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Management And Training

Keys To A Successful Buyer-contractor Relationship: Part Two

September 19, 2010
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Last month, I presented four issues to focus on to improve the complex buyer-contractor relationship.

The following is the conclusion of those thoughts.

The Contract

The buyer-published contract "specification" is another reason why a buyer-contractor relationship may not meet the needs of the buyer.

Contractors often take these task/frequency "specs" with a grain of salt — if not a strong cup of coffee.

They understand that if they were to deliver everything specified, their bid would likely be too high to win a contract.

Again, the buyer — or buyer team — is in control of this decision.

Buyers typically specify everything, including: The amount of labor, wage rates, benefits, equipment, chemicals, materials, hours of work, etc.

In effect, the buyer has designed the service delivery system.

If it doesn''t work, don''t blame the contractor; it''s your system.

And, this approach has likely created a co-employment risk for the buying company.

The way to approach this relationship is to avoid providing the tools of the trade and instead require that the contractor design the service delivery system.

In short, the cause of poor performance is often not the contractor, but the buyer''s specification.

There are two solutions to creating an operationally sustainable procurement process:

  1. Develop a practical set of tasks and frequencies — often with contractor or consulting help

  2. Adopt a "performance-based" contracting model.

Of the two options, national studies are showing that the performance-based services model delivers greater quality, better satisfaction and lower cost than the traditional task/frequency specification.

On-going Measurement And Management

There are two important considerations for buyers and managers when it comes to on-going measurement and management of the buyer-contractor relationship:

  1. Establish a prevention-oriented management style

  2. Focus on constant process improvement of the service delivery system.

Many buyers and managers judge the success of the relationship by the number of complaints that are received.

This creates a crises culture where contractor "responsiveness" is accepted as one of the most valuable parts of a successful manager-contractor relationship.

And, indeed, quick response to problems is important.

But, this may be a better indicator of failure than success.

Think this through — often, the reason that some kind of response is needed is that something went wrong, did not get done or was done improperly.

Most — but not all — causes for complaints and service failures are preventable; on-going performance measurement is the best prevention strategy.

I suggest that it is the job of the contractor to prevent the failure, not create the need to respond to it.

If done well, you''ll measure key performance metrics to prevent problems and failure versus responding to it.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Too many buyer-contractor relationships seem to go wrong, driving buyers to look for "a really good contractor" in their next re-bid.

It''s important to realize that it is the buyer that creates the environment for a successful or unsuccessful relationship.

Buyers who have more important things to do are really saying that it''s just not worth their time to create an operationally sustainable working relationship with their building services contractor; after all, "it''s only cleaning."

They simply leave it to the contractor "to do their job," creating an atmosphere conducive to a difficult relationship.

The contractor shows up, performs the usual tasks, asks if there is something else you''d like them to do and believes they''ve done a good job.

Yet, the things that create unsustainable relationships are often predictable and preventable.


Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and CEO of Elliott Affiliates, Ltd. of Hunt Valley, MD, www.ealtd.com. He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.

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