Why Elon Musk Thinks Supply Chain is “Tricky”

If Elon Musk describes something as tricky, then you know that it’s something organisations should be paying close attention to.

Elon Musk

When someone who:

says something is “tricky”, it means something!

“Tricky” Supply Chain

Elon Musk, founder of a number of high profile companies, including Tesla motors, PayPal and SpaceX, was interviewed recently at Code Conference 2016.

In the interview, Musk tells a couple of stories and anecdotes about Tesla’s Supply-Chain that highlights how things can derail fast and put your production to a halt.

It helps to illustrate the role that procurement can, and must, have in anticipating and preventing such situations. Also, in minimising impacts, and if the worst happens, to react quickly, and get back to normal as fast as possible.

You can watch the whole interview below (I recommend you do). If you prefer to go directly to the part I am referring to (1 hour 10 min into the interview), it is here.

Big Ideas Summit 2016: Big Idea #7 – Disrupting Linear Thinking

Alex Kleiner says that procurement organisations need to throw off their linear thinking to increase flexibility and collaboration.

At the Big Ideas Summit 2016, we challenged our thought leaders to share their Big Ideas for the future of procurement.

From ideas that have the potential to change the very nature of the procurement profession, to ones that got the assembled minds thinking about the profession’s impact outside of the organisation, the response we received was amazing.

Alex Kleiner, General Manager, EMEA at Coupa Software, says that organisations as a whole need to throw off their linear thinking and increase flexibility and fluidity.

This transition will allow organisations to eliminate barriers to collaboration, but also enable procurement to focus more on alternatives to savings, such as usability, people, or even lives saved!

Catch up with all the thought leadership and ours delegates’ Big Ideas from the 2016 Summit at the Procurious Learning Hub.

If you want to find out more about Big Ideas 2016, and what we have planned for 2017, you can visit our dedicated website!

If you like this (and you haven’t done so already) join Procurious for free today, and connect with over 15,500 like-minded procurement professionals from across the world.

Read All About It! Procurious Pioneering Conversations in the News

Wherever you look, procurement is in the news. And Procurious is helping to drive this by pioneering conversations in the media. So come, read all about it!

In the News

Here at Procurious, our goal is always to help our community advance. We do this by sharing effective strategies and fresh insights on the latest hot button news, trends, and events shaping the procurement and supply chain profession.

Of course, we do so daily on our platform. But we’re also working to really extend our value in the news media by sharing information that procurement needs on a day-to-day basis.

All this helps to grow awareness of not only the Procurious community, but also the procurement profession as a whole. We don’t want to limit ourselves to just talking procurement. We want people to know the procurement perspective on all the major events happening around the world now.

Here are just some of the topics our founder Tania Seary, and the Procurious team, have been commenting on recently.

Showing the Value of Your Profession

As the conversation around procurement grows online, and CPOs increasingly command a seat in the boardroom, it’s more important than ever for procurement professionals to be bold and share information that demonstrates the value that procurement brings to an organisation.

That could be something as simple as using positive words and imagery in discussions online. Or as complex as a CPO defining value metrics around a key business issue. These conversations can help draw a direct, positive link between what procurement are doing, and what the C-suite is concerned about.

Having the Courage to Drive Global Change

The procurement profession is being challenged to recalibrate its thinking and skills around new realities facing our world.

To add the most value to their organisations, leaders must be agile enough to handle unexpected global events like Brexit; master futuristic technology such as cognitive procurement; turn innovations like 3-D printing into business opportunities, and more.

Today’s procurement professionals must be willing to take new risks to tackle these challenges together. This can happen through social collaboration and online conversations with their teams and stakeholders. None of us can go it alone! By tapping into the broader procurement community, we can summon the courage we need to drive global change.

Winning the War for Talent

The supply chain has grown increasingly complex and global. With this comes more demand for workers who have greater technical skills to tackle these changes head on.

Procurement needs professionals who can specialise in one area, but also understand the broader businesses issues and can have conversations with stakeholders.

The true test for organisations is ultimately attracting those individuals, which comes down to having a responsive and engaging presence on social media.

Stay Tuned for More News!

As a profession, we need to stay dedicated to educating people outside of our community on what procurement is all about.

Stay tuned for additional “New and Noteworthy” blogs to hear more about some of the hot news topics and conversations we’re having, to help our profession and community thrive in this changing world.

How to Make Your Professional Development Budget Friendly

In a cost-conscious organisation, ensuring that your professional development opportunities are budget friendly is key.

Budget Friendly Professional Development

The time has come around again, at least in my organisation, to set development plans for the year ahead. I’ve come across objectives from becoming more knowledgeable about a topic to completing a formal qualification.

Budget Friendly Development

Whatever you decide to set in your development plan, I want to share with you some ideas about sources of development activities.  In particular, budget friendly, free activities.

As some background, many (if not all) professional careers require Continuous Professional Development (CDP), counted by CPD hours, units or points. Depending on the profession you may gain hours by attending seminars, self-education, presenting at conferences, or even reading a book.

CIPS, for example, suggest 30 CPD hours a year for procurement professionals. By comparison, Australian lawyers are required to obtain 10 CPD ‘units’ – however the criteria is stricter.

Without further ado, here are six ideas for low cost CPD activities.

  1. Learn from other areas of your organisation

Step into another team for a meeting, a day, or longer.  As a procurement professional this is a great way to better understand your stakeholders and their needs, and build the relationship.  Conversely, you may seek to second a stakeholder from the business to support a procurement activity or category management.

  1. Public seminars and lectures (attend in person)

Usually accompanied by complimentary breakfast in the AM and drinks in the PM, many universities and service organisations host free seminars and lectures to update the audience on case studies and industry updates.

To stay updated, subscribe to the mailing lists (for Universities) and let your service provider know you’re interested in attending information events.

Needless to say it’s a great way to network, as well as an information gathering exercise to support your category management.

  1. Learning communities – online courses

Along the same lines, there are free online courses hosted by universities though websites such as ‘Future Learn’.  Some upcoming courses include ‘Management & Leadership: Leading a Team’ and ‘Business Process Management: an introduction to process thinking’ – both from Queensland University of Technology.

Other institutions hosting courses include University of Aberdeen, Cardiff University, and the University of Auckland. Program topics span across management, medical, social enterprise – the courses are constantly updated.

Sign up, give it a go. Most courses provide a certificate of participation to wave in the face of your development plan checklist.

  1. YouTube It

YouTube is riddled with hilarious cat videos and fluffy pink unicorns jumping on rainbows. It’s also a great source of inspirational and educational videos – Procurious even has a YouTube channel!  It’s free and not time intensive.

Ted-Ed videos are usually 3-5 minutes, however they are highly addictive. We can also learn new skills to make our work more effective, get technology tips, and learn how make ‘Word’ number formatting cooperate. Remember to reward yourself with another cute cat video. 

  1. Library isn’t just for books

When was the last time you stepped foot – physically – in a library?  You’ll be please to know that you don’t need to leave the comfort of you couch to benefit from your local library these days.  Libraries are technology hubs and, generally speaking, you should be able to access e-books from your local council library.

If you are keen on that rewarding feeling of turning a page, you can find a whole selection of top books here, recommended by Procurious members.

  1. Stand in the spotlight

A friend recently told me that out of the YouTube viewing population, only 0.1 per cent produce the content.

I can’t validate the statistic but let’s consider a procurement conference with 10 presenters and 100 delegates. That means we’re learning from 10 per cent of the population.

Surely you have something great to share! Nominate yourself to present at a conference, write an article – choose a method to tell us what you know.

Depending in the rules you follow, these activities may contribute to your CPD hours and/or your development plan. So go forth and be better than before.

Let the Procurious community know below if you have more ideas to achieve CPD hours and achieve your professional development plan in a fun, budget friendly way.

Throwback Thursday – Is Your Personal Brand Picture Perfect?

Why do you need to keep your personal brand on social media up to scratch? Well, if you don’t your dream job might just pass you by.

Personal Brand

We’re looking back at some of Procurious’ most popular content from the past 12 months. Prompted by some discussions around Procurious HQ on social media profiles, we felt it was a good time to revisit this personal brand article from our founder, Tania Seary.

Your Personal Brand

Today, a staggering 90 per cent of UK employers use social media to find employees. As we all know, a large proportion of roles are never formally advertised, with employers preferring to rely on references and people they “know” to fill important roles.

An important secret you need to know from the recruitment industry is about ‘passive’ candidates. These are people who are not actually applying for jobs, but are seemingly happily engaged in their current roles, as opposed to those who have actively applied for the role. These passive candidates are actually the most valued candidates.

So, the question is how will these silent employers “know” you, if you aren’t out networking, connecting and promoting yourself on social media?

The Importance of Networking

I had the perfect example just this week when a headhunter called me for some recommendations for the Head of a Digital Procurement Marketplace. It was a very senior job, paying in the high $200,000s.

I have worked in this profession for more than 15 years and am very committed to networking. I am fortunate to have met thousands of procurement professionals, have more than 5,000 connections on LinkedIn, and am an active participant in the 16,000 strong Procurious community.

Now, when I was asked for recommendations, who do you think came to mind first? Someone I met ten years ago when eMarketplaces were all the rage? Or someone I saw sharing information on LinkedIn or Procurious earlier in the day? The latter, of course.

In order to help you understand the importance of your network and online profile in helping you get that next job, let me share how my mind worked when trying to think of some suitable candidates.

Standing Out

I started thinking through the thousands of events and meetings I had attended and personalities that had stood out – I came up with a few names.

Next, I started reviewing my online social networks. First I found people who had the right skill set and experience, then I started looking at people’s profiles in depth. This was quite a lengthy process, so I used some filters. This is who didn’t make the list:

  • Profiles with photos.
  • People with limited connections (sorry, to me, its hard to think how anyone in procurement could have fewer than 500+ connections).
  • Profiles with out of date or limited work.
  • People who, when I googled them, weren’t mentioned anywhere, hadn’t published anything, or spoken at an event.

If people met any of these filters, I wasn’t going to recommend them. I would imagine many other senior people like me would use the same process. I know recruiters definitely would…

Why? Because my personal brand is on the line when I recommend someone. I only want to recommend people who are “in the loop” and up to date with what is happening in the world. And those are the people who are building and using their networks.

‘Picture Perfect’ Personal Brand

For this reason, all your work history, successes and contact details are important to include on your social media profile. But I want to particularly stress the importance of an impressive profile picture.

Our mission at Procurious is to change the face of procurement. So many images of procurement out there today reinforce a very old, brown cardigan-clad image. We want to replace those images with fresh, global images of being “the smartest guys in the room”.

Make sure your headshot is just that, a headshot where people can clearly identify you as you. Make sure your attire and demeanour are professional and represent how you would look turning up for a job interview.

There should be no selfies, no wedding photos, no hazy screens, favourite cars, or children. You laugh, but we see a lot of crazy things on Procurious, which is why I’m making this point.

Take care to be consistent across your social media profiles. You want to be recognisable from network to network. You definitely don’t want two photos which look as though they have been taken a decade apart. Consistency sends a message that you are taking an interest in your personal brand.

Personally, I think of a shot of you speaking or in action in a professional setting can be powerful to promote you as a thought leader. These are tough photos to get, so a plain vanilla corporate headshot will also serve you well. Using the same photo across all social media can be powerful as your ‘personal brand’ is consistent and is reinforced each time someone sees you.

After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Plants (Nuclear) and Treehouses – Growing Procurement at UPMG2016

With an eclectic agenda ranging from a keynote on nuclear energy, to a discourse on treehouses, UPMG2016 is shaping up to be a highly informative conference.

Treehouses UPMG2016

The 85th Annual Utility Purchasing Management Group (ISM UPMG) is just on the horizon. The conference has grown significantly in the past decade, and has come to be recognised as one of the premier educational events within the utility supply chain industry.

As ever, the agenda is an eclectic mix of topics. As well as some fascinating sounding keynotes on nuclear power and treehouses, attendees will be discussing issues from sustainability to leadership, politics to human behaviour.

Here’s a small taste of the line-up in store at UPMG2016.

Industry Trends and Nuclear Delivery

Much like ISM’s annual conference, it’s not all about procurement and supply chain. There are plenty utilities-specific sessions to visit.

  • Power Industry

An important session, and one of the main reasons the UPMG conference exists. This session will cover industry trends and how they will affect power industry spending and resource demands over the next 12 to 24 months.

Britt Burt from Industrial Info Resources will also explore spending within industry segments for gas, coal, nuclear, and renewable generation, along with transmission and distribution projects.

  • Human Side of Power Generation

Similarly, this session will look at the human side of power generation. Experts from Associated Builders and Contractors, Alabama Power Project, and TVA, will explore the demand outlook for skilled craft labour supporting the US Power generation fleet.

This will include the cyclic demands of outage seasons, and the unique solutions utilities, contractors and labour are putting in place to meet peak requirements.

  • Delivering the Nuclear Promise

Anthony R. Pietrangelo, Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, will present a session on how the industry is advancing safety, and its reliability and economic performance.

Pietrangelo will also speak about the key role nuclear power has to play in environmental sustainability.

Essential Knowledge and Skills

Sessions that cover essential knowledge and skills relevant to the wider profession include discussions on:

  • mergers and acquisitions
  • inventory analytics
  • the changing source-to-pay technology landscape
  • vendor rationalisation
  • leveraging data
  • best-practice contracting and channel strategies.

Presenting organisations include Oniqua, SAP Ariba, IBM, PwC and leading utilities providers.

Leadership & Treehouses

Alongside the industry and sector specific keynotes, there are a few others that are sure to capture attention.

  • “The Treehouse Guy”

“The Treehouse Guy” Pete Nelson is the star of Animal Planet’s ‘Treehouse Masters’. With a reputation for limitless imagination and incomparable skills, Nelson is known as the best treehouse builder in the world. He lives by the inspirational motto “if you dream it, you can build it”.

  • The Science of Leadership

Huffington Post columnist Vanessa Van Edwards is the lead investigator at Science of People, a human behaviour research lab. Her session, “The Science of Leadership”, delves into the latest neuroscience, behavioural economics and phycology research to uncover whether leaders are born or made.

  • Political Climate – Campaign ’16

Hawthorn Group Chairman and CEO, John Ashford, will give a veteran political insider’s look at the 2016 US election campaigns and victory prospects in the race for President, Senate, House and Governor.

Build Your Network

As every conference-going procurement professional knows, one of the most exciting aspects these events is the opportunity to build your network.

Attendees will rub shoulders with colleagues, industry experts, thought-leaders and suppliers on the golf course, in Nashville’s bars and restaurants, and at the conference itself. 

Are you planning to attend UPMG2016? The Procurious community would love to hear from you after the conference about your key takeaways from the event.

The Utility Purchasing Management Group’s 2016 conference will be held in Nashville from 11th – 13th September. You can register here.

Power Dynamics: Emotional Conflict in Indirect Procurement

Indirect procurement implementations are tricky. Take into account power dynamics, and there’s an emotional conflict that needs to be overcome too.

Power Dynamics

At a recent CIPS event in Zurich, the topic was disruption in indirect procurement. There were some excellent presentations and lively discussions afterwards on working with business functions.

But when I raised the fact that, in fact, successful indirect procurement implementations take away power from functional heads, the reaction was raised eyebrows.

While leading the build up of a global indirect procurement business partner organisation, I was sure that the hardest part would be getting the right talent to face off to the business. And if this match up were done correctly, all would take care of itself.

This formula worked well at first, and the team was making inroads with the business and delivering real savings.

But as we got into more controversial categories, the team started talking more and more about how difficult some business people were, especially senior ones.

Targets pressure was high, and the tension mounted both from the team and from executive management. My thinking that things would smooth out on their own over time was dead wrong!

Addressing Power Dynamics

Then I realised we were actually in the midst of three power dynamics that were holding us back. These had to be addressed.

Buyer & Supplier

The first power dynamic is the obvious one that happens when you cut across existing relationships between the business and the suppliers. It’s not just about interrupting nice lunches, but also touching the egos of the functional colleagues because procurement was:

  • Saying the business were not expert negotiators, which some colleagues took very personally.
  • Interfering with relationships where the business colleague had been the centre of attention and they now had to share airspace.

We were still at the beginning, so some good stakeholder management allowed us to work through this power dynamic by:

  • Putting in highly qualified and business knowledgeable procurement managers with great business partnering skills.
  • ‘Love and Care’ – taking time to listen and understand their concerns, which lead to better understanding but also assuaged egos.
Loss of Power

The second power dynamic was harder. The reality was that as spend came under control and savings were embedded in budgets up front:

  • Budget holders were losing decision making power over ‘their’ savings that could no longer be used to fill gaps.
  • There was more scrutiny, and decisions on re-investment were being taken at a more senior and cross-functional level.

Needless to say, they didn’t like it!

At this point, even the most fearless and confident team members were getting stressed. We needed to find a way to reduce the tension. We did it with:

  • ‘Tough Love’ management engagement – being very transparent that, yes, it was a shift of decision making, and not pretending that it wasn’t (supported by ‘Love and Care’).
  • Support and coaching of the procurement teams, so they could talk openly about difficult clients, and then work up solutions to solve it.
Senior Management Power

The third power dynamic is the trickiest. This was about very senior management and their personal skin in the game for the indirect procurement program:

  • The easy blanket ‘we support you’ was not giving enough air cover for the complex and more controversial projects.
  • We had specific blockers in the system at very senior levels that needed to be overcome to move forward.

The indirect procurement leadership discussed the issue intensely and decided to try a new direction:

  • For each of the controversial projects we presented to the senior committee, we asked for an individual sponsor from them
  • We also asked each sponsor to not only enable cut through with their own organisations, but also those of their peers

They said yes and volunteered specific sponsors right then and there.

This created space for the team and also created a peer pressure dynamic among the executives. We reported regularly, and no one wanted to be behind.

The team then took forward a series of projects closely aligned with the business functions, including transforming legal services, establishing consulting preferred suppliers, and changing the business model with marketing agencies.

Changing Relationships

In addition to delivering significant savings, there was a deep change in the relationship between indirect procurement, their functional colleagues, and the senior management, as a climate of respect and common purpose took shape.

I knew things had moved on, when at a regular update, the CFO made a classic comment that ‘his wife found a cheaper plane ticket on the internet’, and his peers looked at him and we moved on as if it hadn’t been said.

Implementing indirect programs involves strong emotions and power dynamics which need both active upward selling and strong change management. This might involve simply getting the right people together to make a fit for purpose plan for formal executive presentations and stakeholder management.

Solving the underlying emotional conflicts creates trust and delivers results.

Pauline King is the CEO of Heykins GmbH, Rapid Results Procurement, focused on working with clients’ existing teams to deliver tangible financial results.

She is a recognised expert in indirect procurement with deep operational experience in procurement transformation. Pauline also works closely with The Beyond Group AG where she heads up the Indirect Procurement Practice.

Beware the Scary Old-World CPO

Is your career in the grips of a scary, old-world CPO? How do you recognise if your boss is one, and what can you do about it?

Scary old-world CPO

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

– Lewis Carroll, 1871

You’ll know a scary, old-world CPO when you see one.

I had almost forgotten about them until I found myself in a meeting with one last week. Somehow in recent times I have escaped the horror of hearing such old-world, closed network thinking like:

  • “I don’t want my team on social media, someone may poach them”
  • “We’re too busy working to be looking at what’s happening in the rest of the world”
  • “We know our business best”
  • “What if my team spends all day on social media?”

To the team at Procurious, these comments are like blasphemy. We’re on a mission to change the face of procurement, and give the images associated with the profession a makeover. We want to replace the old brown cardigan-clad stereotype, with fresh images of procurement as the “smartest guys in the room”.

My meeting with this archetypal nemesis reminded me of all the reasons why we founded Procurious. It gave me increased motivation to continue our mission, and gave rise to an overwhelming urge to protect all the amazing rising stars in procurement from the soul-crushing dictatorship of a scary, old-world CPO.

The Old-World CPO

Let’s face it, if your personal characteristics and actions portray an image that you’re living in the past, the chances are good you are. People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.

As such, we want to reward the great bosses, those leading by example, keeping their teams energised, investing in individuals’ careers, and continuously pushing procurement to excel.

What are the tell-tale signs of a scary, old-world CPO? The next time you’re going for an interview, or looking at your current boss, don’t fall for the flashy suit, big title, or even the big brand name they represent.

If the person opposite you falls into one of these categories, the chances are your career development will come to a screeching halt under such a draconian regime.  

The (Digitally) Invisible Man…or Woman

Check whether this CPO has any sort of online presence. Tell-tale signs of invisibility include profiles with no photos, or inappropriate photos, scant, or no, information, and no visible mentions in a Google search.

There may have been a freak internet-cleansing event, wiping out all references to this person, but the reality is that they probably haven’t spoken at any events, written anything interesting, taken the time or effort to understand social media, or understand the fact that you will be researching them online.

Also, beware those CPOs who have fewer than 500 connections in their network. Some CPOs do make the case of quality vs quantity. But, if you’re working in a large company, have a large team, and work with an extensive supply base, shouldn’t 500 quality connections be expected?

You (and the majority of your peers) want to work for someone who is an influencer. You want a leader with a wide range of connection they can introduce you to, and broaden your horizons. Working with someone with a limited network can be a road to nowhere for your career prospects.

Robinson Crusoe – the Loner 

This CPO really is an island.

They don’t believe in networking, collaborating, or outside knowledge flow, and believe information is for their own personal advantage to build their power base. The Robinson Crusoe profile can physically manifest itself as an executive sitting in a corner by themselves, with their back to the team.

This information block exists not only within their psyche, but extends to the procurement team itself. This old-world CPO has particularly old-world views, and creates a knowledge hierarchy, where they take all the great (and politically advantageous) ideas as their own.

Another problem with this approach is that it encourages working in a closed network as part of the norm. These scary old world CPOs end up staying in the same profession, peer group, company, or industry, invariably associating with people they already know. This peer group continues to reinforce their outdated approach to management, and their thinking is never challenged.

The new world CPO is collaborative, a “true influencer” and shares their knowledge freely and widely.

My view is that a CPO’s main job is to not only drive change and innovation (and make a couple of deals on the side), but to give their team the opportunity to access tools and discuss ideas with other professionals, thought leaders and experts from around the globe.

Yet I still see CPOs encouraging teams to work in isolation, unaware that there is whole universe of knowledge to help them grow and excel in their jobs.

The Devil Wears Prada – The Career Crusher

Their desk calendar reads 2016, but their attitude towards employees is stuck in the 1950s.

Yes, your boss should have an overall plan for how their team is delivering against the overall business strategy. But they should also have a plan for you – both for what you need to deliver, and how you need to develop in the future.

They should be committed to diversity and promoting young talent, to making sure their team reflects this commitment and is generating opportunities for the next generation of talent.

The best CPOs are obsessed with finding the best people and helping them develop. They send their people out to be trained in the skills they need, expose them to new opportunities, and build peer networks that will develop leadership skills.

The worst CPOs keep their category managers locked away from the rest of the world in fear that their people will be poached. A great CPO doesn’t need to worry about this. They know that they have developed a great employee value proposition that keeps their team engaged and retained.

Reverse Mentoring

Let’s not be too hard on these talented Heads of Procurement. They can’t all be cut from the same cloth.

Why not get on the front foot and try and initiate some reverse mentoring. With a few polite, and well-placed pointers, I am sure you could help turn your scary, old-world CPO into a procurement rock star.

Sharing your skills and knowledge could help your CPO become increasingly tech savvy and an advocate for technology, including social media, for procurement. And just in case you need some more points, you can find a 5-point checklist on being a great procurement boss right here.

We look forward to seeing you both on Procurious soon!

Beyond Stereotypes – Building Cross-Cultural Relationships

Don’t assume everyone in the same culture has the same norms. Getting beyond cultural stereotypes, and seeing the individual, is key to good cross-cultural negotiation preparation.

Stereotypes

In our previous article, we kicked off our recap of, and insight into, the intricacies of cross-cultural negotiations.

In the second part of the series, our negotiation experts discuss cultural dimensions literature, the importance of moving beyond stereotypes, and why time should always be on your mind.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

The participants were asked to reflect on the landmark research on cross-cultural negotiations of Geert Hofstede. Hofstede identified six key cultural dimensions, which would vary from culture to culture, that all need to be considered as part of negotiation preparation.

These are:

  • Individualist vs. collectivistic
  • Power distance (i.e. egalitarian or hierarchical)
  • Masculinity or femininity (focus on task vs. relationship)
  • Uncertainty avoidance (related to taking risk)
  • Long term vs short term orientation
  • Indulgence vs. severity (the attitude toward enjoying life and having fun).

Each culture will approach these dimensions differently, taking a spot on a sliding scale between the two extremes. Knowing where cultures sit can be a huge assistance when going into cross-cultural negotiations.

Understanding Cultural Differences

Three of the Roundtable participants discussed their experiences in negotiations when taking these dimensions into consideration. Bérénice Bessiere, Director, Procurement and Travel Division at World Intellectual Property Organization, discussed the different approaches to gender between European and Chinese companies.

Bérénice visited China to lead a negotiation. Although she was the senior buyer, she was assumed to be junior to her younger, male colleague. During the trip, it became clear that the supplier treated its female employees in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable in Europe.

The supplier didn’t win the business in the end (although for reasons other than this). Bérénice admitted she had wondered how the relationship would have worked if they had.

Another example was offered by Xin-jian Carlier Fu, Strategic Sourcing Commodity Manager at Honeywell. She highlighted the cultural differences between Chinese and Americans in business negotiations.

While many Chinese organisations operated with a very traditional, reserved culture, the Americans projected a very over-confident, talkative image in negotiations. Such was the difference to how business was conducted in China that it actually worked as a negative in negotiations between the two groups.

Finally, Carina Kaldalian, External Supply Governance Specialist at Merck, shared her experience based on her own cultural differences. In her home country of Lebanon, being an hour late to a social event is entirely acceptable.

So when Carina arrived for her first social meeting in Switzerland 10 minutes late, she thought she was doing ok. However, it was seen as unacceptable by the people she was meeting with.

This helped her make changes to her own behaviour, while giving her a better understanding of punctuality in different cultures.

Going Beyond Stereotypes

Giuseppe Conti made the point that cultural averages and stereotypes don’t necessarily apply to all individuals. Individual culture is instead influenced by a number of factors including work experience, upbringing, family values, and education, amongst other things.

When negotiating in a cross-cultural situation, it’s important to get past stereotypes, and uncover specific traits of the individuals you are dealing with.

The participants had a number of ways that this could be done. Thierry Blomet, Senior Vice President at Kemira, suggested an informal discussion over dinner the day before the negotiation. This would allow people to avoid entering negotiations without having ever met the other party before.

Other participants highlighted the importance of building relationships, and getting to know the other party better. This was especially important when dealing with Asian counterparts.

Other good strategies were identified as building information through local agents, creating an emotional connection, and building trust in the early stages. With high value placed against trust by many cultures, it’s key to get it right. Participants even highlighted instances where contracts had been signed on the basis of trust alone.

All Down to Timing
Laurence Perot
Laurence Perot

Time was also a factor mentioned by the Roundtable. Laurence Pérot, Director of Global & Strategic Sourcing at Logitech, recommended planning for time, as it’s likely to be treated differently in different cultures.

Laurence recommended planning for more time than you think you will need. This will help ensure you have good conversations, and get what you need. It will also help to show the other party that you’re not just rushing to close the deal.

However, there were also warnings that suppliers might try to use time to their advantage. Ali Atasoy, CMO Operations Manager (Intercontinental) at Merck, stated that the other party may be deliberately slowing the negotiation down, as efficiency may not be at the top of their agenda. He advised patience in this situation, helped by knowing that there were no major time limitations for your negotiations.

Finally, the reputation of an organisation was also highlighted. Matthias Manegold, Head of Procurement and Supply Chain Practice at Kinetic Consulting, advised that procurement professionals need to be consistent in their negotiations, and make sure the other party feels good about the outcomes.

Outcomes will drive what people say about you, and negative comments could harm your reputation with the wider supply base.

In the final article in this series, we’ll look at discussions on how individuals can adapt their behaviours based on information that is gathered, as well as the experts’ advice on how to negotiate with people of their own nationality.

This roundtable was organised by Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a Swiss training company that specialises in Negotiation & Influencing training. Giuseppe Conti, has over 20 years of Procurement experience and 10 years of negotiation teaching experience at leading Business Schools (including Oxford, HEC Paris, IMD and ESADE).

Welcome to the Uncanny Valley

Why are we happy to watch movies with AI and robots, but feel disturbed by near-identical humanoid robots in real-life? Welcome to the Uncanny Valley.

Uncanny Valley

Considering the robot theme of my last two posts, I was somewhat pleased last week to have picked up a radio show from the BBC in their series ‘The Why Factor’ called “Fear of Robots” in which they make some of the same points concerning our assumptions that robots will always be benign.

The presenter found himself somewhat disquieted by a robotic seal pup, and completely disturbed by an almost-human android.

He had, so the saying goes, entered the uncanny valley. Although we humans react (and sometimes over-react) very positively to human-like features – cartoon characters, dolls and the like – we have a generally very bad response to simulations which are very, very nearly, but not completely, life-identical.

The Uncanny Valley

Despite the extraordinary advances in CGI, many filmgoers find greater satisfaction and easier suspension of disbelief in watching old-style animation, than movies which seek to recreate the real world.

The characters just don’t move right, or look right, or something.  The difference is so slight and subtle, yet rings huge alarm bells in our heads.

One contributor to the radio show described very-near-human robots as giving us the same heebie-jeebies as walking corpses might. After all, they are cold, their skin tone is wrong, they don’t move naturally. Of course they freak us out.

Away from the uncanny valley, though, we love the broader approximations to human behaviour.  As we turn away in discomfort from the close-to-real, we delight in the more grotesque caricature.

It seems we’re more comfortable with the messy, chaotic, imperfect real-world, than a more sterile near-perfection.  Perhaps that speaks to a deep aspect of human nature, something that we software developers might do well to pay heed to.

Emotional Reactions

There are clear cases of this emotional reaction to human-like behaviour in the use of software, especially at work.

The response that many, if not all of us, had to that [expletive deleted] animated paper clip when it popped up and said, “I see you’re trying to write a letter, would you like some help with that?” was no different to the reaction we’d have to the co-worker who would keep dropping by to say, “You don’t want to do it like that. Do you?”.

Approximating the real world, including human behaviour, when developing the software that we need to interact with, is thus a complex matter.

Get it right and the user experience is one of delight and sustained engagement. But go too far and users are actively put-off by the feeling that the software itself is somehow working against us.

At GEP we’ve been working on user experience technology that puts the human at the heart of process.  We are, of course, some way from software that has a human personality. And although the possibilities are immense, they are not without risk.

Imagine sitting down at your desk each day to find that overnight everything has been rearranged to make it slightly more convenient for you.  Perhaps so you don’t have to reach so far for the telephone, or your chair is aligned more ergonomically to the monitor.

Such things could dramatically improve our day…or screw it up entirely, leaving us feeling irritated or even violated.  As creatures of habit we naturally reach for the place where the telephone is, which is not always ideal.  It just is.

A Real-Life, Virtual Assistant

But there is another, more subtle, set of possibilities that we might permit to assist us without, to be frank, freaking us out.

You might imagine an assistant who begins by learning how you work, where the shortcuts are that you naturally take, and how other might be offered to speed things along.   Then when the time is right, you assistant might suggest you have some choices, all in good time, no rush.  The assistant makes notes of how they can improve your life and recommends rather than enforces changes.

In time you might start noticing that there is less clutter around and you’re completing tasks faster without having been trained, directed or instructed.  User consent to small changes that help keep things tidy could be far more effective than wholesale re-ordering of menus and icons.

It’s something we have to keep in mind when developing software that should be designed to help you work.  There is a fine but definite line between being helpful and just downright irritating.

It reminds me of the wonderful scene in Father Ted where a sales assistant tries to tempt Mrs. Doyle with an automatic tea-maker.   “It will take the misery out of making tea.”  Her response?  “Maybe I like the misery!”