We, as South African’s are a funny breed. Our indigenous phrases, concepts and mixed languages bring character and personality to the nation. One local phrase that seems to confuse tourists is the notorious ‘just now’. The dictionary definition of this phrase refers to something that happened a little while ago, or alternatively something happening at that moment – just, now. Not in South Africa. ‘Just now’ is an abstract concept of time which we use when describing something we will get to soon (or never).

This brings me to the just culture. For all suppliers out there, this one is for you.

I’m going to throw one last definition out there – for those that feel they are being schooled, it might just end up that way. The word ‘just’ means ‘exact’ or ‘exactly’.  The correct use of the term would be when giving precise, exact, and definite instructions or requirements. As suppliers, this is rarely the case.

What happens when a supplier receives a just request:The Just Culture

  1. Alarm bells ring
  2. Panic sets in
  3. A task force is assembled
  4. Coffee starts brewing

‘Why?’ you ask? Take a look at this practical example: It’s a Saturday evening, your day has been filled with family brunches, in-laws and errands. On your way home, your partner mentions they have been invited to have drinks with friends. They assure you that it’s “just going to be half an hour and one or two drinks”. The next morning you’re placing water and painkillers next to the bed, cooking up a greasy breakfast and trying to make as little noise as possible – knowing full well that they didn’t “just stay for half an hour” and it certainly wasn’t “just one or two drinks”. ‘Just’ in our culture is never ‘just’.

Clients can’t possibly possess detailed, in-depth industry knowledge about their supplier’s fields. This leads to innocent just requests that fall outside an agreed upon scope, have severe time implications and require additional resources.

A ‘just’ request looks something like this:

‘Dear Avstage,

Sorry this is last minute, we just need audio and visual for an event this Saturday for a function hosting 340 people – seated.’

The task is not impossible, but does disrupt ‘business-as-usual’. There are implications for the supplier and strings that need pulling, to make this happen.

We are not concerned with last minute requests. What affects us is when a client says they just need us to meet a simple requirement.
Even though we ask questions, the client makes out that it is really a simple request. We provide a quote based on their, non-technical brief, they accept the quote and provide a purchase order… Then the just requests start arriving. Can you please just add a headset microphone for the MC? We are just adding a small band and they have a tech rider. Can you just have someone play some background music? Can one of your guys just play some current music after the event? We may just have some dancing for a short time. Starting to get the picture?

In our economy, clients and consumers are afforded the right to choose between a variety of suppliers which leaves suppliers vulnerable and feeling obliged to meet these just requests out of fear of losing the client. The other side of the coin is that in-demand suppliers have the luxury of choosing which clients they work with. They can fire difficult, late-paying or predictable just-request clients.

How to be a good client:

Suppliers take great care to ensure high levels of customer satisfaction but there are also things the client can do to ensure healthy relationships with suppliers.

  1. Ensure you engage with suppliers within realistic timeframes. Anything is possible, within reason and if the timeframe allows for it.
  2. Give a detailed brief with exact requirements.
  3. Ask the supplier if they need any specific details you may have left out of the brief.
  4. Be sensitive about ‘just’ requests. Consider the effort and resources your request requires and the possible stress it could create.
  5. If your just request falls outside of the agreed-upon scope, mention up-front that you are willing to pay for the extra time, services or equipment.
  6. If you are an intermediary and circumstances allow, take suppliers to meet with clients. This way you, your client and the supplier are not playing a game of broken telephone.
  7. Treat suppliers with respect throughout the entire process to build long-term, pleasant working relationships.

Just asking your family, friends or suppliers to do something often has implications and unconsidered effects. You will quickly and easily become a pleasure to work with by treating ‘just’ requests with mindfulness and appreciation. This is not a one-sided effort. Suppliers should try educate clients about their service offering and be completely transparent about the potential implications of last minute requests.

What are your thoughts on ‘just requests’ or better yet, what has been your latest experience?