Given the obvious, COVID-19 is a seminal event. No one has a playbook for doing business in this kind of pandemic, but some basic principles remain intact. These basic principles, especially as they relate to talent acquisition in both good and challenging seasons, remind us that concepts like partnership, collaboration, even-handedness, and teamwork are timeless. To jettison these principles in a knee-jerk panic smells like desperation that was created by poor preparation, management and negotiation. Even worse, making unreasonable demands of your supply chain at a time like this is often offensive — even arrogant — and jeopardizes the critical support of your talent acquisition network in the near-term and, yes, even the long-term.

A few axioms have come to light for me during this crisis:

  1. Companies can be such great negotiators that they remove any tangible incentive for quality providers to send them top-tier talent. Congratulations, you have learned to run your business and drive profitability by unreasonably squeezing suppliers, and now there are no concessions that can be made. You can’t get blood out of the turnip you created in the years that led up to our current situation. At this point, asking for more and still giving little or nothing in return is a hopeless proposition. It’s a painted corner of your own making. Providers know, by the way, that often the best deal they can make is giving their competition bad business.
  2. We are talking about our most critical resource: people. And not just about the people who have sadly lost their jobs or fallen ill, but also the people who own, manage and work for essential businesses that provide the always critical talent needed to run your business. A company’s one-sided demands put these folks at risk too. Although the free market is inherently Darwinian, companies really do need to have a quality workforce to survive in this war of the fittest. In a recent discussion with a client demanding a 10% reduction in price (not cost) when that would push us into a desperately red position, I countered that the only way to achieve this is dropping wages 10%. The response was unsurprising: “But can we get workers at lower wages?” My retort dripped with sarcasm: “No, but if your goal is to save money, then this is a surefire way to do it.” Sorry folks: no people, no product.
  3. Culture counts. Why would a blue-collar worker go into a facility and risk infection when they can make more money collecting stimulus inflated unemployment? Even if the company is an essential business and their products or services are contributing to society’s greater good during this time, do they feel they are part of something bigger than themselves? Have they been treated well and fairly in the months or years leading up to this crisis? Has the supply chain, which provides this critical talent, been embraced as a partner and collaborator or just a vendor that is a frequent target of penny-pinching and heavy-handed demands? Well, you know the answers.
  4. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Beyond some of the offensive and arrogant requests (tacit demands) I have recently heard, the sense of fear has been palpable. And I’m not talking about fear of the Coronavirus: I’m talking about employers fearing their companies can’t withstand the torrents of the current economic uncertainty. Desperation permeates discussions and communication. Which begs the question: Are we dealing with a company that is truly financially viable, that will even be around if this situation lingers for months? If not, who wants to work for or with a company that is on the brink?
  5. Feel free to spend your money, but don’t feel free to spend mine. Asking your supply chain to make concessions that result in hard dollar losses is insulting. Are you giving away your product or service? I doubt it. With a bit of spite, I have been responding to these kinds of proposals by asking our clients for concessions too. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander as well. Both companies and suppliers — and MSPs if they are involved — are in this crisis together, and no one is immune from its ravages. Also, why do we even have a contract in place if it’s copasetic to deviate from it when it benefits you, the client, and no one else?

And the biggest takeaway of all may be this: You might save a few dollars during this unfortunate season by squeezing your talent acquisition supply chain, but things will eventually bounce back. Suppliers will have options once again — and they won’t forget how they were treated so callously during the crisis. Then comes a day of reckoning, a disastrous time when quality suppliers will forsake those who treated them like cash turnips and expendable livestock led to the slaughter. And then the real cost savings might begin — the day that you don’t have enough quality workers to run your business.

At least the Accounts Payable Clerk will be happy as she processes less and less, smaller and smaller checks. That is, until she too is out of work.