Your Supplier Management Team is saving you millions – The 10 Commandments they live by

By Allan Watton on

It’s not unusual for senior management teams to be unaware of the significant value their supplier management and Intelligent Client Function (ICF) teams create for their organisations. And, because this value can often go unnoticed, those at the coalface can think themselves in a more thankless job than most.

Recognising the Importance of the ICF Team

As a senior executive in your organisation, you’ll already undoubtedly understand that your supplier management and Intelligent Client Function (ICF) team is responsible for managing the processes, productivity and reporting on complex service delivery relationships. But, what you may not realise is that when your team is taking on the role of innovator, negotiator, mediator, critical friend, enforcer and informant, they are likely to be sitting atop a potential powder keg of emotions. And, it is the job of the head of the ICF team to ensure that this powder keg does not go off, despite the actions and reactions of all those around them. Clearly this particular function has its ‘challenges’.

Both sides, more often than not, need the expertise, guiding hand and relationship overview stance of an ICF team. However, that does not mean they are ever afforded the thanks they truly deserve for keeping those critical relationships on track.

ICF Team – 10 Commandments they Live By

When we saw an article by Anthony Iannarino on 10 Things For Which You Should Be Grateful – a general review of ten key behaviours we should all consider a little more in our day-to-day lives, and be thankful for – we thought this very relevant to our recognition conundrum. The points he raised are some of the key foundations of recognition for individuals who work in contract management, supplier management and ICF roles who may, at times, feel under appreciated by their peers and management teams.

1: Be grateful for adversity. It is what has made you what you are: stronger.

Recognising that there are times when suppliers and clients butt heads is important. Not all strategic relationships are smooth sailing, and complex service delivery relationships are rarely so throughout their entire lifetime. We often see senior operational managers burying their heads in the sand in the hope that their relationship will buck this particular trend. This certainly runs contrary to good practice. The Intelligent Client Function would usually jump to the rescue. Recognition of this fact, the acceptance of the inevitability of adversity in some form or another, means that organisations can appreciate the need they have for effective supplier and service management. Acknowledgement of the potential for adversity ensures that processes to mitigate and avoid key misunderstandings can be taken to ensure a greater probability of success.

2: Be grateful for your mistakes. They have made you wiser.

It is often expressed in the entrepreneurial world that failure is an essential component of success. Almost every entrepreneur has the battle scars to prove it. Most of the enlightened ones learn from these events, as they appreciate the value of the experience life has dealt them. The individuals that make up the most successful ICF teams, in our experience, are gathered together not only for their skills and qualities, but also because of their experiences. An ICF team is no place for theoreticians – those with book smarts, but little or no practical experience; nor those who are ‘too smart’ to learn from their mistakes. It is an environment suited to those with proven capabilities, those who have already been shaped by their undertakings and involvements, those who have shown that they can deliver great outcomes despite the adversity in getting there.

3: Be grateful for your losses. They have made you appreciate your wins.

No complex service delivery relationship is without its low periods. Trust, confidence, finances, political and behavioural issues all cause stresses and strains that can leave those on the front line who manage these relationships, feeling despondent. Whether it’s a prevailing mood or a key project setback, it’s important to both recognise this quickly and know how to turn missing deliverables around, to generate the right environmental stimuli to drive positive behaviours. Your supplier management and ICF team are tasked with being your early warning system for identifying potential issues far enough in advance so they can be dealt with before they even surface, or if they do, to innovate and test what will motivate the right change. Losses, just like failures or mistakes are to be embraced as learning experiences that have the capacity to make relationships stronger and service delivery more effective, given the right approach.

4: Be grateful for your fears. Without them, you would have never developed your courage.

A healthy appreciation for what could go wrong is a good thing. Major projects and service delivery relationships not only have a significant financial and time commitment to live up to, they also bring with them an inherent reputational quality. Because of this, if things go astray, the potential ramifications for individuals and organisations are likely to be significant, negative and long lasting. It is this healthy appreciation for the reality of challenges in strategic relationships and the logistics of project management that necessitates the formation of an ICF team. They oversee the actions and reactions of both client and supplier to ensure that commercial trust is maintained, productivity is enhanced, and innovation encouraged.

5: Be grateful for your critics. Your critics have realised you are delivering something worth noting.

All great things are created by those brave enough to face others who would convince them that it cannot be done. The lifeblood of any successful strategic relationship is encouraging people to be creative – your ability to motivate your teams to commit themselves to finding a better, faster, cheaper, more effective or innovative way of achieving, or surpassing, the relationship’s expressed goals. If you are bucking a trend or pushing at the boundaries, you will have critics. If you are working with an unwilling, uncommitted supplier or internal client team, then they may be resistant to the idea of innovation and business change. It is the responsibility of your ICF team to uncover the means by which this audience can be encouraged to innovate, to add value, to develop a motivated and cohesive working relationship.

6: Be grateful for your problems. They are what taught you to be resilient and resourceful.

The formation of your ICF team at the outset of your strategic relationship, and its overarching existence throughout the entire project, while other teams come and go, makes it not only a constant that both client and supplier can rely upon, but also an incredibly useful hub for project and relationship knowledge. No other team is likely to have the time and capacity invested in capturing this vital data. And, it is this appreciation for the motivations of both sides, for the true picture of what is happening on the project, in the relationship and to both parties, that can be used to great effect to steer you through potentially treacherous rocky waters.

7: Be grateful things aren’t perfect. The desire to make things better is what created your drive.

The contracts/agreements that set out each party’s obligations and responsibilities are created at the outset of your relationship – the point at which you have the least real experience of your strategic partner, no matter the amount of effort you have put into determining their suitability for the relationship. Nothing beats the practical experience of working alongside someone to help you to appreciate what motivates them, what their aspirations are and how to encourage them to commit to the outcomes of a relationship as you have. Therefore, as your understanding of your strategic partner’s capacities and capabilities, weaknesses and strengths, changes, so must your working relationship and the contracts/agreements that govern it. The best service delivery relationships build in six monthly reviews to refine processes, to make the most of learnings over that time, and realign aspects of their contract to ensure a greater possibility of successful outcomes. And this can only be achieved with the help of knowledge and insight supplied by your ICF team.

8: Be grateful for the times you are angry. It means that you care about something.

Consider your ICF team as the pressure gauge for your relationship. There will be times when tempers will fray, when priorities narrow, when misunderstandings can take an unfortunate turn. A good ICF team can recognise such issues well in advance, they can appreciate how to channel and guide this emotion to more productive and relationship positive ends, and they know how to release pent-up pressure to avoid its destructive capacity. Passion is a positive thing – it means you care. But only if funnelled into positive emotions and activities.

9: Be grateful for the ideas that frighten you and those with which you disagree. These have provided you with the opportunity to grow.

Take measured risks, on developing the right ICF team in the first place, in the resources they are afforded, the autonomy they are given and their seat at the senior leadership table. It is through taking these big, and sometimes maverick, decisions that great things often result.

10: Be grateful for what you are not. If you were something different, you would no longer be you.

The news is often full of project and relationship failures, of multimillion, or even billion pound, decade-long collaborations that end with little to show for their time and effort, and of reputations tarnished for the foreseeable future. To invest in the right ICF talent is to give your strategic relationship the best opportunity to be all that it can be. A famous saying is “Never go to your grave with your music still in you”. Your team should stretch themselves, and others they work with to be different and excel – not settle for mediocrity.


Your ICF team provides huge value to your organisation and will continue to do so well into the future. But if your organisation is one of the many out there who is yet to invest in a (or support an existing) strong and adequately resourced supplier management and Intelligent Client Function team to overseeing your complex service delivery relationships, do consider the key challenges above that they may already be overcoming, often without senior management teams being aware of them, and the strategic benefits and significant financial value they provide to your organisation.

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