I have learned, through much trial and error, to improve the importance of quality communication with my vendors, and in my experience it all comes down to five key elements. As it happens, these five elements can be neatly summed up in an easy to remember (and very apt) acronym: RECAP.
Relationships. Not just at the executive level, but at all levels of the engagement it is important to build connections early on and foster those connections throughout the life of your partnership with your vendor. Personal relationships enable the ability to communicate more honestly with each other. While it may not always seem financially viable up front, the best way to build these relationships is face to face. That up-front investment will save you more in the long run. In all our quarterly business reviews (QBRs) I have managers and leads (supervisors) from my teams in attendance, including when we travel to our vendor, and ask that they bring the same when they come to us.
Expectations. Many times when I have analyzed what went wrong in a miscommunication incident, it has come back to a misalignment of expectations. Take stock at the start of your engagement and at key intervals - for example, during site visits, when welcoming new team members, after a mistake has been made, and also after celebrating a success - to ensure that both parties are fully aware of what the expectations are around business outcomes, when to escalate, when to ask for help or clarification, etc.
Cadence. Again, at all levels of the engagement, ensure that there is a cadence of regular interaction around the business. Consistent connection with defined discussion points encourages openness. To begin with you may intentionally over-communicate, and then pare that frequency down as you find your groove.
Awareness. Vendor outsourcing is never a “set and forget” solution. As the business owners we are accountable for being aware of what is going on both in results, and in the overall vibe of the relationship and interactions out teams are having with our vendor partners. If something seems like it may be going awry, ask rather than assume.
Proof. When it comes down to it, data and evidence are the strongest measures to tear down the trap of assumptions. When communicating around questions of results, issues, problems, etc., get to the facts of the matter first. Focus on getting clarity and making improvements as appropriate, rather than guessing and blaming.
While this may not encompass everything needed to get it right, these five steps should hopefully put you on the right path.