Supporting each other through the pandemic

April 26, 2021
SMI  members, all executives from leading healthcare provider and industry organizations, weighed in recently on the subject of individual and team morale and how suppliers and providers can best support each other as we continue to grapple with this pandemic.  Data was gathered equally from suppliers and providers and showed that morale is relatively high, with respondents rating their own personal morale a bit higher than they rated the morale of their teams:

When asked what trading partners can do to support each other, communication was key for suppliers and providers.  Both audiences want frequent and transparent communication, clarity around priorities and business plans, and advance notice of any issues that could cause friction.  People also want to see who they’re talking to and are embracing video calls as a way to strengthen relationships. Of course, the goal is to be back together in person again, and whether virtual or in person, we all want to connect on a personal level to strengthen our business relationships.

In addition to the importance of communication, both groups also stressed the need for patience and flexibility.  We are all working at such a fast pace, and priorities are changing sometimes on a moment-by-moment basis.  One provider asked suppliers to “be patient with us on projects and priorities.  Each day is presenting new challenges and is pulling us away from current priorities.”  And being sensitive to these shifting priorities also requires agility - the ability to make changes at the last minute to accommodate those changes.  

Suppliers are looking for creativity from their trading partners.  They appreciate a commitment to partnership relationships with a long-term focus.  They are also looking for support on operational business elements - on-time payments, staying on track on key projects, and an emphasis on activities that have positive impact on mutual business performance.  Likewise, providers are looking for understanding and partnership from their supplier partners.  They highlighted the need for consistent supply, economic relief, and organized and efficient virtual meetings that maximize available time. 

When suppliers and providers were asked what they are doing today to support each other, the responses fell into the same kind of key categories:

•Communicating - being positive, communicating often and with transparency, asking questions to create understanding, and holding regular business reviews to keep things on track

• Being creative - bringing new ideas into the discussion to solve problems in new ways

•Reducing friction in the relationship - keeping the operational interface clean and clear, being responsive, and being flexible to react to unforeseen circumstances

Suppliers also stressed the work they are doing to provide useful education to providers, and both highlighted the need to stay positive and focused with a “glass half full” perspective to maintain the morale of their own teams and their trading partners.

Suppliers and providers also shared general comments about supporting each other, and these we can all incorporate into our interactions:

• Bring back a balance between in-person and virtual to allow for the kind of socialization that impacts morale

• Use transparency to drive improvement and not to enforce penalties

• Design and implement new sales models using virtual platforms

• Remember that words matter - it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that creates positive trading partner relationships

• The pandemic offers us opportunities to look at new ways to pull costs out of the system, and we should work together to make real change and not lose the lesson

Ultimately, maintaining strong team and trading partner morale is about continuing to build supportive relationships on both sides of the table.  Suppliers and providers want understanding.  They look for a view on the long term where small hiccups are excused, accepted, and quickly resolved as part of building an effective and lasting partnership. And they want interactions that are as free from friction as possible.  It all comes down to this: “We can support one another by removing unnecessary stress” from both sides of the trading partner relationship now and moving forward.

A team of SMI members recently published an eBook on Virtual Relationship Management (VRM) with best practices and tips for navigating virtual meetings and building productive relationships virtually.  Download the free VRM eBook at