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Our team has grown a lot and the vendors / outsourced support staff we're using have come under a critical eye. While their support previously was useful to fill gaps in the team, we now have the senior people required for thorough reviews and we realized they have critical shortfalls in the work they're producing. Some of these shortfalls include:

  • Lack of communication
  • Shifting/missing deadlines
  • Significant rewrites needed in code / content
  • Lack of QA
  • Lack of domain knowledge

Overall, it feels like junior-level work quality. It's gotten to the point that our team is reworking +75% of deliverables. We are in agreement, we won't be using their services in the future and shifting their budget towards junior / mid-level hires.

In the meantime, my manager has asked me not be so direct and transparent with my feedback and suggested I use suggestive language ("What do you think about delivering XYZ earlier so we can review?". "I'm having trouble digesting this, can you change the format to...") instead of direct language ("It's unacceptable to deliver XYZ after the agreed on time.", "This content is really difficult to digest, change the format to...").

I worry suggestive language gives room for discussion when I need behavior to stop, deliverables to change / improve, deadlines to be met. There is no discussion to be had. Tracking to do what my manager asked -- I am hurting professional relationships after all with some of my terse responses -- but the question though: Is it considered unprofessional to give direct / blunt feedback, especially to underperforming vendors?

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  • We need to maintain the relationship to wrap the final 4 month project and one particular vertical’s support. Afterward, we are pausing further business. They haven’t been notified of this internal decision. Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 17:10
  • What culture do you come from and what about your boss? Is your company multinational?
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 15:52
  • 1
    Is it typically direct communication culture (Netherlands, Australia etc.) Or indirect (China, India, Japan etc.)
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 15:54
  • @Anthony US based — company culture feels indirect Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 16:32

3 Answers 3

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If you repeatedly tell a vendor that the work they are doing is unacceptable, they are quite able to conclude you are about to stop accepting it. Indeed, this has been your decision, or at least almost your decision. You're going to accept it (perhaps with whatever improvement you can induce) for a few more months, because it's not worth the hassle of getting rid of them early. You and your management both agree it's unwise to tell them this, for fear the quality you're getting will sink even lower.

Knowing that, why would you telegraph your plans by saying "It's unacceptable to deliver XYZ after the agreed on time"? Are they likely to improve when they hear that? An individual employee might, hoping to keep their job. Vendors might try harder in the hope they'll get renewed, but they might read the writing on the wall and move their resources to places where they make a difference.

By avoiding blunt statements of unacceptability and instead sweetly asking for tiny tweaks like maybe trying a little bit harder to get the next one in before the deadline or at least not so long after it, the strategy your manager suggests keeps your plans internal and continues not to notify the vendor what they are. Will it lead to better deliverables from this vendor? Honestly, if either your or your boss thought that was possible, you'd be trying for that instead of quietly deciding to to renew them. Work on "not worse than currently" and ride it out, as planned.

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I need behavior to stop, deliverables to change / improve, deadlines to be met.

You need to talk to your manager about this and what will happen if the current behaviour continues. It's possible your manager knows this and thinks that a softly-softly approach is the least risky approach; it won't antagonise a vendor who probably already knows they're going to be ditched.

Or maybe your manager thinks their poor performance is going to continue regardless and has already accounted for it

Or maybe your manager doesn't appreciate the dangers if they don't up their performance and will change the recommendation if you explain this possibility.

Regardless you need to communicate with your manager to express your concerns and listen to why this recommendation was chosen. Your manager's opinion is what matters here; they should know more than we do about the specifics.

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You're asking the wrong question. Your manager has said very clearly to do this thing this way; it would be highly unprofessional to go against that. If you want to change that, you talk to your manager about it, not to the Internet about hypothetical standards which can't possibly apply across all relationships with all suppliers in all industries.

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