organization’s values. That foundation makes the decision-making process (there will be lots of decisions to make along the way) and change management less challenging.

  • What is the vendor’s core set of values? Are they consistent with your organization’s values? Does the vendor demonstrate their values through the course of the selection process?
  • How are decisions about your account made? Who needs to weigh in and at what level? Have you met them all?
  • Are your communication styles similar?

Flexibility & Resources. There were changes in our organization between the time we released the RFP and the final selection process. Those changes were unanticipated and had a significant impact on our resources and implementation process. This fact underscored the importance of selecting a partner that was along for the ride. No one wants to revisit the negotiating table each time subtle changes are made to internal processes. Even more important, you want to be sure you have a partner who can both respond to growth and decline seamlessly.

  • Can you agree on a set of parameters that will signal the need to revisit the agreement?
  • Does your vendor have the ability to flex with the needs of the business and maintain the required level of service? How will temporary spikes in volume be handled? What are the indicators of long-term resource needs and how are they poised to respond?
  • Where do you want your program to be in one year? Three years? Five? Did you select a partner that you believe can deliver on your 5-year plan?

 

Self-Reflection
A strong partnership requires effort on your part as well. As program managers, we’d all like to believe that success is defined by low pricing and a solid set of service level agreements complete with strategically placed penalties. In reality, the best relationships come when there are strong parties on both sides. We have to ensure that our house is in order before we invite company. The same standards we apply to vendor selection should be evaluated internally.

Expertise. Scope your program with your internal know-how in mind. Yes, we engage vendors because they know more than we do, but you don’t want to be at their mercy. A phased approach to implementation offers you time to build your expertise and the business case for an expanded program.

Culture. Does your top-down, hierarchical culture compliment your 12-month and 12-country roll-out plan? Be realistic and open with your partner about how decisions are made internally. This will result in a more realistic project plan and give you more confidence in that launch date you’ve committed to.

Flexibility. As a client, we expect to get what we want, when we want. There are times when those expectations are appropriate and other times when we need to take pause. Sometimes what we ask for is not reasonable and/or not the best thing for our program. Less palatable, but still a reality, is that your vendor just may not have the resources or know-how to get it done. Before you hit the roof, step back and put your request in perspective. Being willing to make trade-offs with your vendor creates goodwill and strengthens the relationship between the two organizations.

Excel
The truth is there’s no single article, book or webinar that will lead you to the perfect partner and perfect contingent workforce program. The best programs are built over time with strong partners that have the same goal in mind: excellence.

Bernita Jenkins is human resources business partner, people operations at Google Inc. She can be reached at bernita@google.com.

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