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So according to the Pennsylvania-based eBible Fellowship, the world was due to end on 7th October 2015.

For anyone particularly worried about it, rest assured, it didn’t happen! However, much like the global financial crisis, many people around the world were unable to see past the problems of today and threw any plans for tomorrow out the window.

Now that the crisis has passed (relatively speaking), both firms and individuals are refocusing on the future. I attended a workshop and conference for Management Consultancies (IMCA) Dublin last week and many major practices are seeing record client-side interest, particularly in advisory areas such as change and transformational management.

This got me thinking about the nature of short and long term relationship building in business and, more specifically, how these relationships are often developed in boom times but how cash becomes king as soon as the tables turn.

Looking at executive search as a service provider and supplier, one could argue that the net result is to find a suitable professional for a vacant position within a client firm. However, the level of contribution and communication between customer and supplier can go a long way in adding value and offering a competitive advantage to our clients.

Taking Reek & Long’s four-stage development model as a framework for comparison; they describe the different levels of strategic contribution that specific departments (or by extension – external suppliers) can add to the overall business.

1. Suppliers can be utilised in a passive role – one that offers no strategic direction and primarily reacts to requests from clients or other internal functions. This is often synonymous with quick-fix and reactive operations, allowing for little inter-functional communication whilst focusing on best price and quickest turnaround.

In recruitment terms, the firm simply seeks an end result and will utilise numerous providers, often working through online application systems; these suppliers may predominantly compete on price as well as speed of service.

2. Next is an independent role – one that adopts latest techniques and practices but remains independent from the firm’s competitive strategy. This again focuses on cost competitiveness and efficiencies but does gain some recognition from senior management within the organisation in terms of the value a reputable supplier can add to the service.

In this, an executive search provider with the latest technologies, widest networks and strongest understanding of the client’s sector is recognised by business leaders as important.

3. A level above this is the supportive role – which not only provides a service but also proactively supports the firm’s competitive position.

In executive search terms, this is where the supplier begins to become an extension of the client firm, is kept abreast of hiring strategies, relationships are formalised and their further development is encouraged. Building on past experience allows the customer/supplier to react faster whilst the supplier proactively monitors and analyses the marketplace to stay ahead of the firm’s future hiring plans.

4. Finally we look at the role of integrative contribution – where the function and/or supplier is fully integrated into the competitive strategy of the firm and offers a competitive advantage within the firm’s marketplace. In manufacturing one can see different levels and terms used including Early Supplier Involvement (ESI), Supplier Integration in NPD (SINPD), Collaborative Product Development (CPD) as well as Collaborative Planning and Execution (CPE).

In executive search, permanent lines of communication are created and continuously developed, the supplier is an integral part of the firm’s hiring strategies and the executive search or managed services firm is consistently representing the firm in a positive light to the most sought-after professionals in the wider marketplace.

There are, of course, drastic differences in a passive client/supplier relationship when compared to an integrative relationship; however a supportive role (number 3) is the most likely relationship many firms would strive for. The benefits of closer integration and fewer suppliers involved in a process allows for more effective communication, synergy and ultimately competitive advantage through productivity and efficiencies over profitability and cost savings alone.

So, now that the world hasn’t ended and firms look to a future that doesn’t revolve around survival, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your supplier network and identify the partnerships most likely to enhance your firm’s development within this Brave New World!

Articles by Lorraine Bolger