CWS 3.0: January 8, 2014

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Preventive Care Around Supplier Alliances = Healthy Ties

By Kay Colson

The effect of and reliance on strategic staffing suppliers is being felt in every sector of the economy as the demand for skilled labor and flexibility continues to increase. Finding and retaining the best people — employees and contingent workers alike — is critical to the success of every company. Sophisticated staffing solutions such as vendor management systems (VMS), managed service programs (MSP) and recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) are being considered and deployed by more companies every day. In order for these types of relationships to flourish, clients and suppliers must be committed to building a partnership based on shared goals and objectives and mutual trust.

Take, for example, the experience of Gary Wimberly, chief information officer of Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company. In a May interview with Peter High of CIO Insight magazine, he shared his approach to vendor management and having a few large vendors as trusted strategic partners: “As the relationship with our vendors becomes deeper, we have drawn much more expertise from them. We have revamped our evaluation process to stimulate and encourage the innovative thinking done on our behalf. In fact, some of that motivation is brought about by aligning executives at our company with their companies, and investing in our partnership — primarily made of an investment of our time — to ensure that they are setup for success with us.”

Here are ways to ensure your relationships with your suppliers remain healthy.

Invest Proactively in Your Partnership

  • Recognize your responsibilities for the partnership at every level and ensure your teams are doing their part to make the program successful.
  • Ensure your quarterly business reviews (QBRs) are not just about tactical issues. Engage your partner as an advisor to work on goals and issues that require a broader view and longer-term approach.
    • Re-evaluate your program goals as your business changes. Service levels should be meaningful and should support your business objectives.

Staffing Suppliers: Monitor Your Partnership

Your suppliers need to be proactive as well. Here are things they should be doing to keep the relationship on the right track.

  • Measure multiple levels of both satisfaction and performance.
  • Track changes in performance and financial value delivered over time.
  • Don’t neglect non-financial metrics of success … this can be done most effectively by direct outreach to your program’s stakeholders to hear their view of the supplier’s performance and value delivered.
  • Engage their team and senior management to ensure evaluation of the state of the partnership is part of your ongoing client satisfaction process.
  • They likely already do some of this for your QBRs, but they should also be reviewing these measurements with their teams before they are reviewed with you. Their teams should then be held accountable for defining the required action plans they provide to you and for executing on them effectively.

Evaluate Your Partnership Annually

When a supplier relationship is left to evolve without direction, trouble can start. Consider completing a thorough independent review each year, whether it’s done by supplier employees who are not assigned to the account, or an objective third party who is knowledgeable in staffing services. The best approach engages a variety of active stakeholders one-on-one to assess the current state of the partnership.

The annual review can help keep both you and your suppliers focused (or perhaps redirected if focus is wandering) on your program’s objectives and each partner’s role in making sure they are attained.

A solid partnership takes time to build and provides the best foundation for a success. But it is easily lost without focused effort. The annual review is a nominal investment in preventive care that can pay off well for both parties.

Kay Colson (kcolson@brightfieldstrategies.com) is a senior associate with Brightfield Strategies, which specializes in workforce planning and talent acquisition.

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