Some organisations spread the net beyond colleagues to include suppliers. For many companies it is so important to stick to their principles that they will work only with companies that are aligned. This is one way of spreading the ethical worth of great companies, demonstrating total commitment to colleagues along the way. Asda are a prime example of this, demanding that suppliers adhere to the same set of principles if they wish to have a business relationship.
It is hard to have a strong set of principles in relation to how people are treated, and then connect with a company that puts money first. The underlying intentions will be different - through no fault of the people concerned - it is just a different ethos. Connections between companies where one has high levels of trust while the other is cynical and looking out for number one are extremely difficult. It is like trying to link a Pentium processor into an Amstrad - it will not work, and if it does manage to get moving, there will be all manner of misunderstandings. Each side is talking a different language. Deals done under these circumstances have a high risk of failure.
At TD Industries they began the business with agreements made on a handshake. The leaders were so highly regarded in the community that no one needed further confirmation. They have become more formal these days, but still if a TD person says work will be done, it will be done. Imagine then working with a supplier who does not offer a high level of reliability and integrity. The risks are enormous and untenable in some circumstances. There is then the choice either to change TD in a way that could be detrimental to the company culture or to work with suppliers who have equally high standards. The latter makes sense on all fronts, since to work with companies who do not believe in the care of people and who demonstrate low levels of integrity would be to condone their behaviour.
That Cisco Systems had such positive relationships with suppliers was a saving grace when the technology bubble burst. There was no choice but to make redundancies, given the major drop in the market, but it was a really tough call for a company that was so clear about caring for colleagues. The way out was to take on the work of an outplacement agency and approach suppliers to see what jobs they had available. The result was that the majority of people moved to work with those who were still considered part of the Cisco family.
This relationship begins the moment someone connects to a company. Through writing this book, I have become an expert on being welcomed into a building or into the life of the company over the phone. Receptionists and PAs are very significant people in great companies, acting as the first link to the outside world. They take the time to extend belonging to the caller - to have a chat, to get to know the person, makes sure that they get what they need.
My early contacts with Asda are a perfect example. After quite a struggle, Kate Wood, PA to the CEO, managed to find a time when I could meet with Tony DeNunzio and David Smith. Not realising they were located in Leeds, I agreed to meet them on my daughter's birthday, assuming I would easily be back to spend the evening with my family. It was with trepidation I rang Kate to tell her of the problem and her immediate response was to say, ‘You obviously can't come on that day - I'll start again.' I immediately felt valued and included, something no amount of rhetoric could engender.
Never underestimate the importance of those first moments. We take it for granted that customer service requires a positive welcome, yet we must return again to colleague/supplier experience - we can only give what we receive. The skill of including others can only be demonstrated by those who feel included themselves.