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Life at Lingo # 2 – Vendor Management: Building Bridges on Shifting Sands

In this edition of Life at Lingo, Dana talks about how she bridges the gap between Lingo24 and our suppliers.

Let’s start with the present – What does a typical day at Lingo24 involve for you?

My role as Head of Vendor Management usually means what it needs to mean at any given time. It has shifted so much in the last few years, that if we look at this article a year from now, this answer will probably not be applicable anymore.

We’re currently in a transition period with all the automated features we’re working towards. These features are essential – they’ll affect the work VMs do internally and our suppliers, from how we record the information we have about their experience, performance, skills and rates to how they end up receiving work from us and doing the actual work on our in-house Computer-Assisted Translation platform.

These days Vendor Management is not as glamorous as it once was – the job is demanding as customers are always looking for services which can better-deliver on their requirements

You mentioned that Vendor Management is not as “glamorous as it once was” – can you give me an idea of how Vendor Management worked in Lingo24’s earlier days?

Everything was a lot more manual, therefore a lot more personal. Transactions happened more smoothly, people were more courteous, and relationships were more ingenuous, I suppose you could say. PMs and translators were friends rather than friendly. I actually created my Facebook account for work, as I initially had a bunch of translators as contacts on it, before any of my real-life friends even had an account.

What did customers ask for back then?

I think clients have always wanted good quality delivered yesterday – whether that’s nowadays or long ago. In the past they didn’t know much about the work that goes into translation, so they used to underestimate the time it took to complete a translation. I think today they expect it delivered quickly specifically because they are aware of the technologies and processes, but don’t understand their capabilities or the limitations of them.

Are customers today asking for more?

Yes, but it’s not so much because the customers are changing, as it is about the translation world of today. The spread of localisation combined with exacting demands for quality means that we would have probably needed over 300 PMs to carry out the same type of work and keep the relationships we had back then – and at least 30 Vendor Managers. Thankfully, processes and technologies move with the times!

Despite modern trends and working methods making things “less personal”, do you feel that the change has been in general positive for the industry? Or do you feel that “something genuine” has been lost compared to those early relationships?

I think it depends on the generation of linguists we are referring to. Younger translators are a lot more used to the Insta-everything: job offers, replying to emails, using technology to speed up their work, etc. For anything extra, there are so many platforms to share personal views and life events. 

The more mature generation will always be nostalgic about pen-palling, emailing with both the work and the personal – that aspect has suffered from fundamental disruptions in the world of automated job offers, and the connection at that level has certainly been lost. 

As for calling either means of communication “genuine”, I am going to be very pragmatic and say that nothing is as genuine as meeting someone in person and being able to share the same space for a while. My dream is to bring more translators and Lingoists together, as I feel that every time that happened, a true bond was created and the relationship we had since was of a different calibre. And while our database grows and I know it will be impossible to meet everyone, I still think meeting the real people behind the usernames we have on our CAT platform will help us better our relationship and understanding of each other overall. 

Let’s jump back to today – In your role, how important is it to be friendly with your colleagues?

Kindness is underrated. I think a lot of us time and again fall into the habit of only covering our own areas, not realising how much we impact each other and how connected the entire business is. We’ve grown so much as well, so it’s harder to know everyone’s names, harder to keep track of who does what. It used to be a simple mechanism, and it probably still could be explained fairly easily, but some of the complications of our business are indeed complex and they require time and attention to get right. And if one doesn’t deal with those on a daily basis, one tends to forget the details over time.

I think that having worked as a translator for a short while and constantly keeping in touch with their reality helps me put things in perspective for colleagues from other areas of the business. For example, I try to debunk assumptions on what a translator would or would not care about when working with us. This is really helpful in negotiation, but also when working with the Business Change team who design the features linguists end up using.

How do you bridge the gap between external translators, linguists, etc., and internal colleagues?

Most of the time, it’s about communication. We’re still quite email centric, but so are our translators. Most of the gaps appear where expectations are not clearly set prior to starting a collaboration, be it on a project or in general. Things we take for granted and assumptions we make don’t always transpire to the other end of the communication, so as much as possible I play the mediator between the two parties, trying to make each side see the other’s point of view. I don’t claim I am all-seeing myself, but through experience, I am noticing the same issues repeat themselves over and over, and this experience has helped me identify a possible crisis early on.

Do you apply techniques such as making yourself visible in the office or hosting introductory meetings to help other departments approach you?

Yes, mostly with new PMs. I have always been the more extrovert VM, so I don’t mind striking up conversations with colleagues I see in the hallways or in the lunch area. Because I also like to read and, especially talk about books, I’m also moderating the Lingo24 Book Club. I founded one with my old VM team in 2007. It slowly faded into nothingness and it disappeared for a while until it was revived in 2015 as an HR initiative across the business. Nowadays there are at least seven Lingoists joining our discussions every month and a few others across the world who read the books we pick – we’ve just had our 30th meeting last week!

In addition, we’ve recently started to get more traction with a regular Board Games Night at the Lingoplex in Timișoara. There are many Board Games aficionados in the office, and playing with colleagues has a charm to it that I love.

Whenever I happen to be in the Edinburgh office, Kerry Owens, Head of Business Change, helps me organise a Board Games Night there too. 

Do you have to approach vendors differently from other Lingo24 colleagues?

Yes, definitely. We try to keep as objective a tone as we can, but ultimately, we are always aware that it’s our linguists who perform the translations that we send to our clients. Being fair to them brings us their respect, professionalism and interest in working with us.

There is always a balance to be kept for when those translators don’t perform at the expected or required level, or when they themselves disrespect our staff, our processes or our terms and conditions.

It’s a big world out there, and there is more translation content being created every year than it is physically possible for the existing and even emerging translators to handle. In some languages, where the overall number of native speakers is small like Icelandic, there are only a handful of translators that a number of agencies fight over.

How do you forward plan?

Internally, I’ve been working to develop an accurate supply and demand model. Unfortunately even if the concept is easy to grasp, gathering and processing the information in an ever-changing business is harder in practice.

Externally, keeping an ear on the ground, as they say. There are a few good resources out there that provide information on what’s going on in the translation world. Facebook groups dedicated for translators, ProZ (which is the largest freelance forum in the world), and research organisations such as Slator and Common Sense Advisory through their reporting and webinars are absolutely invaluable to anyone who works in translation. I am not great at following the world news, but anything that happens in the world has a transformative effect on translation too, not to mention the cost of certain languages.

How do you stay positive in your role?

It’s challenging sometimes, but I am quite an optimistic nature, so I use the “usual” techniques. Trying to focus on where we want to be: it sometimes feels that things are moving slowly, but there are many moving parts to what we are trying to achieve company-wide, and just because something is hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted.

Also, I think of possible worse scenarios: things could always be a lot worse, so it keeps focused and grateful for the things and tools we have at hand to help us move forward. 

Last but not least, I think Lingo24 has an amazing collective of people, who are all highly intelligent and very funny people. I find that interactions with colleagues outside of work always bring positivity. 

Which is what I love about the Book Club and why I look forward to us getting together to talk about things other than work. Unsurprisingly, I notice that my colleagues are not different people outside of office hours, which just shows how much of our own personality we all bring into work. And why this company is so fun to work in. 

Do you see Vendor Management changing over the next few years?

Yes, it would have to, as the world and the translation industry change. I already have some ideas of areas of our relationship with translators where we need to bring new technology to assist and help us scale. Other companies are already living in that future, other things might not have been invented yet. But I am not viewing Vendor Management as a static job – it will have to be versatile and dynamic to reflect the needs of both linguists and the business. 

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