How To Avoid The Tombstone Effect In Business Relationships by Andy Akrouche

Welcome To Tombstone 

Whenever there is instability and divisiveness in the buyer-side internal relationship framework, this dysfunction is ultimately extended to include external stakeholders such as vendors.

Think of it as the wild west town of Tombstone and the famous battle at the OK Corral.

What would it have felt like for an outsider to ride into Tombstone during the OK Corral gunfight? If you were that outsider, would you try to step into the middle of it and restore peace or, would you run for cover with your own pistol drawn?


For those of you who have followed my Relational Contracting Intelligence Blog, and/or have read my book Relationships First, you are already very familiar with my areas of expertise and focus.

As you know, far too many business relationships are actually compromised well before a vendor, a service provider or a partner is introduced into the equation.

This is why it is critical to establish and operationalize a relationship management framework (Relationship Charter) before engaging service providers or the vendor community through an RFP, and ultimately a contract. The fact is that without a Relationship Charter, you are inviting your prospective vendors into a Tombstone-like situation. This not only distracts them from their intended purpose, it forces them into a survival mode in which their own survival agenda becomes the primary focus.

Under such circumstances, even the best crafted contracts will not enable you to achieve your objectives.

A collaboratively developed and operationalized Relationship Charter would help:

  • Align internal stakeholders with the organization’s objectives while clearly demonstrating everyone’s gain both individually as well as collectively.
  • Establish a collaborative as opposed to a subordinate communication mechanism that is viewed as being inclusive as opposed to exclusive (Dale Neef talked about the problems of the latter in his 2000 book e-Procurement: From Strategy to Implementation).
  • Employ a collaborative joint governance and alignment framework for managing and controlling the initiative from concept to contract and subsequent fulfillment or execution).

Adopting The Right Mindset (The eVA Success)

Understanding and properly engaging the diverse internal stakeholders within an organization is critical.

In his seminal 2007 post Yes Virginia! There is more to e-procurement than software, Jon Hansen observed the following relative to that State’s successful eVA initiative:

“The recognition on the part of Virginia that government goes beyond a mere org chart but is actually comprised of Higher Education, K-12, Corrections, Public Safety, Transportation, Health, Social Services and Construction etc. meant that they really understood the “special needs, special rules and special challenges” associated with the procurement practice of each entity both individually and collectively.”

This, according to Hansen, was a key to their success – a success that continues even today.

Virginia understood the make-up of their broader government enterprise, and actively engaged all buyer-side stakeholders, aligning their objectives into a coordinated strategy that eliminated barriers to adoption.

In other words, they got their own house in order, before inviting external stakeholders into the relationship.

As Hansen would go on to write; “Unburdened by the misguided belief that tighter controls produce desired results, the Commonwealth brought a service mentality or attitude to the project.  While there is almost always varying degrees of skepticism whenever . . . “big brother” initiates a program, the genuine effort to communicate with individual departments was invaluable in achieving the necessary buy-in for eVA’s success.”

While participation as Hansen put it was not voluntary, the right measures of flexibility within a centrally established framework addressed any potential issues of compliance.

The Relationship Charter focuses on the very elements that Virginia brought together, to create a working relationship between different stakeholders within the buying organization. It is based on a collaborative interaction with stakeholders as opposed to subordinate response to a centrally driven edict, thus creating a stable environment into which a vendor, or an internal service provider can be easily integrated.

Or to put it another way, the Relationship Charter eliminates the likelihood of a Tombstone environment emerging. It enables the buying organization to straighten up its own house before opening the door to external stakeholders or partners.

guns hung up

To learn more about Relationships and Relationship Charters refer to my book Relationships First or read my blog Relational Contracting Intelligence


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