HR Roundtable: Why Does HR Struggle With Vendors So Much?

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Jul 28, 2015

Summer is always an interesting time for the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati because so many people are in flux with their schedules and vacations.

It’s a great time to meet, but we needed to have a topic people could sink their teeth into to keep people engaged!

So, the July forum took on the tenuous relationship between HR and HR vendors. It was a lively discussion and started with these questions:

  1. Why don’t vendors like HR?
  2. Why do HR practitioners struggle with vendors?
  3. How can we be resources for each other?

There was no need for any prodding to get people to share in their small groups around this topic. The opinions came quickly and were fairly strong. Let’s hear what they had to say.

Why don’t vendors like HR?

  • “Vendor” has a negative connotation. It was interesting that this was the first comment shared. The thought was that the word “vendor” may carry baggage or the sentiment that the encounter will be purely sales oriented. Vendors attending the Roundtable described this as having to overcome a hurdle even before any interaction occurs. It may be time for a new term!
  • HR practices the “duck and run” method. Most experiences from the resource partner side of the table was that human resource people don’t even try to check things out. They instantly transform into a duck and run tactic to try and avoid people. This could be very short-sighted because nothing was ever shared. It’s a narrow assumption on HR’s part.
  • HR refuses to break ties from established relationships. There is a lot of good about being loyal, but blind loyalty is not so good. It was shared that some HR folks state they value loyalty with current vendor relationships first. There may be a new approach, a new technology or advances in what is being offered, but it is ignored because the relationship comes first.
  • Too many hoops to jump through. Resource partners see HR more as a gatekeeper than anything else, and this isn’t a positive viewpoint. They get frustrated that they aren’t able to move and feel that they are, at times, stuck in a mire of bureaucracy that seldom moves forward.
  • Different agendas. There seems to be at least two different agendas when vendors and HR folks do meet. Each seems to state their side of things, but there is little that brings them together. At the conclusion of a meeting, much was shared, but little was connected.
  • HR is automatically dismissive. The feeling here was that human resources didn’t even think to consider what was being presented to them. They already had “what they needed” even though they rarely could explain what they had. It seemed as if HR threw enough divergent opinions and thoughts up in front of the resource partner, they would get frustrated themselves and go away. When has a passive/aggressive approach in business ever been effective.
  • Vendors are seen as a threat. This may never be the case, but the perception from vendors is that HR is reluctant to work with them because what they bring to the table threatens the position of the HR practitioner. They sense that HR feels that certain things will replace them so they won’t pursue them – even though there’s no basis for this. It’s true that there are products, services and systems that vendors bring that could result in the outsourcing of HR, but that is rarely the rule unless the organization has already determined that’s what it would like to do.
  • HR professionals aren’t “decision makers.” Steve stopped the conversation right here because it provided an excellent transition to the next question, and also because it’s a myth and negative connotation about HR – just as the term “vendor” is.

Why do HR practitioners struggle with vendors?

  • They assume we aren’t decision makers. HR pros make decisions all the time. The feeling from vendors is that HR isn’t in charge of the purse strings and therefore is someone to get past. It may be true that some HR practitioners don’t have the authority to make a final purchasing decision, but their input will be heavily used by those up the food chain. If you want to step on or around them, trust me, a “decision” has already been made!
  • Vendors assume that they are the only thing HR is focusing on. This is a challenge to this whole landscape. Vendors are presenting their products, services, etc. to try to improve your company (at least that’s the intent), and they are focused on what they do and offer. Rarely, do vendors ask for context as to what the HR practitioner has on their plate. The assumption is that HR drops everything going on to have a laser focus on the vendor. It’s unrealistic and won’t happen.
  • You never ask. Vendors rarely gauge the environment that they are working with. The approach is that their product and/or service will be the magical fix to any organization. How can that be measured if you don’t know about the culture and company you’re trying to work with? A “product first” approach is a turn off for HR people.
  • Vendors don’t understand HR. Honestly, this is a two-way street, because HR people don’t try to understand the vendor side of things either. No one said this was fair. Since human resources is the client, they have a need to have you understand them. It’s not a bad thing, but the sales approach to get a sale made often takes precedence in these interactions. It’s unfortunate because it’s a chance to bridge this and make things work better.
  • They take a shotgun approach. It was noted that some vendors just keep peppering HR folks until something sticks. This is an intriguing approach because it rarely can be sustainable. It may result in a sale, but how does it help in the long term? HR folks don’t like to put on a flak jacket just to meet with vendors.
  • Are you adding value? Vendors are great at presenting what their company offers in the niche that they are trying to impact, but there seems to be a disconnect when they are asked how this adds value to an organization. It may not have an over-arching effect, but it shows a gap. The focus is once again on the vendor and the product and not the organization.

How can we be resources for each other?

  • The relationship comes first, service second. Don’t mistake this for “touch feely” HR. If you want to be a partner, then develop a relationship not only with the company but with the human resource person you are meeting. HR people come from a relationship background and it’s how many practice. By meeting HR folks on their terms, you’ll have much more success.
  • Ask the right questions. If you prod and poke a bit more than jumping into an instant sales pitch, you can evaluate where the HR person is. Do some exploring first. HR needs to do the same. Drop your filters and stereotypes and ask tough questions to see what vendors offer, and evaluate if it would help your company now or in the future.
  • Be honest with each other. This may sound obvious, but it doesn’t happen. Both sides of this equation do more dancing around each other than they do communicating with each other. It is much healthier to be up front, decisive, and concise about where things stand. If things aren’t a match, then share that. If it takes time, then teach each other the process your company uses. If something else is needed, then ask for it. Honesty never fails. Ever.
  • Know each other’s business. HR needs to own this more than vendors. Vendors typically come in with some knowledge/feel for an organization, but that isn’t true with HR. The more we know about each other, the better we can decide if there’s a “fit” between our organizations. That is more critical to long-term success than product placement. If things continue to be one-sided, then this topic will be discussed in HR Roundtables for years to come.
  • Identify problems and then offer business solutions. Vendors need to drop the “we know your business needs this” approach. You don’t know that. It’s a sales ploy and shows that you don’t know what a company truly needs. Both HR and vendors need to see how the products and services offered meet identified problems and/or gaps, and how they bring business solutions. Every other department in an organization does this and HR needs to have the same expectation.
  • Be where HR is. The best advice to give vendors is that they should be connected to the HR community instead of only selling to it. Come to forums like the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and participate. Share what you know as a businessperson. Get to know HR folks as people first. You may decide that you don’t want to work with someone or their organization. Go to HR events, SHRM chapter meetings and conferences, and immerse yourself with the HR pros. Let them get to know you.

“Vendors are truly resource partners”

One word of caution (and this is directed to my HR brethren): If HR gatherings don’t welcome you and make you part of their fabric, consider not working with them. This may go against the tide of how things are practiced, or that you have experienced, but wouldn’t it be better to connect to HR people who want you to be included?

HR needs to realize that vendors are truly resource partners who are a vital segment of our profession. Be honest; there are bad vendors just as there are bad HR practitioners. Why base how we interact with each other on poor experiences? That seems backwards and limiting.

Resource partners are business people just as we are. Let’s incorporate our profession with each other. We’ll be better for it!