A True Picture Often Requires Pulling the Perceptions Peel

August 08, 2023
By Suzanne Weston

Perceptions often influence the decisions we make. My perception of bananas, for example, is that they taste bad. I don’t like them. So, I consciously avoid them and choose other fruit.

When it comes to inclusivity in the supply base, perceptions also can prevail. We perceive it’s easier to use an incumbent supplier than search for a qualified diverse one. We can be quick to judge something we don’t know about based on someone else’s negative perceptions or our own bias, rather than understanding the full picture.

Likewise, someone else’s positive experiences can shape a lasting, positive impression.

Sharing positive experiences about working with diverse suppliers and the benefits they can provide can transform inclusivity for organizations. Such measures can be effective in counteracting unconscious bias. Relatable and positive experiences can supersede internal biases.

Storytelling Is Positive Reinforcement

Stories have the power to influence: Their messages can provide relatable experiences as well as unforgettable anecdotes. This is why training that provides examples and stories can be much more memorable and relatable than training that shares facts and figures.

Supplier diversity training often focuses on the benefits of having an inclusive vendor pool, using vague terms like increased creativity, efficiencies and value. Such terms can be difficult to relate to, especially for those with no experience working with diverse suppliers. But by sharing stories — naming the company’s diverse suppliers and how they have benefitted the organization — the training becomes more personable and real.

Finding these stories, however, can be difficult; organizations don’t typically collect them. Often a supplier’s diverse designation is visible only during the bidding process. Once the company becomes part of the supplier pool, it’s “just another vendor.”  Also, success stories are rarely shared; rather, they are taken for granted. How a supplier performs is an issue only when things go wrong.

Processes and Recognition

Structure helps to change behavior. By building integrated processes that require each competitive bid to include diverse suppliers, companies begin developing a behavior that favors inclusion and removes personal preference. Compliance with these processes must be enforced. If it is easy to bypass the inclusion of qualified diverse suppliers, the processes will be ignored.

Expedite identification of qualified diverse suppliers by developing pre-vetted lists for major commodities. A list can be as basic as the diverse suppliers your company is already doing business with, along with an internal contact who can discuss their experiences. But lists don’t always guarantee quality; the magic happens when you begin sharing experiences, adding in success stories, and making it relatable.

Recognizing colleagues who have successfully identified and onboarded diverse suppliers makes the process personal as well as achievable. It also engages competitiveness and reinforces positive acknowledgement.

As you grow internal champions and share success stories, the mindset and culture of curating a pool of qualified diverse suppliers will begin to take on a life of its own. Colleagues will develop a taste for exploring suitable suppliers instead of simply renewing with incumbents, widening their preferences based on positive experiences.

Embrace Your Bias

We all have internal biases and a desire to take the easy way out, especially when it comes to work. Reluctance to include diverse suppliers in bids often has more to do with not wanting to take the time to locate suitable diverse suppliers. A few changes, pre-vetted lists, internal recognition, and success stories can encourage a behavior change.

Preferences often are influenced by preconceived notions. Addressing the underlying reasons for those preconceived notions can remove these barriers. Often, embracing inclusive procurement requires establishing simple processes, where success is widely shared, recognized, rewarded and repeated through stories.

Create new preferences by sharing stories and successes and expand your perspective — of your supplier base, your workplace and everyday life. As for me, I’ve heard banana bread is good; I think I’ll try it.

(Photo credit: Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images)

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.