Service Provider Relationships: What You Need to Know About Better Decision Making

By Allan Watton on June 8, 2012

Service Provider Relationships: What You Need to Know About Better Decision MakingYour milestone deadline is looming ever closer.

You’re only about 70% towards completion, and it feels like you are wading through treacle. Everyone is anxious.

Your Board and peers are anticipating good news – because that is what you promised them. And yet the benefits of this provider relationship seemingly fade with every passing month.

The above may well be a familiar scenario for you. The question therefore is, how do you go about preventing it from happening?

Important Versus Urgent

Faltering (or failing) provider relationships create an enormous amount of pressure. In such times, you’ll hear everyone talk about the importance of effective time management. Your team will be using all of the appropriate tools at their disposal in order to effectively manage what they believe to be their priorities.

But that isn’t the solution to the issue. Time efficiency is all well and good, but it is how effectively you spend your time that determines positive outcomes. Being able to understand business outcomes and adjudging what is important versus what is urgent is a key skill.

What is Important?

Activities that can be considered “important” usually help you achieve the ongoing medium to long term goals aligned to the business outcomes and benefits you are aiming for within the relationship.

What is Urgent?

Activities that can be considered “urgent” are often (but not always) a result of inappropriate management of the early stages of the important items. They often emerge at the most inopportune of moments, and demand immediate attention.

You have to leap on urgent items. If you don’t, the wheels will come off in the service delivery and the day to day operational process will fall apart. You’ll have unhappy departments, and unhappy customers. A scenario best avoided.

It should be clear that urgent items are ideally prevented, but if unavoidable, dealt with effectively. Today I am going to share with you our methods for effectively dealing with important and urgent issues when recovering major service provider relationships.

Dealing with Important Issues

This is the area in which you really achieve your business outcomes, and quickly. You absolutely must make time in your diary to keep you and your team on top of these items so that they don’t become urgent.

In last week’s post, I remarked how “prevention is the best cure” when it comes to establishing an effective public to private partnership. That adage applies just as appropriately to how you should deal with important issues. Letting important issues slip by because of other commitments is just applying a heavy punishment (in the form of urgent issues) on your future self. I cannot stress this enough – do not be blind to the effect of neglecting important items. Whilst this is easier said than done, that fact does not give you an excuse not to do it.

Furthermore, be mindful of how well equipped your team is to deal with important issues. Occasionally, urgent issues arise when a team member is lacking in authority and/or initiative. Sometimes it can just be a case of intellectual laziness. However, alternative (and preventable) circumstances are also common – such as a lack of clear visibility around the constraints, business objectives and fundamentals of the service provider relationship, which makes it difficult for others to make decisions and escalate matters according to their own judgement.

It may be highly productive to reassess your systems with the above in mind.

Dealing with Urgent Issues

If you effectively manage important items, the number of urgent issues will reduce dramatically (which in turn will free you up to dedicate more time to future important issues).

However, there will always be issues that are difficult (or impossible) to foresee. Issues that are essentially unavoidable. When you are presented with an urgent issue, the first thing you must do is take a step back and ask yourself the following question – can someone else resolve this issue on my behalf? If the background of the relationship has been appropriately documented (ideally in diagram form), you should be able to delegate urgent issues without extensive briefing. If there isn’t appropriate documentation, you should probably consider why that is the case.

However, there will always be urgent issues that demand your attention specifically. The key is to force yourself to pre-plan for the inevitable. The proverbial will hit the fan – so make sure you are prepared. Once you start to put this process in place, you will find that less fires get started, and more time becomes available to pre-plan and strategise with your provider to innovate, reduce costs, improve performance delivery. Your provider will even be able to increase their margins, despite reducing your delivery costs.

Remember this – every urgent issue is an opportunity to learn and improve your processes for the future. Whenever you find yourself firefighting, ask yourself what you could have potentially foreseen, and how you can handle matters better if a similar situation arises in the future. Then plan for it to happen.

What About Non-Urgent, Non-Important Issues?

Should we even be discussing these? They are a distraction and should be avoided.

Here’s the bottom line – if these issues don’t contribute to the prioritised business outcomes you have set, just say “no” (if you can), or delegate them.

If you do get sucked in, try to ensure that in the future, you are not the “go-to” person for such matters. Learn to say “no” more often, and make it clear that your time is better spent on achieving the organisation’s goals than by dealing with unimportant minutiae.

How to Be More Effective

In this article we have explored how you can better handle important and urgent issues and work towards a more efficient workflow in the future. What we havent touched upon is prioritisation of the aforementioned issues.

There will always be important and urgent issues to deal with. Handling them in a properly prioritised order is ideal, but easier said than done. Next week, we will be exploring an extremely useful tool that we use ourselves for recovering major service provider relationships.

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