A Surprising Way to Build Powerful Partnerships with Providers


Core HR, Provider Engagement, Relationship Management

A Surprising Way to Build Powerful Partnerships with Providers

It seems like every blog post, business book and headline these days is about adapting to change. Change is happening all around us and to us, and HR is right in the thick of it. So when you think about innovation and big change, what’s one acronym you think about? 

For me, it’s obvious: RFP.

Just kidding. Sort of…

If big change is afoot, you likely need new technology and new providers to help activate your vision and accelerate your outcomes. In my work helping HR leaders drive change and stir up innovation, the RFP can be a surprisingly effective tool. 

There’s only one problem — everyone hates the RFP. 

In our complicated, bureaucratic, understaffed organizational environment, the RFP process has broken down into a transactional, walled, non-communicative, cost-reduction machine that often results in rampant assumptions and less than stellar outcomes. 

That’s why my team has developed what we think of as an RFP upgrade. Our alternative? A facilitated selection process designed to streamline the hunt for the best possible provider, make better matches between organizations and their partners, and drive change faster for the business.

If you’re seeking greater value from HR service providers who match your organization’s culture and needs, we’re speaking the same language. Here’s how to upgrade the RFP process to find your best-fit providers.

Put the ‘Relationship’ Back in RFP

In a traditional RFP process, you write down what you’re looking for, and providers bid for your business. Everything is written, and there’s no real focus on relationships or building collaborative solutions. The buyer is left with a ton of RFP responses to sort through — stacks of papers and spreadsheets. Just saying “RFP” takes your big, technicolor dreams and turns them into grayscale spreadsheets. 

But bringing on a new provider means developing a long-term relationship. So it’s important to develop that relationship early on. Do you get along? Are you speaking the same language? Do your cultures align? Does the provider respond to your phone calls and emails? Will you be able to build a sustainable relationship and partnership?

Developing those relationships early on gives you a real superpower. If you have powerful relationships on your side (instead of just a transactional RFP winner), you can make big changes happen faster.

Don’t Check the Boxes — Work Toward Mutual Discovery

Mutual discovery doesn’t start with the provider, it starts with HR getting to know themselves. Identify your pain points that your teams are experiencing and start making changes now. Your system isn’t the only problem but when you realize that you are using outdated technology then a selection is the next step.  

Selecting a provider shouldn’t be just about which company turns in the best homework. It should be an ongoing, iterative conversation. 

Document Your Current State and Invite Providers

To start that conversation, document your current state and identify your pain points in an easy-to-manage document repository you can share with providers. Hold pre-RFP briefings early on in the process so that providers have the chance to eliminate conjecture while ensuring everyone is aligned to their current state.

Narrow Down Your Options

Then, it’s time to evaluate what you heard and determine if the provider is worthy of moving forward in the process. If not, debrief to explain the reasons why.

Release the RFP

Finally, once you have documented your current state, compiled it all in a document repository, and narrowed down a provider short list, it’s time to release the RFP. Whew — let’s now take a break!

Hold Workshops with Providers

Just kidding! Now comes the really fun part of the facilitated selection process: WORKSHOPS! These are times to ask questions, get a better idea about who the provider is, their implementation methodology, and their core technology features. These workshops are also demos. They’re visual, and you can see what the technology actually looks like. We’ve found that these interactive, in-person demos help buyers better understand some of the more technical requirement information from the providers. 

Review Proposals

After the provider has learned all about you, they submit their proposals. Now it’s time to review the providers and provide your honest qualitative and quantitative scores. Ready to eliminate providers again? If yes, then debrief with the providers that are eliminated. If no, then let’s continue down the process to final due diligence.

Ask More Questions

If you need to learn a bit more, bring the providers back in for what we call “RFP clarification workshops.” Every department can schedule time during these workshops to ask clarifying questions. Maybe talent acquisition has questions about the candidate experience. Or maybe talent management wants to understand how employee engagement will be tracked. Everyone comes and asks their questions. Instead of flagging questions ad hoc and trying to get them answered over email, setting up this dedicated day for Q&As has been much more efficient, streamlined and illuminating for buyers as they do their due diligence.

Narrow Down Your Choices

The final part of due diligence is narrowing the choices down to two potential providers. And we bring those two providers back in to make sure that everyone understands the engagement properly from an implementation and pricing perspective. We cover all of the details that you normally wouldn’t cover when you’re first getting to know each other and the project. It’s a final opportunity to dig into security, architecture, and technology.

Make Your Pick!

And finally, it’s time to select the best-fit provider.

We know that adding all of these steps to the selection process might seem like a lot of extra work. And it is! But it’s worth it to select the provider that will be able to help you implement real, lasting change for your organization. HR has the power to drive major change at organizations right now. Nailing down a solid process for making decisions is one way to drive that change.

To learn more about how you can rethink the traditional RFP, reform your provider selection process, and drive meaningful change at your organization, come see me at HR Tech where I’ll be speaking with Kimberly Carroll.

Written by:

  • Janine Comito is a principal at IA. With a strong business analysis background, Janine has a unique understanding of highly complex HR challenges and the best solutions to achieve optimal results. She is also an excellent party planner who is famous for baking up a batch of her pumpkin whoopie pies.


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1 thought on “A Surprising Way to Build Powerful Partnerships with Providers”

  1. Belinda O'Loughlin

    Hi Janine,
    A colleague of mine attended a recent HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas this past October. She spoke to a representative from IA-HR. We are in the process of evaluating our existing HR Platform (UltiPro which was implemented about 10 years ago). I wanted to reach out and learn more about IA-HR services to assist with our HR product assessment.

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