Marcheta E. Gillespie, FNIGP, CPPO, CPPB, C.P.M., CPM
It’s been two years since I retired from public sector procurement. I was extremely fortunate to have twenty-six amazing years in government procurement. Through those years, I was able to build a strong foundation in procurement, surrounded by some of the best minds in the business. From services to construction, from pCard transactions to multi-million dollar projects, my experience in public sector covered a broad, diverse book of business. I served in numerous roles, from management executive, to strategic planner, to professional trainer, to negotiator, to program developer. And while I spent many years in public procurement, I can say there was never a day I didn’t encounter a new situation or find something new to learn. It is the both the beauty and the challenge of our profession.
After retirement, I knew I wanted to continue to give back to my profession. I spent most of my career involved in various volunteer leadership roles in the profession. I am a firm believer that we each have a responsibility to leave the profession better than we found it. After much thought, I decided to invest myself in what I enjoyed most……teaching. Whether serving as an instructor, a keynote speaker or a consultant, I have always found greats joy in sharing knowledge and experiences, discussing ideas and strategies and preparing and encouraging the next generation of procurement leaders. There is still much for me to learn and I’m now fortunate to experience this great profession through a new lens…..private contractor.
While I did invest a fair amount of time in my career working with the supplier community in various facets, I realize now that those experiences were still limited. Those interactions were still insufficient to truly appreciate what life is like for the supplier community trying to do business with government. I recall having conversations with my husband and his business partner about their frustrations when doing business with most government agencies. While they couldn’t do business with my agency, given my decision-making role in procurement, their experiences with many of my peers and peer agencies definitely resonated with me. Through their experiences, and definitely now through my own experiences on the flip side of the contracting relationship, I feel I have a better sense of why suppliers get so frustrated with government contracting.
The best public procurement professionals strive to learn from the supplier community and try to implement meaningful change based upon what they learn, However, I’m not sure you can fully appreciate what it’s like to do business with yourself until you “walk a mile” in another’s shoes. Now that I am part of the supplier community, I try to advise my former public procurement colleagues on my lessons learned. Here’s some food for thought from someone who has spent a few years walking in your shoes:
- It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to attempt to do business with multiple government agencies. Please don’t waste my limited time. Some examples of potential “time wasters”: Mandatory pre-bids, travel to “live” meetings (vs virtual meetings), long, drawn-out evaluation and award processes, requiring documents with a proposal (vs requiring only of the successful contractor).
- It is challenging dealing with multiple government agencies who all conduct their business differently. Strive to implement best practices wherever possible. Collaborate with peer agencies in your community for streamlined opportunities and shared standards.
- If my initial interaction with a government agency is unprofessional I am not likely to pursue the opportunity. First impressions are definitely a factor in my decision-making process to continue pursuing a business relationship. Think about who in your agency is giving that first impression.
- Public procurement policies and procedures are confusing, take too long and are often misunderstood or misinterpreted by the supplier community. Remember, we have short periods of time to find, learn and understand all your “stuff”. You interact with it all the time, so it may make sense to you. It’s your world, but it’s not the suppliers. Make it easier to find, read and comprehend your information.
- Getting different interpretations and directions from different staff within the same agency is not only concerning, but another roadblock to engagement. For some in the supplier community, it introduces an opportunity to leverage that inconsistency to their advantage. It may buy them time, money and may lead to lesser-quality work.
- If you are going to effectively manage a contract with me, you should be willing to acknowledge and take ownership of your own schedule delays, lack of follow up, missing details, inept project managers and poor business practices. Every contract issue cannot be the fault of the contractor.
- Communication and documentation will often make or break a project and contract relationship. If either party fails to communicate clearly and document effectively, the likelihood of success diminishes substantially.
- Language in solicitations, scopes of work/specifications, contracts and policy documentation is often confusing, ambiguous, lacks clarity and often cannot be measured. If you can’t measure it, how will you determine if it’s in conformance to the contract? You may be too close to see it. Get another set of eyes. Worse, if you aren’t reading and owning what you publish, you are destinated for challenges.
- I will increase my fee and my schedule when I sense some of the above are present when doing business with an agency (that is, unless I haven’t already passed on the opportunity). I have to measure and mitigate my risk, just like I did when I was in the public sector. So, to protect the investment of my time (which is my value), I must evaluate you, just as you will evaluate me before we partner together.
- Contracting with government should feel like a partnership, not a burden. I am interested in mutually beneficial contracts and contracting relationships. If I sense you desire as much success for me as you desire for your agency, then we have a tremendous partnering opportunity. I want our partnership to bring out the best in both of us, not the worst. If we are respectful, humble and intentional in feeding a healthy, contracting relationship, we are certain to have a successful venture.
So, take some time to evaluate your business practices with your supplier community. Think about those risks you feel you are mitigating by some of your current practices and policies. Then discuss if it is necessary, value-added and effective. Engage all your stakeholders (including your suppliers) in those discussions. Ask them about what challenges them, what roadblocks they encounter and what ideas they have about improving business with your agency. It’s through this exchange of ideas, discussion about challenges and brainstorming on opportunities that you will be able to create an environment more conducive to successful partnerships with your supplier community. Remind yourself that your supplier community shares a big part of your vision…making your community better!