One of the most perplexing challenges I faced as a CIO was defining and managing relationships with vendors.
As a young CIO — or, perhaps better to say — as a new CIO, it was really easy to fall into the trap of creating an atonalistic relationship. I would rant and yell, and occasionally, I got what I wanted. More often than not, it resulted in bad feelings and lackluster results. It was a relationship rooted in passion for my work, sustained by frustration in not getting what I thought I was getting, and fueled by not understanding the pressure and limitations vendors face.
It took me many years — I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack — to realize that the fantasy of sales and the reality of support and development were not always aligned.
If expectations are not aligned with one vendor, you say to yourself, it’s the vendor. When it happens with two vendors, you say to yourself, it must be me. But when it happens with multiple vendors, you need to look beyond the anger and blame to seek a better understanding of the dynamic nature of sales and healthcare, and that both parties had a vested interest.
Over the years, I came to think of vendor relationships as a dance. It is movement rhythmically set to the music of expectations that follows a set sequence of steps. If done right, it is a kind of kinetic poetry. It’s a sequence of steps to enhance the product, the process, and the outcome. When done poorly, however, it is arrhythmic montage of movement, which can accomplish nothing.
As I started to view the vendor-client association as a dance, I had to ask myself: what type of dance do I want to do with my vendors? Do I want a mambo? No, a Mambo is undisciplined, and although beautiful to watch, lacks a structure to move forward. Should I dance a ballet? No, ballet is too highly structured and lacks innovation. Maybe I can lindy? Perhaps; it is a fusion of many other dance forms and is rich in innovation, but it lacks passion. Sometimes that’s enough.
But if you want an effective, long-lasting bond, you need more. The connection with your vendor has to be a relationship — one in which there is dependence, an alliance, a consanguinity. It is an affinity with, dare I say it, passion. If I am looking for a passionate relationship with my vendor that has a lot of contact, coordinated goals, and movement, and has room for innovation but has some structure, then the dance I do with my vendor must be the tango.
The tango is a partner dance. Its name comes from the Latin “Tangere” meaning touch, and it is a dance of passion that incorporates improvised and choreographed movement. It mixes leading and following roles in a shared style so that partners may frequently change roles, but above all, the tango maintains contact between the partners.
Yes, a good relationship with a vendor is a tango. It manages movement and contact, allows for improvisation and innovation, and it keeps moving with a passion for excellence and a desire to succeed.
Long ago, I started looking for partners with which to dance. It does not mean that we don’t have passionate exchanges, but it does mean we work together to not only advance the adoption and use of a solution, but look to improve the solution as well. It’s about creating a win-win and committing to the needs of both partners. It takes patience. You may start dancing a country western line dance, but it is up to both of you together to push forward, to define what each of you need, and to create a chorography that is beautiful to watch, results-oriented, and dedicated to improving your needs and your partner’s needs.
So the next time you meet with your vendor, ask them: would you like to Tango?