I am tired of hearing, "The supplier violated my trust," when a delivery is a day late.
Disappointed? Sure. Aggravated? Perhaps. Trust-busting? Let's get serious — and less sanctimonious.
Trust has been weaponized. With almost every breach of supplier performance subject to trust-busting condemnation, we have allowed the concept of trust to be diminished and marginalized. We confuse trust with performance, reliability, confidence and ethics.
We have to rescue the concept of trust in our suppliers, in our organization and in ourselves, reserving and protecting it for the most special of circumstances. It's time to put trust back in perspective.
The glasses I wear do not necessarily have a rosy hue, but I tend to trust suppliers and colleagues right from the start. Yet I know those who assume the worst and mistrust everyone, forcing them to "earn" their trust over an extended period of time.
And then there are those who hide behind the "trust but verify" concept. That's just another term for "distrust," as far as I'm concerned. Blanket mistrust is hard work. I prefer the easier way out.
But my trust-first philosophy was not always rewarded.
Betrayal and validation
Gus was the amicable owner of a high-performing supply company. Our relationship was strong, and our businesses grew together. His company was recognized annually with a supplier award. But an invoice error led to an audit that showed Gus' company was inflating shipping charges on most of their shipments.
He tried to cover it up with a laugh and by blaming the age of his shipping manager, but it was evident that Gus was cheating. His company was removed from the approved-supplier list. My trust was betrayed.
Joan was the president of a large supplier whose entire sales philosphy was based on transparency, honesty and trust. The company selected customers that matched their high ethical standards, and I was lucky to be one. I considered this supplier a benchmark supplier and was in awe of Joan's leadership and impeccable integrity.
We have to rescue the concept of trust in our suppliers, in our organization and in ourselves, reserving and protecting it for the most special of circumstances.
Years later, I was saddened to learn she and her husband were implicated in a scandal involving a state program. I wondered if my trust was misplaced, but there was no evidence of any malfeasance in our relationship. I'd still recommend them.
My personal concept of trust was validated with Ron, the sales manager of a local, family-run distributor. I had known Ron and his extended famly for a decade or more, taking them with me when I changed jobs and recommending them to other buyers.
Maybe it was that Ron and I were similar in age, background and family obligations; we shared a lot of ourselves. Perhaps that is what evolved into trust. I'd joke with Ron that I trusted him with my wallet, keys and kids. I didn't surrender that level of trust too often, and it was never violated. It was returned in kind.
How do we bring trust back into balance? By replacing the concept of trust with one of confidence.
3 kinds of trust
If you've made the right sourcing decisions and work with your suppliers to increase or maintain high performance standards, then you can have a high level of confidence in them.
A series of late deliveries may weaken your confidence in their performance, but it shouldn't impact your trust.
Trust and performance are mutually exclusive.
Trust your suppliers
I have dealt with thousands of suppliers over the course of my career, and I can count suppliers like the aforementioned Gus on two hands.
Sure, there are outlier suppliers who lie, cheat and steal. But for the most part, I have had the pleasure of dealing with honest suppliers staffed by honest people, trying to do the best job that they can. I had confidence in their ability.
Trust your company
Trust your organization to meet its responsibilities with suppliers by processing and paying their invoices on time, providing accurate forecasts and offering the necessary support to allow the supplier to meet their obligations.
Suppliers, like buyers, need to have confidence in a normal and ongoing business relationship. Be a dependable customer.
Procurement professionals have the opportunity to deal with many people inside and outside of their companies, giving them an opportunity to continually calibrate their instincts on trust. Trust those instincts.
Sometimes reliability, performance and respect are enough to maintain the commercial relationship. We can't objectively measure trust, but we can feel it.
Reserve the concept of trust for suppliers like Ron. It makes trust that much more distinctive — and rare.
This story was first published in our weekly newsletter, Supply Chain Dive: Procurement. Sign up here.