by Serina Seward
Consulting Director


In the past few months, I have received feedback from numerous hospital supply chain leaders on the topic of consultants. A consistent message I hear is that consultants must demonstrate the right skills to meet the needs of the business and also have the right chemistry to fit in with the member’s culture. It brings to mind the children’s fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks tries the first bed to discover it's too big, then tries the second bed to find out it's too small. Only when she tries the third bed does she find the right fit.

It’s interesting to see how consultants are viewed. Personally, I think they’ve gotten a bad rap. I’ve been on the other side of the table as part of a supply chain team and have to admit, I stereotyped consultants as just trying to make a sale. Now that I’m a consultant, I want to change that perspective.

So, let’s throw out the old stereotypes and focus on what works when hiring purchased services consultants. The basics are surprisingly simple and can be categorized by four fundamental topics. By applying these principles, supply chain leaders can expect more from the consulting teams you engage for improvement projects.

Fundamental 1: Setting expectations

Health care is a very demanding industry and most hospital personnel are at capacity managing their day-to-day jobs. Consulting teams can fill a need for additional skills, resources and knowledge. Your main objective should be for the consultant to provide a beneficial impact that meets or exceeds your expectations. While sustainable cost savings on purchased services is very important, a consultant should also ensure quality and efficiency are sustainable as well. Supply chain managers also look to consulting groups to improve processes and advise strategic direction, but want them to do it in such a way that that the consulting group meets their expectations around culture, communication and timelines.  

Essentially, consultants need to become temporary employees that are in sync with the hospital’s vision, mission and temperament. The expectation is that the consulting team knows the goals of the supply chain manager well, is able to communicate effectively to develop an opportunity pipeline and focuses on your hospital’s priorities…not theirs.

Fundamental 2: Building trust

In the day-to-day grind of the hospital world, being let down by a consultant will leave a scar that is not easily forgotten. A good consultant group will understand this and have a strategy to deal with any initial hesitation from the hospital’s supply chain employees. The onus is on the consulting group to employ experts who are well-versed in best-in-class pricing and contract terms, not to mention industry knowledge and metrics to support their recommendations. Hospitals should leverage that knowledge. A good consulting team understands your trust is earned, not just given.

Fundamental 3: Establishing the value equation

Supply chain consultants must understand the importance of value from your hospital’s perspective. Oftentimes, a supply chain manager evaluates the performance of the consulting group on a regular basis and has the right to do so…it’s their dollar. A good consulting group will understand that and act on the feedback they receive.

So what does the value equation look like? Simple: benefit minus cost. I have seen many instances where a consultant tries to fit their solution in to address a hospital’s need instead of identifying the solutions that would best benefit the facility. A consultant can attempt to be all things to all people but that typically results in bad quality of service. They should scale it back to the basics and allow for collaboration and adaptability—that drives value and chemistry. 

Fundamental 4: Hire the right culture fit

It’s important to find the right culture fit, where the supply chain manager enjoys working with their consulting team. It’s a two-way street: the consulting teams’ ideas need to be appreciated and the environment need be encouraging. To find that synergy, it takes good people with an approach to the project who fit the culture of the organization. It’s also important for a good consultant to listen and understand the potential obstacles, so their attention to your expectations around culture, communication and timelines is imperative. 

Let’s take a minute to consider what makes a consultant a good fit with a hospital’s culture. Is it communication, empathy, knowledge, resourcefulness, collaboration, adaptiveness? I think it’s a combination. While my opinion is subjective, I believe an effective consultant will display this skill mix:

  • 60 percent relationship manager: The consultant should be a motivated self-starter with flexibility, agility and willingness to compromise. Supply chain consulting requires hard work and attention to detail so a consultant needs to able to jump right in and work alongside the supply chain manager and their staff.
  • 25 percent culture adaptability: They display a great attitude, easily adapt to new environments, have good communication skills and are motivated to drive value for your hospital. They present recommendations that fit your hospital’s needs.
  • 15 percent subject matter expert: A true subject matter expert can drive real savings in a very short time and will know how to navigate the obstacles for your hospital.

An effective consulting team can paint a picture so the supply chain manager can see what is going on in the industry outside their hospital’s walls and the opportunities within their facility. The best way to achieve this is for the supply chain manager to ensure the consulting team is well informed of their objectives and is executing them with empathy and effectiveness.

Successfully managing your hospital’s supply chain shouldn’t be considered a fairy tale. You only need a consultant group that fits just right.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how Vizient Advisory Solutions can assist with your purchased services consulting needs, click here.  

About the author. Throughout her career, Serina Seward has routinely interfaced and collaborated with legal, senior leadership and key stakeholders in clinical and non-clinical settings, coordinating and facilitating purchased services contracts for multiple hospitals and clinics throughout the Southwest. She has also provided analytical support and guidance related to service contracts to establish business needs, financial and operational impact, and to ensure compliance with all regulatory agencies. In her position, she has renegotiated 50 different categories, achieving millions in savings.

Published: May 30, 2017