The next point about fostering a vendor relationship is to step back and to evaluate the relationship on a regular basis. Most vendor contracts allow for or even require regular interaction about the day to day activities of the contract. Operational issues come up often and are worked out. This contact and communication is an essential part of the relationship. Regular status meetings add a new dimension of relationship management to the contract.
Regular status meetings provide time and space for the agency and the vendor to step out of the day-to-day and into a proactive place where the relationship can be moved to a different level. The three components- regular, status and meeting are each critical and provide a simple framework for their success.
Where day-to-day interaction with a vendor takes place irregularly and spontaneously throughout the life of the contract, regular status meetings are different. Upon the advice of a new coworker, I have begun to schedule my status meetings semiannually. The regularity of having a meeting occurring at set intervals, upon which both parties can plan, allows a space and time to address issues that are of concern to the contract and to the relationship. I set the next meeting date on the agenda for six months into the future, at the meeting. We are not always able to keep the exact time and date of the meeting due to scheduling conflicts, but all parties know to expect another meeting in 6 months.
Status in status meeting means taking stock of the contract and looking at issues big and small as well as current market or agency climate conditions which impact the execution of the contract. To facilitate this, I provide a set agenda, developed in advance of the meeting with input from the vendor, as the roadmap for the meeting. This encourages all parties to think through the issues that need to be discussed and to prepare thoughtfully for a fruitful conversation. I take minutes from these meetings and develop agenda items for the next meeting. The main areas of discussion that I use in my agendas are: overview of market/agency conditions, new business, follows ups on issues from the last meeting, and status of action items.
Meeting means that the event is formal, structured and planned. The proper invitations can be extended. Vendor and agency staff that may not always be in the same room can be part of the same meeting. These meetings are often attended by both management and line staff from the vendor side and the agency side. The ability to bring together management and line staff from both sides changes the dynamic of the meeting and allows some issues to be moved forward in ways that are not always possible in the informal vendor/agency interaction.
My recent implementation of regular status meetings with vendors has done a lot to improve the relationship between the agency and the vendors. I have seen more problem resolution and more innovation in the way we do business from these meetings than in any other mechanism for communication that I have used. I see regular status meetings as an indispensable tool in my contract management tool kit.
Carolyn Ninedorf is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.