The Importance of Annual Supplier Diversity Checkups

June 27, 2023
By Suzanne Weston

When it comes to personal health, it’s normal to seek expert opinions and get annual checkups. Even cars get inspections.

Yet organizations rely on their intuition to determine if their supplier diversity programs are on track and delivering the desired results. How can the team that built and supports the program provide an unbiased and well-informed assessment?

Such professionals may be too close to diagnose and objectively identify weaknesses or articulate differentiators and determine their potential. They are positioned as internal and external influencers juggling competing initiatives and focusing on reaching their growth goals.

Acknowledging Complexities

Companies have unique characteristics, culture and buying patterns — and these differences should be reflected in their supplier diversity programs.

Their individuality means that programmatically, there should never be a one-size-fits-all program design. Customization is key. Program framework and strategy should align, intertwine and support each organization’s long-term focus, goals and growth.

Unfortunately, many assume growth refers to constant expansion, year-over-year. While this sounds desirable, it is not always realistic. In a slowing market, organizations may contract, pivot direction and alter purchase patterns. Supplier diversity program targets should reflect these shifts. Yet many organizations view any reduction in diversity spend as a negative.

Accommodating Individuality

Creating a health check that recognizes each program’s individuality rules out using a component checklist, a common solution that fails to measure a program’s potential and flexibility to adjust to accommodate business needs. “Check the box” assessments miss gaps, creating schisms where supplier diversity programs and organizational imperatives diverge.

Self-appraisals fall short in measuring progress by introducing personal bias because they represent the perspective of the supplier diversity professionals completing them.

Practitioners may be oblivious to their programs’ weaknesses. Their closeness blurs their objectivity, and they may be reluctant to share negatives for fear of potential impacts to future funding.

Using standardized external industry benchmarking skews and obscures individual differences, which are the essential component of resilient and impactful programs. Yes, there are similarities across industries — and cross-industry similarities as well; for example, financial institutions include components that closely resemble those of technology and real estate corporations.

It’s important to remember that each company is different — and individualization and customization can benefit from a third-party health check. Such an assessment should be designed to identify obstacles and provide more than a numeric score. Building sustainable programs call for tactical solutions in the form of integrated strategies.

Measurement for Progress

The traditional approach to measuring a program’s success is based on modeling behaviors by copying another companies’ roadmap. This provides linear solutions at best and tends to be more conceptual than practical. How likely is it that another company will openly expose its weaknesses or areas of opportunity? Its programs will appear perfect on the surface, but in actuality, they are works in progress.

The challenge facing practitioners who base their roadmaps on other companies’ successes: identifying commonalities while finding personal improvement opportunities. Applying this learning can be difficult, and it can mean taking a step backwards to refine foundational elements. Remember, things change over time; just because something worked initially does not mean it will remain relevant.

Programs need to reinforce basics to move forward. Continue to educate by sharing the business case for supplier diversity, keeping it top of mind. Maintain senior leadership support, aligning program goals with broader organizational deliveries. Openly and honestly discuss the correct fit with respect to environmental issues and internal priorities.

Providing a safe place and space to voice concerns maintains a connection with corporate strategies and growth trends and sets realistic expectations.

Be Honest, Open and Engaged

Supplier diversity programs can benefit from hearing an objective appraisal: the good, the bad and the ugly.

As in health care, early diagnosis is essential for full recovery. Understand where you shine and the areas that need strengthening. This frankness will bolster internal support in which colleagues recognize business alignment, rather than feeling disconnected or viewing supplier diversity as a diversion.

It often helps to have an impartial third party provide the appraisal, since he or she is unaffiliated and non-political. Consultants can provide a wider perspective. They can evaluate program facts, without sugar-coating the assessment.

An annual checkup, done well, offers actions that can put a program on track to deliver exceptional results.

About the Author

Suzanne Weston

About the Author

Suzanne Weston is a former partner, program strategies at IW Consulting Group, specializing in supplier diversity program creation, innovation and management. She is passionate about building impactful second-tier programs.