Blog post

"I can still see it in my eyes"

Kevin Harmsen
Kevin Harmsen 21 November 2017

How (not) to select your HR software partner…


A nice way to put it

My son, Dani, 4 years old, is now in a phase where he has the greatest pronunciations and combinations of words. To me, this creative way of saying things, which makes perfect sense in his mind, is often actually a better way to articulate things than we adults do. It seems purer. For instance, he feels that an ironing board should be called an ‘ironing table’. I can’t get it out of his head and he keeps saying it ‘wrong’. The same way ice cubes are ‘water-glasses’ to him. The idea for this blog came with his latest way of explaining something abstract like remembering something. I asked him the other day if he still remembered our vacation in France and he answered: “Yes dad, I remember”. So, to be sure – as he can be a bit distracted sometimes – I asked how I could really know that he remembered it, and he said: “Because I can still see it in my eyes”. I immediately knew what he meant and still think it is a great way to explain oneself. To him, remembering something equals being able to recall a picture in your head. He experiences this as seeing it in front of him, ‘seeing it in his eyes’.

The ideal way of working

Because we are shaping this ideal world for the customer together, we share a combined vision. It’s almost as if we can ‘see it in our eyes’.

My name is Kevin Harmsen and I work as a Solution Consultant for Raet. In my work, I get the opportunity to advise companies on how they can use HR software to accomplish their goals. Together, we discuss and shape the solution that’s needed and make sure we escort the idea and needs from the beginning all the way to the go-live of their new solution. Because we are shaping this ideal world for the customer together, we both have the same understanding and share a combined vision. It’s almost as if we can ‘see it in our eyes’. 

Killing the goal with the process

Sadly, this is not always the case. Sometimes, a potential new client has already defined all the steps in their selection process (answering requirements, giving a demo, scoping, offering, negotiation, etc.). Sometimes, even, to an extent that all space for an actual conversation is gone. A good discussion in which we can actually learn from each other is killed before it starts. Although I understand the benefits of doing this (ensuring you can compare suppliers, check your requirements, keep an eye on budget, timelines, etc.), it does push your relationship into a cold customer/client dynamic. You’re not working together from a shared goal and, more importantly, you’re not using the expertise from different suppliers because you’re not enabling them to advise. Should this be the way we start off our partnership?

Not seeing the same ‘ideal world’

A big risk of selecting your software supplier in the traditional way is that you and your supplier might not see the same solution or ‘ideal world’. You’re not seeing it in your eyes and, if you do, it might not be in the same way the supplier sees it. You’re simply checking your requirements assuming that, when you do, you will meet your goals. At the same time, you might be missing out on other opportunities or possible risks. You cannot anticipate these opportunities or risks as selecting or implementing new HR software is not something that’s done every day. You’re likely to make mistakes, or face difficulties during this project, that the suppliers may have seen upfront had you let them in on your case. However, they are blind as they are pushed into a formal selection process and can therefore only answer to your technical and functional requirements. 

Best Value Procurement

A BVP approach is not soft at all, it actually forces your possible supplier to be much more specific.

Luckily, Best Value Procurement (BVP) is up and coming! BVP is a way to focus on the customer goals together instead of only setting requirements. BVP allows you to really think about your final goals and at the same time let your possible partners for the future reflect on them. On top of that, a BVP approach is not soft at all (like some might think) but actually forces your possible supplier to be much more specific by, for example, supporting their promises with metrics. BVP forces them to prove any statements they make about the solution they offer to your company. Unfortunately, BVP is still rarely used in comparison to the old school request for proposals. Also, I’ve seen BVP projects backfiring when (future) customers decide half way into the process to set some requirements anyway. Just to be sure. Then the process and roles get mixed up, resulting in a lot of unclarity - both for the chosen supplier and the customer.

Give me a sales demo and be my partner!

Confucius said: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand”. 

For most organizations, it still feels more secure and comfortable to approach supplier selection using the old school process. They request a proposal with detailed requirements, mostly including scripted demos. At the same time expecting a partnership. Isn’t that kind of a strange thing to do? Isn’t it time to reflect on the way we have developed our ways of selecting new suppliers? Social philosopher Confucius said: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand”. So to solely allow suppliers to answer to a set of requirements and have them give demos with predefined scripts is a good way to know for sure that the product does what you (think you) need. However, this shouldn’t be the only focus. Adding reference site visits and getting metrics from the suppliers that prove that their solution accomplishes something, is a wise expanse of your selection criteria. But, this doesn’t mean you really understand each other, let alone have a good base for building a partnership together. You’re not creating a shared vision and certainly are not able to keep track of your goals together. You’re not seeing it in your eyes. The last part of Confucius’ reasoning, “involve me and I will understand” is the most important aspect of a successful collaboration between both parties. Shouldn’t we involve each other more again?

Let’s go back to basics

To ensure quality and prevent mismatches, I’m all for putting the right processes and structures in place. During the past few years I’ve seen both the BVP approach as well as the ‘setting as many requirements as we can come up with’ approach rise. Of course, this last approach has evolved out of too many mismatches in functionalities and wrong assumptions. Naturally, we don’t want to leave any room for error. But does this approach really bring us the result we’re seeking, finding the best future partner? Let’s all look back at how we have changed our ways during the past years. Don’t we have to go back to the basics and actually talk to each other again? If you’re about to select a new HR solution supplier, or in fact any solution and any supplier: sit down with them and really create something together. Be open about your lack of knowledge and the other party will join in this transparency. Involve each other in discussing the ways your company can grow and the things you’re scared of. Share your company goals, not only the project goals. Discuss, draw, brainstorm, maybe fight a little about both parties’ ideas together. 

Shouldn’t we sit next to each other more, instead off across from one another?

Shouldn’t we sit next to each other more, instead off across from one another? What would happen If we were a little less formal? And why not just make it personal while we’re at it? For example: you don’t need an “integrated software solution”. You want to go home in time and get a promotion next year. Share your personal goals and let the supplier translate them into their solution for you. Don’t make them lazy by doing this for them. You don’t need to talk in their jargon and functionality. They are experts and they should advise you. Don’t hold back but be the sponsor for each other within your companies and you will really be successful. Sharing your real story might also aid suppliers in helping you to sell your story and decisions within your organization and to your decision makers. They may surprise you with how much they can help you. So, create something together. Only then, can you ‘see it in your eyes’…



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Kevin Harmsen

+31 6 29 54 63 87