It is not uncommon for CW program managers to hear from their internal stakeholders when they are unhappy with supplier performance, whether it is dissatisfaction with the quality of the resources presented to an open requisition or frustration with what they deem lack of supplier scope and capabilities. When the negative feedback becomes more consistent — or worse, is voiced from more stakeholders — a program manager must act. But what should that action be?

I recently spoke with a CW program manager who was beyond frustrated with the performance of the program’s suppliers, which was threatening to set back the program’s hard-won internal adoption levels and reputation. Needing to address the issue quickly before the damage became irreversible, the office was considering a supplier rationalization and/or an RFP to identify new suppliers for the program. Although either of these options could correct the issue, neither is easy and both can be very time-consuming. These were not options that the program could utilize at the time.

I suggested their time could be better spent on understanding why the suppliers were struggling instead of replacing them. They obviously were chosen to participate in the program at one time based on their service and capabilities, so what has changed? When I asked about the service-level agreements that were included in the supplier agreement, I was surprised when the program manager stated they were not sure as the agreements have been in place for years! In short, the basis for the perceived poor performance may not have had anything to do with the contractual obligations of the supplier.

Why SLAs matter. The SLAs are what the supplier agrees to contractually when signing on to support a program. Being able to achieve the SLAs means that the supplier has met a critical part of its agreement. Even if you verbally tell them you have different goals, contractually, they are tied to the signed agreement.

That’s why it’s important to review and update SLAs from time to time. The SLAs that were put in place at the time of signature were critical at that time for the business and for the CW program to deliver value. Over time, though, business drivers and stakeholders’ needs change and the expectations of the suppliers change with them. Thus, suppliers need to know and agree that they can deliver these changes. Modifying SLAs is a great way to accomplish this.

Then come performance reviews, so suppliers know how they are performing against their SLAs. How do you create your scorecards? Do they consist only of data pulled out of the VMS or do you also incorporate engagement manager feedback or contingent worker feedback that has been received? Even more important, do you allow your suppliers to review your program?

Program managers should not assume there is no room for improvement with the program or the process. Supplier feedback can help improve your program as well as its ability to deliver value. Suppliers that fee they are valued and heard by a client are more likely to want to keep that customer happy. They will provide time and attention as well as direct their internal staff to do the same. Recruiters know which clients they enjoy working with and in turn share that with their top candidates.

On a separate note, not all business units may have the same SLAs. Understanding what your internal stakeholders consider critical can enable you to work with the suppliers within their vertical to make sure they are focused on those items. There is nothing more frustrating for a supplier to have SLAs they never get feedback on.

Remember, business drivers change, so make sure your suppliers are aware of those changes and refresh your agreements accordingly — and then hold suppliers accountable. Suppliers performance is a reflection not only on them but on the CW program itself. All successful programs need great supplier partnerships and all successful suppliers need great programs — neither can be successful alone.