Gym Class and Supplier Diversity: Choosing the Right Team

Remember when you faced those horrifying moments in school when the teacher chose two kids to be the “team captains” and one by one children were picked? I remember standing there as the biggest, faster and more popular kids were recruited. I knew that I could contribute significantly to the success of the team, not in size, speed, and popularity but in agility, creativity, stamina and strategy.

Yet when you are young those things just don’t seem to matter. As the ranks of the “chosen” swelled, there were always those of us remaining who were praying to whatever god might listen to please have them “pick me” and don’t let me be the last outcast standing!

Now, how is this related to Supplier Diversity? Because just like in gym class, it is not necessarily the biggest, fastest or the most popular that can provide the formula for success.

• The biggest will often take their position for granted, with an attitude of entitlement –“Aren’t you lucky to have me!” And when a problem is encountered, it may be difficult for them to first, accept responsibility, and secondarily to really care — because they know that regardless, they’ll always be a top pick.

• The fastest may be able to provide everything you want right now and get to the solution immediately, without focusing on what is truly needed. “If it has worked before, it will work again — it doesn’t matter what your unique nature is — because this will be done quickly”. Remember the parable of the tortoise and the hare? The tortoise was in there for the long haul, always trudging forward and not “taking a nap”. Fast may not mean longevity or stamina.

• The most popular gets chosen, just because everybody knows and likes them. They are recognized, perhaps charming, engaging and at one point in time, there actually may have been some substance. But when it comes time to show the mustard in the competition, they are often happy to just rely on their reputation, and not contribute any further. They feel comfortable with their popularity and don’t feel the need to do anything else.

As time progressed in school, we came to realize that those that were the last or close to last picks, were the ones that often won us the game. They were driven to succeed. They had no laurels to rest on, and every time up, they needed to prove themselves. They provided the loudest cheering and motivation to keep the team’s spirit up and often suggested alternative ways of doing things to stymie the competition’s defenses. And often we were amazed at their inherent abilities in the particular sport, because nothing was taken for granted and they spent more time practicing to hone their agility.

Corporations often make the mistake of picking the biggest, fastest and most popular suppliers, without giving due consideration to those who are smaller, more diverse and ultimately more capable.

There is continuously a call for corporations and the public sector to obtain cost savings, and the historical response has been — “Reduce the supplier base and let’s only go with the biggest, cheapest… ” and so on.

Unfortunately this is a false economy, similar to picking teams in gym class. Reducing the supplier base to only the “larger firms” ends up often times getting you the bigger, faster or more popular “classmate”, but frequently not the most agile, strategic, or responsive one. Furthermore, just as in sports, there are times when the more diverse and/or smaller firm might be better suited to a specific project. Think of gymnastics, or the jockey on a racehorse, where it is more better to be of smaller girth.

Lowest price is also a misguided approach. The thought process should be focused on best value and total cost of delivery/ownership. Wayne Gretzky wasn’t the lowest priced hockey player, but he delivered the best value and the teams that hired him ended up being more profitable than they would have been without him. Based on the “lowest price” approach in the corporate and private sectors, Wayne Gretzky never would have been given an opportunity to play hockey, until he “sharpened his pencil” (or more appropriately his stick).

Smaller, diverse suppliers may not always be the lowest price (although they are often price comeptitive), but if you look closely at value, they will most certainly win.

Canada has been slow of the mark to embrace anything related to supplier diversity, whereas in the US it is quite extensive.

It leads one to wonder why, if beneficial and adopted in the US, why isn’t it in Canada? Let’s face it, the US is a survival of the fittest culture and if there wasn’t any clear and present profit motive met with Supplier Diversity programs, they would have long gone the way of the dinosaur. It is time for both the private and public sector in Canada to actively adopt supplier diversity programs. It makes good economic sense, not just for the country and the GNP, but also for the business as a whole, for all the reasons stated above.

This is not a bandwagon. It is sound business practice and it’s about time that we start picking the right members for our teams.

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