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I once hosted a discussion at a conference attended by client-side program owners, MSPs, staffing executives and industry leaders that focused on finding that magic number of suppliers for a successful contingent labor program. We were kidding ourselves if we thought we’d solve that debate in an hour, but it did raise several good questions that, as program managers and suppliers, we should be considering if we want to provide the best service to our clients.

Does the number of suppliers in our program really matter?

More suppliers = more talent. That’s a good thing, right? Sure, so long as you’re considering all the factors, starting with the most obvious: cost. When pressed, an MSP in the room admitted they care so much about supplier size because they allocate a certain number of resources to manage a program’s suppliers. If the size of that supply base increases, they incur more cost, and vice versa.

Suppliers also make choices on which clients they’ll work their hardest for. Things like overall profitability of the account, ease of doing business and the client’s brand strength can affect these decisions. Your program’s success depends on the quality of recruiters an agency assigns to your account. With fewer suppliers in your program, there’s less competition and a greater chance for success for any single supplier — something that could ensure you access to their top resources.

So which is best? The right answer is whatever works for your program and company. Culture, program goals and customer success all matter when making the correct decision here.

PREMIUM CONTENT: Global Talent Platform Survey: 2021

Do we have the right governance in place?

More importantly, are our program rules helping us to collectively meet the needs of the business?

The best measure of program success is determining whether it’s successfully filling the vast majority of positions — or if people are working around it.

Our industry is bound by the same constraints as every other — cost, quality, speed and risk. Ultimately, hiring managers want each of those things in varying priority based on their business circumstances, and we must accommodate. If that means blowing these standard rules out of the water, then so be it.

How are we defining “the program”?

During that same industry conference, a program owner proudly described the rules he’d implemented, how he lowered rates within the program and so on.  But with all his “success,” he couldn’t get a handle on the Statement-of-Work (SOW) suppliers. The problem? His program was too narrow.

Though terms like “Total Talent Management” have been around for years, full-time employees, contingent workers and SOW suppliers are rarely managed by a single owner. Different rules apply, different processes exist, and different costs are associated with each.

We must think bigger. We must define our programs by what our clients need holistically from a human capital perspective and deliver in a way that uniquely fits their company’s needs and culture — regardless of how we’ve done things in the past.

Are we truly serving the customer?

In over 20 years, I’ve yet to meet a hiring manager that says they want sub-par talent. When they come to us looking for help, they generally don’t care which company supplies the talent. Ultimately, it’s their need to deliver on business priorities — and the (usually urgent) need for talent to do so — that motivates them. Hiring managers want quality talent and an easy process, and as program managers and suppliers, we must ask ourselves whether we’re delivering on those needs. If the answer is no, you’re doing them a disservice.

At the end of the day, a program should exist to serve its customers. For many years, programs have been focused on control, rather than enablement. When you work backwards from the client, you start to realize that how programs are managed needs to be re-thought, broadened and focused on the things that matter most: enabling your customers and, as we say at Pride Global, helping the world work.

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