Seven rules for involving senior management

Many supplier managers have aspirations to put their senior leaders in front of the supplier’s directors and VPs. This is often difficult to set up, not least because the perceptions of strategic importance can be very different depending on which side of the relationship you’re on. Nevertheless, bringing senior executives together can be a useful tactic and one that should be considered, as it can pave the way for breakthroughs in value for both sides.

I believe that a number of fundamentals need to be in place to ensure a decent return from senior executive participation.

Rule 1. Recognise that you will keep your senior execs interested only if there is a high level of interdependence between the companies: “you need us and we need you”. Pushing joint sessions where the balance of power is not broadly in equilibrium will simply not work.

Rule 2. Don’t be in a hurry to have senior execs involved. It is too easy to get caught up in the idea that they will sort out all your problems. They rarely do so on a sustained basis. Be explicit about the task that requires their support.

Rule 3. Have a clear idea of what value will be gained from both parties’ perspective. Focus on quantifying the results in real monetary terms.

Rule 4. Ensure that senior engagement is part of your supplier engagement plan, not a one-or-two-off event. Schedule events two years in the future if necessary to secure ongoing commitment.

Rule 5. Sort out the mess before the seniors meet. These sessions are no place to discuss operational failures in detail.

Rule 6. Brief the senior execs. Do not expect leaders to hit the ground running. They need to be properly briefed on the issues, attendees, desired outcomes and your expectations of their role.

Rule 7. Get some independent help. To really ensure that the ground is well-prepared beforehand, carry out perception and expectation interviews with participants a couple of weeks earlier. Then get an independent facilitator to feed back to you the good (and bad) news and help both sides reach the best way forward.

This blog was first published in Supply Management magazine in July 2011.

By David Atkinson

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