SI Review: March 2011

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Straight Talk: From the Customer

Think Out of the Box

How you can impress your clients

I manage the contingent labor program for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., which engages several thousand temporary workers annually. Like most large companies, we utilize a list of preferred suppliers and have incorporated a VMS tool as a fundamental part of our program.

Much like you and your firms, we are expected to deliver high-caliber resources in a timely manner — usually yesterday! Therefore, when we find staffing firms that act like true partners, we tend to steer more business their way.

Suppliers frequently ask me what they can do to differentiate themselves from the pack; here I share some ways our staffing providers have stood out over the years.

Note that I am not focusing on pricing and the quality of resources here, as I consider them to be a given in today’s world. That said, firms that consistently price their resources at a fair market value and ensure that their employees come on site with the prerequisite skill sets always fare better in the long run.

Working Together

While it may be hard to measure, partnership is critical to a strong working relationship. Firms that treat us as if our business is important to them always go a long way. There really is no magic in this -- just good communications (no one likes surprises) and solid delivery. We usually find that the firms that provide the best quality, service and overall value are the same ones that are easy to work with, have a minimal number of issues and resolve the ones that they do have very quickly. We always seem to get a heads up from our top firms so that surprises are few and far between; even unpopular news is communicated quickly and professionally.

Training

Other traits are easier to quantify, specifically in the area of training -- and there is much that a firm can do in this arena.

Candidate. We use a large number of project managers and began to notice that two of our suppliers consistently provided stronger PMs who were able to hit the ground running consistently with short ramp-up times. Upon investigation, we found that both of these companies had taken the initiative to train their PMs, in advance, on our project management methodology. No one had to ask them; they simply saw an opportunity and capitalized on it and now they have by far the most placements in that space.

Keeping a large bench is simply too expensive to maintain in today’s market, but one firm used an unusual approach to recruit specialty resources. Several of our business areas require unique certifications. After losing out on several placements, the firm offered to pick up the cost of certification for the workers if the workers would commit to working for the staffing firm for one year. This was not an inexpensive proposition, but it has paid off handsomely for the supplying firm.

Client. When the first development I cited here hit our radar, one of our local providers brought in an expert for several training sessions on the topic, which were very well-received by our internal managers. We have since had a number of other training sessions on a variety of technical topics, such as cloud computing and networking. However, we have also had sessions on topical themes involving the economic outlook.

Another midsize firm volunteered to train our internal managers on requirements gathering and establishing quantifiable metrics for some of our business teams.

We found that managers’ better understanding of why certain questions were being asked by the technology organization led to better defined requirements and clearer expectations for all.

Non-exclusive. Even smaller firms have a chance to participate. One of our niche providers once asked if it could help train all of a department’s resources on a very specialized tool. This provider took on training not only existing Nationwide FTEs, but its competitor’s temporaries as well.

In the past we have had firms participate in joint supplier panels in order to improve our processes and the supplier processes. We have also held joint Q&A sessions for our suppliers and our internal managers.

Our experience has generally been that if a staffing firm has a better method or process, we will find a way to accommodate
them if possible. We have also seen that the more closely a solution addresses and resolves a true business need, the more likely that it will be adopted -- and the more likely that it will lead to increased sales for your organization.

Charles Ritter is director of resource management at Nationwide Insurance Co.

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