I write a lot on this blog about freelancers, creatives, and vendors who work for large organizations. But on this post I want to deal with organizations themselves. One large organization needed to hire an advertising agency, so they interviewed and evaluated five choices. The leadership team made the final decision, so after careful consideration it was decided by a majority which agency would be best. However, the organization’s communications director – the in-house person who would be the point person with the agency, didn’t like the choice. He wanted another agency he knew and was more comfortable with, but he had to abide by the leadership team’s decision. However, because he was only thinking about himself and not the higher goals of the organization, he immediately began to make life miserable for the agency.
He withheld approvals on creative work, then blamed the agency for being late. He gave them vague instructions and then got upset because they missed the mark. He withheld information and generally treated them with arrogance and condescension. After 6-8 months, as the communications director hoped, the relationship fell apart, and the CEO fired the agency. To everyone else on the leadership team, it appeared the agency failed the challenge. The CEO was baffled, because the agency had done spectacular work for other organizations. But to those who saw what was happening on the inside, the in-house communications director betrayed his own company.
Right now in your organization, someone on your team who otherwise seems absolutely responsible, upright, and qualified, may be damaging your leadership, and hurting your organization. But how would you know? How do you evaluate their performance? Here’s a few tips:
1) Don’t just get reports from your in-house point person on projects, regularly talk to your vendors as well. If there’s a problem, the vendor will be slow to point fingers at anyone, since the in-house person is in control of the relationship. But if you are sensitive and can read between the lines, you’ll start noticing differences in their reports.
2) Discuss personal feelings with your in-house staff. If they’re dealing with a vendor they don’t personally like, it could be a sign that the vendor is a problem. But just as often, it might be a sign that you need to switch your point person.
3) Make sure anyone at your organization who deals with outside vendors or consultants is experienced and mature. While not always true, the more experience and maturity someone has, the better they can overlook personal biases and make decisions for the greater good. Plus, they need to be at the same or similar professional level as the outside vendor. Putting an unqualified person in charge to lead an important outsourced project is a recipe for disaster.
Things go wrong with vendor relationships, but in my experience, the vast number of problems are with communication, not execution. Go out of your way to ensure everyone on your team is dealing fairly and professionally with vendors. Because only then will you be equipped to continue the relationship or pull the plug.
Have you ever seen a situation where a great vendor relationship collapsed because of personal animosity on either side?