A recent post over on Contracting Excellence on the purpose of contracts indicated that it can be difficult to describe the “purpose” of a contract. I have to disagree. While the definition may vary slightly depending upon the role contracts play in your business and the importance placed upon them by your personnel, the fundamental purposes is unwavering: the purpose of a contract is to define both parties’ responsibilities with respect to a desired scenario outcome to the level of detail necessary to make both parties comfortable with respect to the relationship.
Now, while this may seem like a bit of a cop-out because “responsibilities”, “level of detail”, and “comfortable” are open to debate, this is the slight variance I mentioned. The fundamental, unwavering, purpose is the definition of the desired scenario outcome. This, of course, means that before you start contract negotiations you need to not only have your goals for the negotiation defined, but your goals for the relationship. Do you just want 10,000 units delivered to your warehouse in Omaha in 10 equal shipments on the 21st of every month? Or are you looking for a limited type of partnership where your supplier will partner in research initiatives to replace harmful chemicals with environmentally friendly substitutes in your product designs, to reduce packaging requirements, and to reduce the number of SKUs you need to deliver your products?
If you haven’t defined your desired end-state for the length of the relationship, then you haven’t defined the true purpose of what you want the contract to help you achieve, which means you can’t define the purpose of the contract and what you’ll end up with is a bunch of ‘legally acceptable’ words on paper that don’t please anyone, even if you manage to bring it down to an acceptable reading level.
If you figure out what you want, and get your supplier on the same page, I’m sure that you’ll find the contract will fall into place quite nicely and that you’ll have no problem achieving plain english, which is the best policy.