contingent workforce programAs regular readers of Staffing 360 know, last month I attended the SIA’s CWS Summit in San Diego. This year, also for the first time, the SIA held what it called a Case Study Competition. They invited submissions from CW Program Managers that highlighted their recent challenges, solutions and successes. There were six finalists that presented at the conference and a winner was chosen by the attendees. As a sponsor, I wasn’t allowed to vote and that probably saved me a headache because all the entries were impressive! In reality, anyone who listened to the presentations is a winner because we all benefited from their experience and generosity in sharing their knowledge.

The case studies were presented with great care and detail by each of the finalists. I cannot possibly do them true justice here, so I want to remind everyone that the sessions are all recorded and available for purchase on the SIA website (the whole session is a little over an hour). My goal here is to present the key things that jumped out at me. Each case study was unique, but there were ideas that cut across each of the projects as well. Today, I present two of the best practices that I think anyone can benefit from and on Thursday I will discuss a few others.

Executive sponsorship – Whether you are just starting out or upgrading and expanding the scope of an existing program, you are engaged in a change management project at some level, and to be successful you need to have the backing and active commitment of senior leadership. This fact was mentioned again and again by the presenters. It’s not exactly breaking news, but you can never be reminded of it too much. It is so critical to have your executive team on board. First, it shows you’re really ready to proceed and have planned and prepared to begin the process appropriately. If you can’t convince a relatively few people of the need and benefits associated with the project, then how will you convince the larger user population? Second, depending on the culture of your company and the scope of your project, you’ll need this senior level support to guarantee, or at least foster, cooperation and adoption.

Stakeholder buy-in and a customer focused sensibility – You must understand the needs and concerns of all stakeholders (HR, IT, hiring managers/your internal customers, etc.). This is again something that you’ve heard before but the case studies showed just how important this is and showcased some interesting ways of really focusing on your internal customers to drive program success and satisfaction. Three examples:

1. One program stressed the importance of finding out and measuring what really matters to their customers; more often that was quality, not speed in filling the order or cost, since their contractor population is highly skilled, difficult to find technical and scientific professionals. They knew this because they surveyed their managers, and continue to do so regularly, in order to understand how to deliver what they really cared about most and make them happy within the processes and structures of the program. Cost savings isn’t their primary focus, finding the right worker is, but anything that results in a higher level of program participation, and less rogue hiring, ultimately saves money.

2. During the launch of a first ever MSP program, one company, in anticipation of hiring manager push back using the excuse “the company I like isn’t on your list,” simply allowed every current supplier to join the approved vendor list initially. They did not use the launch as a time to also reduce their supplier pool and do not plan to immediately. Cutting off a significant reason for non-compliance right from the start, they improved the adoption and continuing usage rates. Again, costs can be achieved even with a large supplier base just by increasing program participation and bringing some level of structure to the process.

3. Still another presenter spoke of how they made the decision to bring not only their MSP but eventually also their VMS tool in house, working with their IT department to craft a highly tailored software solution as well as managing their global program internally. They spent significant time designing this new software with the end user in mind and everything is tailored to make it simpler, easier to use, and more useful in terms of the data and reports that it can provide for their hiring managers. They laughingly admitted that they might not recommend their approach to everyone since it was very challenging but I am not so sure I agree with that. We also heard how when they rolled out their new VMS tool, the program manager’s phone was so quiet that he checked with his team to make sure it actually launched; he couldn’t believe there hadn’t been a single call or complaint all morning. Clearly the time and effort upfront paid off.

These are just the first two best practices that came out of the session and a few examples of their practical application. No two situations are exactly alike but I think we can all benefit from thinking along the same vein. Maybe the exact ways these companies implemented things won’t work at your firm, but certainly the ideas behind their actions are things we could all use. Who wouldn’t benefit by being a little more customer centric – winning converts to your program with a treat rather than a prohibition? And having senior leadership on your side is not just worth the effort to bring them on board but is usually absolutely necessary for true success.

Next time I’ll cover what the case studies had to say about supplier relationships! (read part 2 here)

Jerry Brenholz
President and CEO
ATR International

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