On rare occasions we can find ourselves in a position where we are doing our utmost to guide clients in matching their technology needs with a technology solution, but run into complications. They usually entail a roadblock put in the way by a software or service provider that is anxious less the true state of their product’s readiness for deployment be depicted in too harsh a light. It is always obvious that this is happening, because they will begin to deny access to information, or fail to respond to questions, or not provide references or partners who might validate the fitness of their products and/or services for use. They will cite rules internal to their company that they have to adhere to, or list complex decision command chains that did not previously exist.
In his 1995 work, Trust, Francis Fukuyama wrote, “There is usually an inverse relationship between rules and trust: the more people depend on rules to regulate their interactions, the less they trust each other, and vice versa.” This is a good overall guardrail for you when engaging a software or service provider. Ask: How open are they? What do their customers say? What do their new customers say versus their older customers? What about partners? And how open or closed are employees about the products? How forthcoming is the provider about pricing and upcoming development plans. If you get no answers, something is likely wrong.
Maybe back in business school or in psychology you remember Ingham and Luft’s Johari Windows. Like a Gartner Magic Quadrant, they created a 2×2 matrix of four ‘rooms:’
X Axis (horizontal): to the left side are things known only to you about yourself – i.e., your enterprise. To the right are things that you do NOT know about yourself/business.
Y Axis: at the bottom of the matrix are things that are NOT known to others about your business. At the top are the things that ARE known to others.
In the top left “room” are things that you know about yourself (again: that your business/organization knows about itself), and that others know about you, too. This is a great place for you to be with a vendor or a customer, because there can be a lot of trust.
In the top right room are things that others know about you that you do NOT know about yourself. That is not so great, because the vendor can exploit your weaknesses, and you set yourself up for trouble. Or the community discusses on social media, but you do not believe. But if your vendor partner is trustworthy, and you are open, they can point out what you might need to do to prepare for selection and design of a solution – or to improve a process. Gartner often plays the role of surfacing what you might not see yourself about your organizational readiness. So can the community.
To the bottom left are things that you know about yourself but that others do NOT know about you. This is going away in an age of social networks, but it can sometimes be helpful. If you trust a vendor – see them as a partner – then you will disclose more about what is really going on.
Finally, to the bottom right are things that you do not know about yourself, but no one else knows these things about you either. This is a lonely place. Social media, collaboration, feedback are all good ways to crack out of this space. The more feedback, the better you are able to improve.
We are seeing a rediscovery of older ideas about organizations and thinking that can be repurposed to improve your business, and social media is a catalyst. These are often good tools as well to rethink your relationships with your software and service providers.
What is your experience in vendor relations? What are best practices in establishing trust and partnership?