Another view: In search of the perfect client

Mimi Browning

Corporate America is searching for the perfect government IT client. We want to work with agencies to develop systems for government missions. We are seeking relationships built on trust and the common goal of serving the nation.

In search of Mr. Right and the perfect marriage, vendors are looking for some essential qualities in an agency customer.

Give us the courtesy of a first date. Whether it is a visit to your office or our facilities, consider our offer. On the first date, we showcase our best products, services and people. It is the best time for you to ask tough questions and size us up for a second date.

Challenge us. We want to help solve your problems. Use our knowledge to evaluate facts and judgments and make the best decisions. Our capabilities and experiences can provide fresh ideas and proven methods that can be tailored to your needs.

Be demanding but diplomatic. You are entitled to be demanding and unpredictable. We understand the political and organizational context in which you live. But remember that you get better products and services from us by including a little civility and humor with your request.

Consider us trusted partners and take us with a grain of salt. Treat us as you do your valued and reliable friends. If you think something we promise sounds implausible, question the hype. Good partners keep each other honest.

Be candid. If we produce a bad product or give you poor service, tell us. Let's work together to correct the situation. Likewise, if you are unsure of your needs or if your priorities change, let us know.

Hold us accountable. Regular meetings between government and contractor to discuss a project's schedule, budget and performance are a must. Mutual goals and common trust make these meetings productive. We expect you to be tough but fair.

Treat us as part of your team. During Operation Desert Storm, a Pentagon executive told his team of military and civilian employees and contractors he was proud of the outstanding work done by the military. He did not mention the equally outstanding performance of his civilian and contractor workforce. His oversight dampened morale for weeks. Practice inclusion; it is a real work multiplier.

Impart some of your organizational DNA. Your culture is important. Share some of your traditions and history'a baseball cap or coin with your government brand means a lot to us.

Recognize our best folks and weed out the bums. When you hand out certificates of appreciation, remember to include our best and brightest along with yours. If one of our people is not up to par, let us know and we'll take action.

Know that trust is a two-way street. Successful government-industry relationships take time and cultivation on both sides. Professional associations can serve as a neutral ground to discuss matters of mutual interest and to gain insights in an ethical and fair manner.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

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