BORN TO FIGHT?

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In a career of more than 25 years Andy Brown has observed the attitudes and behaviour of blue chip supply chain managers and top sales people from Europe to California and ASDA to BSkyB. And it's not pretty!

His extensive procurement experience, has convinced him of the work ethic and benefits of adopting only appropriate behaviour at 'Supply Engagement' - the point at which organisations create and manage their business relationships.

So much so that his Yorkshire-based business, TiVA, has declared war on the destructive adversarial style of confrontation often found between buyer and supplier.

The company's commitment to promoting appropriate behaviour in business relationships underpins an even bigger need to oppose the trend towards aggressive relationships between buyers and suppliers.

TiVA helps corporate buyers and their suppliers to work more effectively together, buyers to understand their supplier-base better and suppliers to align themselves more closely with customer needs, through an innovative suite of insight driven on-line solutions - Profiler and Value Benchmarker.

It's the antidote to the adversarial aggression that is becoming a dangerous 'norm' in an industry where buyers are mostly in the ascendancy and suppliers are often left trying to catch up.

In many ways, corporate buyers and suppliers, two parties both trying to get an angle for their organisations, are born to fight. It's as true now as it's ever been and may always be true. And as a natural instinct it makes a lot of sense.

Survival of the fittest is a natural human response. It's part of a tribal behaviour pattern where one group tries to gain advantage over another. But the problem is - a fight eventually always has a winner and a loser - and losers always bear grudges.

"I'm not saying it's wrong to gain commercial advantage as long as you use Queensbury Rules its ok to have the odd set to- in appropriate situations. There have been times, as a buyer, when I've taken an aggressive stance myself; because it was appropriate to the business situation - these experiences have contributed to the way I feel now", comments Andy Brown.

"It's when professional competition turns into overtly aggressive adversarial behaviour - where combatants change rules, lie and cheat - that it becomes unethical, totally negative and wrong. It's never appropriate behaviour in any circumstances.

"There's only so far you can take an aggressive stance. You can only push somebody so far. How far can a good supplier give way before their margin becomes so low that they have to walk away - and both parties lose? It happens all the time."

Yet whole industries, such as Construction are structured around adversarial behaviour. And European procurement rules build it into their process. By law any original ideas from one bidder have to be shared with all the others. As a result bidders keep ideas to themselves.

It's a practice that stifles creativity and can damage the overall economy because genuine innovators are among the losers. And that kind of conflict is hugely wasteful and inefficient. If you could measure it, people would be staggered at how destructive 'warring' is compared with more collaborative cultures.

The UK Governments Best Value initiative will help here but its taking too long to come into effect.

The ultimate consequence is illustrated by the 1996 explosion of the US spaceship Challenger, which killed seven people. It later became apparent that the disaster had occurred partly because a supplier was afraid of losing out on contracts and so did not want to admit to a potentially unstable component. The result was the explosion 76 seconds into the flight.

Organisations dont have to rely on a predominantly adversarial approach to relationships as there is an alternative through good communications and insight.

All business relationships, whatever their level, have a point of engagement and it is here that organisations need to more carefully manage variables for better business.

For TiVA's Andy Brown, this is known as 'Supply Engagement' and is the point in a relationship that requires participants to understand what form and level of communication is required, the mutual performance obligation and the proposed relationship type to enable a truly professional interaction to flourish.

Brown concludes: "My experience has taught me to deliver tangible benefits to both corporate buyers AND their suppliers in equal measures with the firm belief that balanced well managed relationships are the key to good business.

"Adversarial relationships only exist when a participant breaks from regular business conventions or pre-agreed rules of engagement, they may lie or with-hold information, and this breeds mistrust and devalues integrity, spawning aggressive and potentially unethical adversarial relationships. This is never appropriate!

"It is a focus on 'Supply Engagement' that is destined to throw off the boxing gloves and offer organisations a more productive way to do business as part of a new wave of business thought and management processes."

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