Valentine’s Day was last week and the tremendous focus on relationships got me thinking about all the relationships that surround B2G. Before you send that heart-shaped box of chocolates to your agency of choice, let’s consider just what happens after a Government contract is awarded. The contract is not the end in and of itself. So let’s break it down: if the Government needs 100 widgets, the contractual relationships are pretty clear; the contractor supplies said widgets, and the Government accepts the widgets and pays the contractor. Assuming all 100 widgets are delivered intact and the contractor receives the money, that’s the end of the relationship. Good performance on both ends can lead to future relationships, but essentially this B2G relationship is over once the check has cleared. Far from romantic to say the least.
Contracts involving any aspect of service create more complicated relationships. Successful completion of the contract requires more than detailed requirements from the Government. A true meeting of the minds about the desired outcome between the Government and the company they’ve hired to help get the job done is essential. Contracting Officer’s Representatives (CORs) must be the strongest link in the communications chain to ensure the desired results are obtained, but there are other members of the team from both the Government and the contractor’s staff. In the end, each member of that team is a person who has a job to do that should be complementary to all the other jobs and persons. The government /contractor relationship should not be adversarial and it should never become estranged. All the members of the team need to be in a healthy relationship. They are, after all, working toward the same goal.
The DOD has been putting special emphasis on the COR role and rightly so. Intense operations outside the United States create a situation where on-site observation and participation makes a real difference that can be counted in human lives. This leads to the realization that any successful service contract requires the participation of a dedicated, knowledgeable individual who can answer questions, gauge performance, and keep the ball rolling. It’s not enough to monitor the contractor from a distance unless the contract is specifically a one-way street.
Some service contracts might meet that one-way street definition. Take for instance, janitorial services, for example. It quickly becomes clear when trash removal, restroom clean-up and floor cleaning is not happening or is happening, but poorly. Measurements are easy and the people affected will bring to light areas where performance is substandard. However, professional services such as program/project management support, IT systems operation and software development are not dependent on only the meeting of the minds on the desired outcomes and intense monitoring by a COR, but they also involve participation from subject matter experts who define, refine and implement deliverables. The relationship circle expands to include them in a more direct way.
Can the COR be present for every conversation between the other members of the team? Probably not. So how can the COR ensure that the other members of the team are remaining within boundaries set by ethics laws, regulations and sensibilities? I think there are a few things that can be done. Set the boundaries at the kick-off meeting and make sure all the players are present for that. Already beyond kick-off? It’s not too late. With all team members present, talk about what is allowed and what is not allowed between Government and contractor personnel. Let people ask questions. At the same time, emphasize that everyone is now on the same team with a common set of goals. There’s more to it than pulling on your oar while everyone else pulls on theirs. The darn thing will go in circles unless there is clear and constant communication on timing, roles, assignments and expectations. So make a review of the rules regarding Government and contractor employees a regular part of your start-up process and revisit this subject occasionally, but find a way to stress that remaining within the boundaries entails talking to and working with other members of the team. Free communication between team members is a must. All of this can be accomplished–and has been accomplished–by many teams and yet there are still those out there who strive to keep the contractor and Government folks physically and mentally apart. The most successful professional service contracts I’ve observed include laughter, mutual respect, social interaction and successful brainstorming. This can only happen, as with any other good relationship, when people are relaxed and trust each other.
Remember: all relationships require hard work and commitment, and it’s never too late to start making strides to strengthen those lines of communication. How are you working on your B2G relationships? Reply in the comment section below.