The Employees Behind Your Technology/Sourcing Solution: Does it Matter if They’re Happy?

In looking to create a new relationship with a supplier, software vendor, etc., you're wined and dined by a sales team that most likely has an answer for everything. What you don't get, however, is any sort of dialog from the general employee base -- from those you'll work with directly, from product managers to development to the people in the mail room. When Jason first pointed me towards glassdoor.com, an online forum that presents job listings, salaries, interview reviews, and most interesting, company reviews and ratings, I have to admit that the first thing I did was type in the ad agency I used to work for and read all the comments, knowing I would get a good laugh. (One of the best: "The job is ok. The food in the nearby area is fantastic!"). For procurement and sourcing professionals, the overarching question about sites like Glassdoor is, of course: what they tell us (if anything) about the cultures of the vendors and services providers that we hire to deliver value?

As an example, let's look at Ariba's reviews. With comment headlines ranging from "Disgusting place" to "Good job with a company going through a rebirth" (this is just in the first ten comments out of over 60, mind you), each comment lists an individual's pros, cons, and advice to senior management. Comments like this one, from a marketing manager in California, seem to me to provide useful insight:

Pros: "The company is in a great place to capitalize on it's position in the industry as the market rebounds. But aside from the company position, it's an employer that does a great job of giving flexibility, work/life balance and good compensation."

Cons: "Communication across the multiple cities and departments could be better. And sometimes it feels as though we can't decide if we are a big or small company, the danger being we'll slip into the bad characteristics of each."

Advice to senior management: "We need more open access and communication with senior leaders and decision makers. The company is not so large that we shouldn't have good, fast, open communication across teams, departments, vertical titles and locations."

So, as a potential user of Ariba, you'd notice that this particular employee is generally happy with their work/life balance and the company in general, but has a few beefs (granted this employee is in marketing, and not tech -- which makes a huge difference, as you'll see in a moment). If we dive into the world of the software engineers, we find that things aren't so rosy, at least in some cases.

Though one consultant engineer suggests that Ariba is a "Good place to learn SaaS concepts" and boasts "Concentrated talent, lot of talented people to work with," the negative comments from the people who would be performing the day-to-day tasks to create and manage new software that your company would then use are a bit disconcerting:

  • "Politics will get you up the ladder, not productivity. The leadership team is thin on the products and technology experience outside of Ariba. Organizational structure is strange and still shows the effects of growing by acquisition with lots of battles among the tribes."
  • "Master-Slave treatment and there is no respect for engineers at IDC [Indian development operation]."
  • "Key management members manage by fear and intimidation"
  • "An aimless organizational structure change always waiting around the corner. Mid-level management is very poor in communication and empowering employees. Many a times genuine issues raised by employees are brushed under the carpet. Sometimes engineers who have years of experience on some area are not allowed to make decisions in that which leads to lot of frustration. Many employees find very little career advancement that results in increasing attrition."

I actually find value in looking at this type of commentary, though obviously taken with not just a grain, but a whole hunk of salt. If you can delve in and analyze this data for overarching themes (i.e. unhappy software engineers or those criticizing the technical savvy of management), then it can give you a good look what the company values at its core, which can provide insight in both whom to work with (even what groups an organization) and the best ways of going about creating an effective, value-driven working relationship. Take a look at your company and let me know what you think -- apparently in advertising, all we cared about was food and parties.

Note: Ariba provides a useful case study here because the size of the organization provides a larger response set/sample size that smaller vendors on sites like Glassdoor. It's a mixed bag, as are most companies. But do check out other potential software providers, not to mention vendors in general, to see what their current and former employees have to say. Sure, there's some bellyaching from disgruntled sorts, but look for trends for value outside of entertainment in the responses.

- Sheena Moore

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