It takes a confident company to approach all its major suppliers and ask their opinions on the relationship between them. It also takes a fairly strong-minded supplier to tell its major customer what is wrong with that relationship. But that is exactly what Network Rail has asked its most important contractors to do.
Supplier perception survey
This is the seventh annual Supplier Perception Survey conducted by Network Rail, this year in conjunction with the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and the Railway Industry Association. To review the findings, RailStaff met with Network Rail’s Ian Sexton, director, contracts and placement, and two senior members of Network Rail Infrastructure Projects – David McLoughlin, finance and commercial director, and Katie Ferrier, head of supplier engagement. Peter Loosley, policy director of RIA, and Mike Cocks, UK rail director of CECA, were also on hand to explain the detail of their report.
Leaders from 70 of Network Rail’s main suppliers were interviewed by Ipsos MORI earlier this year.
As Peter Loosley explained, the results were mixed but overall showed a continuing improvement in the way Network Rail is perceived by its suppliers. There was an increase in the number who report that Network Rail is now easier to work with. The number of dissatisfied suppliers fell from 16% in 2011 to only 6%, well below Network Rail’s own target of 15%.
The organisation is seen to be putting safety first, getting a 4.28 out of 5 score. In terms of overall satisfaction, 72% of respondents were either fairly or very satisfied with their relationship with Network Rail, up from 63% in 2011 and only 45% in 2010 – a marked improvement.
The results were mixed but overall showed a continuing improvement in the way Network Rail is perceived by its suppliers.
Best score ever
Another improvement was shown in the rather complicated area of advocacy. This is a measure of how likely a company is to recommend another. Marks range from +2 (speak highly without being asked), through 0 (neutral) to -2 (critical without being asked). The aim is therefore to obtain a positive average as this shows that suppliers are more likely to speak highly of Network Rail than they are to be critical. The overall average was 0.58, with 63% giving positive scores and only 15% negative. This is the best score ever, up from 0.33 and 52% in 2011.
Asked what more Network Rail could do to improve, 21% asked for more collaboration and 20% for more engagement with suppliers. 20% also wanted more consistency, and better planning, better communications and an improved tender process were all mentioned.
An organisation in transition
Comments received from individuals showed that Network Rail is still an organisation in transition. A track company commented: ‘I think Network Rail over the last 12 months has made a tremendous difference in terms of their attitude towards suppliers and we do speak quite highly of them now without being asked.’
However, there is still work to do as a professional services organisation had a different experience: “Too often at project level we find that there’s an adversarial approach with the teams which doesn’t really fit with the collaborative way that we like to do things – we’re not very good at dealing with all the aggression.” That could be why 20% of all replies asked that the corporate message be filtered down throughout the organisation.
So the result of Network Rail’s seventh annual supplier perception survey was positive overall and showed an improvement from last year. However, there is obviously still a way to go. But as Mike Cocks of CECA, said, ‘These days, listening is followed by action. That’s the difference with Network Rail now under David Higgins.’
Writes Nigel Wordsworth