Do Your Suppliers Lie to You?

Let’s call him Jim.

Jim was a materials scheduler for a well-known manufacturing organisation in the UK. I was in Jim’s office, interviewing him as part of a consultancy assignment I was doing.

As I sat down at Jim’s desk, he was on the ‘phone and was clearly very angry. I later found out that the person on the other end of the line was a production controller at one of Jim’s key suppliers.

Apparently the supplier had let Jim down by not delivering a crucial component on time and this had halted production – a very serious incident. Jim was certainly letting the supplier know what he thought about it!

Suddenly, Jim’s body language changed along with the tone of his voice. He was embarrassed. The supplier had said that the component Jim was raving about was not on the schedule Jim had sent him.

“But” spluttered Jim “it is on the one that’s on its way to you!”

To Jim this justified his behaviour.

My interview started. I took the opportunity to explore why the situation I had stumbled on had come about and why Jim had reacted in the way that he had.

It turned out that there had been a history of under-performance but my questions revealed that it was not clear cut as to where the blame (if any) lay. But this didn’t matter to Jim. As far as he was concerned his supplier “lied” to him.

We all see life through our own personal lens; developed over the years by experiences, thoughts, values and behaviours and supported by assumptions and beliefs. Although this works fine for us most of the time, it can lead to wrong conclusions and unfair treatment – just like the case with Jim’s supplier.

So how can we make sure that we are not being unfair in our behaviour towards suppliers? This is particularly important if you are running a supplier relationship management (SRM) programme.

Here’s a very simple process (although the devil can be in the detail!) to go through before you pull the trigger and shoot your supplier.

Step 1: think about the “who”, “what”, “where” and “when” of the situation. In Jim’s case this would have involved thinking about the supplier (who) producing a component (what) in their factory (where) based on a schedule (another what) in time for Jim’s own production (when).

Step 2: apply two questions (“how” and “why”) to each of the four elements in step #1. If Jim had done this he would have highlighted that the “how” and “why” for the “what” (producing a component) and “when” (in time for Jim’s own production) required a schedule from Jim to be received before the supplier produced the component.

Step 3: Repeat steps #1 and #2 for every piece of information until it all makes sense. Then prioritise your findings and separate the good information from the bad based on your analysis and prioritisation.

Comparing the output from this approach with what actually happened may have led Jim to a different conclusion about whether or not his supplier had lied to him.

What do you think? Do you have any examples of someone failing to think this way and so drawing the wrong conclusion?


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