Derek Bishop


Engaging with suppliers

Date added: 19th Aug 2013
Category: SMEs / Entrepreneurs

Much is written about the importance of engaging with employees and with customers but the poor old supplier is often left out of the mix.  And yet in many cases without the supplier you have nothing to offer your customer apart from empty shelves and empty promises.  But build the relationship right and your supplier could just be the best friend an organisation can have.

Let us ask our suppliers to come and help us to solve our problems.”

The great American professor and consultant W Edwards Deming may be most famous for creating the plan-do-check-act cycle but he also had a lot to say about the theory and practice of management and of business transformation.  He understood the power of harnessing suppliers and workers and alongside his quote on suppliers, above, he also understood that when transforming an organisation “the first step is transformation of the individual.”

Deming’s suggestion that suppliers could be asked to contribute to solving an organisation’s problems may be anathema to some but the strengthening of supplier bonds is one way of improving the overall delivery capabilities of the business.  This is borne out by the way that continuity specialists are increasingly focusing on the importance of supply chain continuity.  The PWC website sums this up when it says that “The best disaster survival manual may be obsolete if it doesn’t anticipate major disruptions to the supply chain or at outsourced operations.”

But suppliers are not just there as problems to be solved in case of disaster; they are there to provide solutions which help business to serve their customers.  Build a strong relationship with a supplier and if you need a little extra help, a speedy delivery or a fast response when a product fails the supplier is more likely to be there for you.  Conversely treat your supplier as a commodity, bark orders at them and pay late and you can expect no back up at all.

But aside from the obvious, what extra benefits can be gained from engaging with your supplier.  Can they really help you to solve your problems?  Well, yes they can.  It may sound simple but taking the time to share the vision with your supplier can give them the stepping stone to provide you with exceptional service.  Simply chatting through plans for expansion and inviting them to contribute ideas means they can incorporate your vision and planning within their own company ethos.  Soon they will be coming to you with ideas and if a new product line or material is in the offing they are far more likely to single you out as the prime recipient.

For organisations which are going through a period of transformation; whether moving to an innovation culture or taking steps to improve employee engagement; the buy-in of the supplier is essential.  There is no point in changing the company culture if the improvement stops short at the supplier.  Promising customers an exceptional level of service is a waste of time if the supplier carries on delivering poor quality goods several weeks after agreed deadlines have passed.

So when you are transforming your organisation, define the business as a single entity which provides a seamless service from supplier to customer.  It may not be a straightforward process and you do have to allow for the fact that your supplier may serve more than one entity but every step you take to integrate your supplier into the organisational vision will be one step closer to providing an exceptional level of service for your clients.  After all, as Deming said “quality is everyone’s responsibility” and everyone should include your supplier as much as it does your employees.

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