Friday, April 04, 2014

Battling Survey Fatigue: Five Tips for Simpler, More Effective Supply-Chain Evaluation by guest blogger, Mary D. Lewis

For Sprint, supply chain management is especially important. As a telecommunications carrier, we don’t manufacture most of the goods we sell — which means we rely heavily on the more than 5,000 vendors who help keep our business running and our customers happy. While we understand the limits of our influence over suppliers, we know that maintaining an industry-leading commitment to sustainability — and our No. 3 spot on Newsweek’s Green Rankings — means partnering closely with every vendor, from paper suppliers to IT providers to handset manufacturers. Our ability to achieve our own sustainability goals is often directly tied to suppliers’ understanding of and support for our goals. It’s our aim to make sure that, by 2017, 90 percent of our source-able spend is with suppliers that meet Sprint’s aggressive environmental and social criteria.

Of course, meeting these goals means gathering accurate data from all corners of Sprint’s supply chain and obtaining independent confirmation of that data. But as C-suites across the globe become increasingly focused on sustainability, vendors big and small often suffer from survey fatigue: They’re over-whelmed by the growing number and exhaustive nature of corporate responsibility questionnaires. After all, they have businesses to run, and what kind of benefits are they reaping from tedious scorecards? That’s why Sprint has carefully examined and implemented data-gathering practices that make sense for Sprint and, perhaps more importantly, for our suppliers.

The result, we believe, is that we've been able to gather meaningful, accurate information in a way that reduces work-loads for our vendors’ teams as well as for our own. But fast doesn't mean superficial: We’re also helping our supply-chain partners learn about and improve their own policies and practices.

Though each industry’s supply chain presents unique challenges and processes, we think our focus on simplicity and vendor partnerships reveals a few universal lessons for any company seeking a less harried, more symbiotic journey towards a more sustainable supply chain.

Keep it simple
When requesting information from a vendor, Sprint asks just five questions that we've identified as the most important towards meeting our corporate responsibility standards. At the same time, these questions are complete enough to allow our internal supply chain team to assess the vendor’s performance against our requirements. Ultimately, this shorter survey not only reduces the amount of time and effort it takes the vendor to complete the assessment, it also reduces the amount of time it takes to evaluate and measure responses. At Sprint, we’re also working towards greater harmonization of our vendor assessments, so we’re not repeating these questions when we issue RFPs. The goal is to encourage suppliers to meet Sprint’s corporate responsibility standards without unnecessary changes to the underlying contract. The process is timely, collaborative and effective.

It's ALL important
Just because we’re making a questionnaire easier to fill out doesn't mean we've set the bar low. In fact, Sprint requires all suppliers to satisfactorily answer each of the five questions in order to be considered as having met our minimum environmental and social responsibility criteria. This ensures that all suppliers — regardless if they are a manufacturer or a service provider — are evaluated in a consistent manner and that one’s recycling efforts don’t outweigh another’s GHG-reduction program simply because one question was answered more comprehensively than the other. Making sure each question is sufficiently answered — with supporting documentation — also fosters objective comparisons among suppliers across sectors. To compare suppliers within certain categories, we have additional, sector-specific criteria that are measured separately.

Just the facts
Since each company measures and reports success differently, Sprint currently focuses on asking for information that can be independently verified without requiring additional qualitative or empirical data. This keeps things transparent, and ensures that our team can cross-check the information via a policy statement or corporate responsibility report. For example, if we’re asking a question about green-house gas emissions, we want to see a clear and simple greenhouse gas policy — not a litany of misleading data — that shows what our vendors are doing right now about their GHG emissions and where they are headed.

Require public evidence of affirmative responses
Speaking of easy-to-digest policy statements and CR reports, we can’t be the only ones privy to this information. Any documents we see regarding our vendors’ goals need to also be available to the public — visible by anyone at any time, without the need to request that information. Whether it’s outlined on a vendor’s website or in a corporate responsibility report, any and all policies and statements need to be public. For example: A third-party-issued certificate of GHG emissions is a great beginning for many companies, but we also look for clear evidence that a company has a goal or long-term plan to reduce emissions — preferably by scope — over time. And, we look for proof of a materiality assessment, which indicates the supplier’s sustainability plans are based on knowing where and how they have the most significant environmental impact.

Use a carrot, not stick, mentality
We believe Sprint’s reaction to and use of supplier data is the most important part of the puzzle. We realize that not all vendors will be able to meet our high-level criteria — at least not yet. But that doesn't mean we should turn our back on them. Sprint works as closely with our partners as we possibly can to educate them on how to create better policies that benefit the earth without breaking the bank. We've dis-covered that providing actionable feedback — in writing as well as personally — has been key for ensuring that suppliers understand our CR requirements. Because there might be multiple touch points with suppliers, providing feedback is a team effort. Messaging is orchestrated with our supply chain, business unit and CR reps; for key suppliers, our senior executives personally reach out to their supplier counter-part.

We've analyzed supplier responses to our feedback and discovered headwinds that certain segments of our supply base are experiencing. Armed with this information, we worked with fellow sustainability champions, NGOs, and CSR experts to develop a series of tools and workshops that will further help vendors develop strategies for improving their own practices. Sprint’s supplier booklet and tools for measuring GHG emissions (, published in September 2013 and updated earlier this year, have been enthusiastically received by our suppliers.

Being there for our vendors, instead of penalizing them, helps them see the true value of sustainability and gets them excited and engaged — the only way to create real sustainable change.
Mary Lewis’s career with Sprint Corporation has included roles in executive, management and sub-ject matter expert positions. She currently works in Sprint’s Procurement & Real Estate organization, where she leads the development and implementation of Sprint’s supplier sustainability strategy. Mary is a member of IAOP’s CSR Committee and was a presenter at OWS 2014.

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