No Business is an Island

m1The healthcare business grows increasingly complex with each new law, regulation, and rule – not to mention advances in actual healthcare. There is so much happening, so many moving parts, that it’s hard to apprehend the whole. In a large provider system like the one in which I work, no single individual can really grasp the overall business operations in any significant detail, and no one organization can manage without relying on many others for specialized assistance.

These relationships have become critically important to many organizations. When a vendor doesn’t deliver a quality product or service on time and on budget, the organization’s business is at risk, perhaps serious risk. Naturally, managers track their vendor’s performance closely and insist on improvement when appropriate. But just how does one go about getting improvement from a vendor? It’s not that easy.

If you’re like me, you’re used to fixing things. When performance improvement is needed in your own operations, you do what’s required to make it right. You have the responsibility, and you have the authority. Not so when it comes to your vendors. Often, they’re a black box to you. You’re not sure how they work, why things are going wrong, and if they can fix it. You stand by, feeling helpless, asking or pleading for better performance, maybe even threatening contract termination and/or a suit for damages. Sometimes they come through, sometimes they don’t. Either way, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Been there, done that.

Now you have problem. Perhaps you discuss the situation with your colleagues, “This vendor’s not reliable. Let’s ditch them and find another.” It happens a lot. A firm may contract with vendor after vendor, looking for a perfect one who won’t “let us down.” The truth is there is no such vendor, and “vendor” isn’t always a helpful term. Behind the term “vendor” are people. Ultimately your business relationships depend on your human relationships.

I believe it’s most helpful to consider any critical business relationship like a marriage. First, have a few dates while asking yourself, do we want to be married to this firm? Get to know the leaders, their values, skills and their capacity for commitment. Eventually you need go all in (or not). Then, together, you’ve got to make the marriage work, and “keep the romance alive.” That means no black boxes, no blaming, and no name-calling, but rather mutual openness, honesty, caring and forgiveness.

Yes, of course there will be issues, but when you’re committed to your marriage you don’t have the divorce lawyer on speed dial. Mistakes will be made. Your side will make them too. Similarly, conflicts are natural, they will come up. Resolving even serious conflicts respectfully is possible when both parties have the right attitude. And like a marriage, the business relationship will grow stronger each time you work together in a spirit of cooperation, and grow weaker with each episode of blame and recrimination. Like a spouse, the “vendor” should become a “partner.”

Start by getting to know the people behind the business.  Like the dating scene, not every firm you meet is marriage material. Leadership makes the difference. Be on a first name basis with the top executives at any business partnership you lead. Spend time understanding their business and their lives. Make the investment, and let human relationships drive your business relationships.


  1. Great article. Whether a vendor, FTE or consultant getting to know the people behind the business is great advice.
    It is in the difficult time when masks come off and the true colors are unveiled.

    If you have formed a relationship, taken time to understand what drives the firm, team or person you will have better outcomes. It is also harder to do the wrong thing with a person who has become more a colleague.

    Healthcare is surely complex. Great article.


    • Peter Weiss says:

      Thanks Ron. I hope you are well. You’re right about the “difficult times.” I’ve been through my share, and it’s better to have good relationships beforehand