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Leading tender questions

A leading question gives explicit clues to potential suppliers as to what a purchaser expects to see in their answers. Here’s an example from Defra’s “Balanced scorecard for public food procurement”.

Supply Chain (applicable to caterers and to the direct supply of products)
Please describe the systems that your organisation will use to assess risks and manage food safety and food hygiene throughout the supply chain, including how mitigating actions are linked to the outcomes of a systematic risk assessment, and details of any independently audited food safety schemes you will use.

I’ll use it to explain how a question can lead, why it’s self-defeating and why it could discriminate against the very potential suppliers you want to attract. The elements below from the above question lead potential suppliers by giving them explicit clues about what the purchaser expects to see in their answers.

  • Systems to assess risks
  • Systems to …. manage food safety and food hygiene
  • Throughout the supply chain
  • Mitigating actions are linked to the outcomes of a systematic risk assessment
  • Details of independently audited food safety schemes

 

How potential suppliers might think

In reality, not the pretend world of tenders, potential suppliers might not operate as the purchaser expects in their leading question. They might also achieve the same ends or better but with different methods. However, instead of deciding not to tender they might pause and think ….

‘hang on, the purchaser’s question gives me all the clues I need to write the type of answer they expect. If I need a risk system I could buy one, but I’ll need to subscribe, quickly, to some independently audited food safety schemes.’

 

Proving my point

This advert (below) is from a spam email. It promises a topnotch risk assessment that leaps the ‘”legal hurdle” and “appears good quality with the thoughtful involvement of risk professionals”. There are plenty of others offering similar services and benefits, not just for risk assessments.

BA App does it all for you, so you can concentrate more on making the area safe. Drag and drop pre-loaded, editable hazards over a photo – it’s easy.

There’s a reason that the BA App made it to [high in] the iTunes Business Top Chart – it’s a fantastic App relevant to every single business on the planet. BA helps you fulfill a legal requirement – the FREE version creates a risk assessment report in a few simple steps, and stores the results on the device.

To leap the legal hurdle and provide a risk assessment that appears good quality with the thoughtful involvement of risk professionals you can use BA App.

How effective do you think such a risk assessment system is likely to be, when potential suppliers buy it just to satisfy the purchaser’s expectations?

 

Rationalising

You might, with your purchasing hat on, regard this as dishonest or at best misleading. Now stop and put your potential supplier’s hat on. Why would you forgo a good opportunity when the purchaser has pretty much told you what they expect in your answer? Your competitors are unlikely to pass up such an opportunity just because they don’t currently operate as the purchaser expects.

 

Extra clues – evaluation criteria

Extra clues from the purchaser’s evaluation criteria can also support leading questions. This criterion for an ‘Excellent’ (the highest) evaluation score is a good example.

Supply Chain (applicable to caterers and to the direct supply of products)

  • The applicant has a systematic approach to managing food safety 
throughout the food supply chain, with mitigating actions linked to the 
outcomes of a comprehensive, documented risk assessment.
  • A significant proportion of the supply chain will be covered by 
independently audited food safety schemes, including all of the high risk areas identified through risk assessments.

This criterion contains similar information to that in the leading question. Why have similar information in two places? If you want to lead potential suppliers why not put all your clues in the evaluation criterion and shorten the question dramatically? Alternatively don’t lead potential suppliers.

 

Discrimination and homogenisation

This is an interesting point that I’ve made with the following two questions.

Do leading questions enable the less capable to appear more capable?

Are all the answers likely to include everything you think relevant and valuable?

If you ask a leading question you run the risk of receiving answers that include everything you think relevant and valuable. For some this is disadvantageous and for others it is advantageous. The overall effect could be homogenisation of potential suppliers answers. This puts purchasers in an awkward position because they need to know how potential suppliers differ, if they are to evaluate accurately, responsibly, fairly and reliably.

I’ll leave you to ruminate on this. But before you do, ask yourself, do capable potential suppliers need leading questions?

 

A solution – use outcomes

To avoid asking a leading question ask potential suppliers to say how they will achieve your outcomes. This is the question we started with.

Supply Chain (applicable to caterers and to the direct supply of products)
Please describe the systems that your organisation will use to assess risks and manage food safety and food hygiene throughout the supply chain, including how mitigating actions are linked to the outcomes of a systematic risk assessment, and details of any independently audited food safety schemes you will use.

First we need to formulate a desired outcome, this is what you expect potential suppliers to be able to achieve. The outcome I’ve formulated is …..

The food served did not cause illness

Next our question for potential suppliers, their answer being how they propose to achieve the outcome, could be …

How will you make sure the food you serve will not cause those who eat it to be ill?

This question doesn’t lead potential suppliers. It gives those that are genuinely capable the opportunity to display their actual capability without the purchaser needing to lead them by the nose.

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