Procurement In 7 Memes

They say a picture tells a thousand words. How about a procurement meme?

Okay, millennials. Strap yourselves in, because I’m going to attempt to meme. Is meme even a verb? Perhaps not, but that isn’t going to stop me.

For older readers who don’t really know (or care) what memes are, don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. Whether it’s Bad Luck Brian, Kermit Sipping Tea, or King Leonidas screaming “SPARTA”, I’ll attempt to add a bit of context around the meme before applying a Procurement gripe to each.

1. Boromir Demurs

Rivendell; Middle Earth. The mood is tense. Gandalf has brought together a motley crew of humans, elves, dwarves and hobbits to discuss how best to destroy the One Ring, which has to that point proven impervious to both magical and physical force. A solution is put forward – take the ring to the enemy realm of Mordor and throw it into the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. At this point, the human warrior Boromir makes his most famous speech of the film, beginning with the words “One does not simply walk into Mordor…”

Since The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir (Sean Bean) has become a meme, trotted out as a retort whenever someone suggests something that’s impractical, unrealistic, or simply a bad idea.

Here’s my procurement take:

Amirite? (Am I right?) This is Procurement 101 stuff – a company that selects its suppliers based solely on the cheapest quote will inevitably run into risk and quality issues. And besides, if that’s the strategy, then you might as well set up an e-auction system that automatically selects the cheapest bidder, then dispense with the procurement function altogether. Which brings us to…

2. Bad Luck Brian

Poor Brian. This high-schooler in his plaid vest and braces never gets a break. The meme generally follows the formula “[Brian does something positive … something terrible happens”]. For example:

“Spends all night studying … sleeps through exam”

“Only Facebook friend is mum …. cyberbullied”

“Wins a free cruise … on the Titanic”

From a procurement viewpoint:

Procurement professionals LOVE robotic process automation. Think of all those humans doing repetitive tasks at your organisation that could just as well be done by a robot. It’s a cost-saving no-brainer, right? Bring in the bots! Great idea – until it happens to you.

3. American Chopper Argument

Stills of row between father and son from the reality show American Chopper have recently become internet hits. The meme format lends itself well to any internet argument – whether it’s a discussion about the best pizza toppings, or a protracted “debate” in an academic journal.

For my text, I’ve taken an excellent debate from the Procurious Discussion section about reporting on Cost Avoidance. Check it out:


4. More American Chopper

I could do this all day … here’s another debate from the Discussion section, this time on Decentralised vs Centre-Led Procurement:


5. Distracted Boyfriend

This has to be my favourite meme of all due to its simplicity. A man walking down the street turns to leer after a woman walking past while his girlfriend stares at him with an appalled look on her face.

In procurement land:

We’re about more than cost savings!! Really!

I’ve heard this sad story again and again. Procurement professionals are eager to show their organisations that they’re more than a one-trick pony. We talk about how we can improve operational efficiency, bring in CSR & social procurement initiatives such as fighting modern slavery, and even generate top-line growth, but it’s incredibly disheartening when the boss (usually a CFO) only cares about one thing… cost savings.

 

6. Leonidas Goes Nuts

The film 300, a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in the Persian Wars, contains a gem of a scene where the Spartan King Leonidas loses his patience after being threatened and insulted by a Persian envoy. The envoy, suddenly in fear of his life, says “This is madness” before Leonidas responds with: “This is SPARTA” – and kicks him down a well. It’s an intense moment, as the Spartans know that the murder of the envoy makes war inevitable.

I’m really not advocating the murder of suppliers, but there are moments when you do have to remind them of the terms of a contract.

 

7. Kermit The Frog looks smug

This meme is particularly useful if you want to be facetious. Kermit the frog, calmly sipping a glass of Lipton tea, has lent himself to many a captioned meme ending with the phrase “… but that’s none of my business”.

As procurement professionals continue to wage their endless struggle against maverick spend, we inevitably have a lot of “I told you so” moments when an unapproved supplier turns out to be a disaster. Along comes Kermit…

5 Tips On What To Do When Things Go Wrong In Procurement

We share 5 tips on how to manage procurement difficulties when the policies and guidelines fall short and things start going wrong…

Over the course of the last decade, a lot has changed in public procurement. Among other developments, international organisations have gotten more involved in public procurement policy, creating toolkits (think O.E.C.D in Paris), and standardising how procurement is integrated in national strategic plans and development projects (e.g., World Bank programs, and that of other regional and international financial institutions).

There’s also been a big push for procurement legislation to be implemented in evolving and emerging markets, ensuring greater transparency of government spending. In addition, the private sector has found itself more involved in public-private partnerships, and procurement rules have evolved to accommodate this growing trend.

Despite these efforts, one area still lacks sufficient guidance: what to do when things go wrong in procurement!

This article will share 5 tips on how to manage public procurement difficulties when the policies and guidelines fall short. The objective is to avoid or limit potential occurrences that may adversely affect the execution of procurement processes, while maintaining that the expected result must be in conformity with applicable laws, regulations and procedures.

1. Classify problems based impact

Begin by consulting the internal policies and procedures for procurement, and take note of language related to complaints, protests, challenges or errors. Once you identify whether a principle of procurement or an organizational policy has been violated, you must attempt to classify the impact of the problem.
Procurement problems can have either a high, medium, or low impact on the outcome of the process. High impact problems typically affect mandatory aspects of a procurement process and often lead to cancellation. Medium impact errors, may result in a high risk of failure of some aspect of the procurement and can lead to a flawed or failed procurement process. Low impact problems, may be signalled by a disgruntled bidder through a written complaint, or even a formal bid protest, but often lack evidence.

Low impact issues frequently result in “paused” procurement proceedings, reputational damage, or reluctance of potential bidders to respond to future opportunities. You should have a pulse on your organisation’s risk tolerance thresholds. If your organisation is comfortable managing risks, then there may already be a plan in place outlining the resources to assist you in managing procurement difficulties. However, if the organization is risk-adverse, then you will need to develop your own plan, pooling all available resources.

But, before you pull out all the stops, assessing the impact helps to categorise the problem by understanding the procurement risk, then applying practical measures to mitigate.

2. Separate ethical issues from operational ones

Literature on integrity in public procurement tends to focus on conflict of interest, fraud and corruption. Other than advice on disclosure, recusal, or reporting on these incidences, little additional guidance is provided to procurement professionals, unless they’ve received specialized training.

Certainly society has a vested interest in ensuring that public funds are used for their intended purpose, not only because we all benefit when the funds are used for the public good, but also because those funds come from us; the tax-paying public. It is therefore critical that ethical concerns in public procurement be managed apart from operational challenges.

When the principles of fairness, equal treatment, and due process are violated, they can taint the credibility of the entire process, and that of involved public procurement officials to a degree resulting in termination of employment. Worse yet, integrity matters can lead to criminal liability.

Fortunately, there are tools and mechanisms specifically designed to address ethical dilemmas including: ethics codes; declaration and waiver forms; internal and accounting controls; segregation of duties; and access to ethics officers, among other options.

All of the above should be implemented vigorously from the top to bottom of the public procurement hierarchy to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

3. Keep and follow a procurement audit trail

An audit trail is documentary evidence of the sequence of activities that have affected, at any given time, a specific procurement procedure. It ensures there is an internal control environment that supports a transparent procurement process.

In procurement, the audit trail consists of two main categories:

A. Information about the actual data generated; it’s the who, what, where, what kind, and how many documentation of the procurement process; and

B. Information about how data was analysed (e.g., notes kept by evaluators, information flows in committee, identifying who will be responsible for what, etc.).

Procurement professionals should be informed of the scope of the audit, which would provide a window on the risk areas requiring special attention in any procurement organization. Procurement errors tend to revolve around completeness, timeliness, and accuracy of processes. Resulting recommendations often point to areas for improvement in procurement planning, tools, training, monitoring and reporting, and staffing resources. Pay particular attention to those.

4. Integrate other resources across your organisation

Procurement challenges whether in the form of bid protests, professional error in the process, failure to adhere to the terms of the solicitation, or the like, should not be managed in a silo by the procurement department. Going it alone is not an option!

Team effort is particularly necessary when managing public procurement spend. A good team scenario would involve four to five staff, including:

i)  the manager of the affected department;

ii)  the procurement professional in charge of the process in question;

iii)  a legal procurement expert who can explain the legal implications for the organization and enforce the organisation’s legalstrategy, including who can bring a challenge, under what rules, in what forum, and potential legal consequences;

iv)  a subject matter expert (on call) who can provide specific information on the product or service being procured, including market conditions; and

v)  a financial or accounting member who understands the budget lines of the organisation and keeps tabs on potential expenditure linked to the procurement error or challenge.

5. Seek external expert guidance

Best efforts should be made to resolve the matter internally, however, sometimes, the internal resources are insufficient. If your organisation permits seeking external assistance, and there are no available in-house “experts” with the experience to assist, then external resources may be the best option.

In addition to international agency guidelines, other tools to explore include:

i) national laws, with associated guidelines on how to manage procurement issues;

ii) specialty firms for procurement professionals, offering on-line consultations; and

iii) local, national, and international trade associations which offer case studies, “thought” pieces, and news-setting precedent from procurement experiences gathered from global sources. Many professional associations also offer webinars and chats with other procurement professionals, which allow anonymity, while offering a chance to share experiences and seek guidance to facilitate answers to the most difficult of procurement problems.

In the end, whether in procurement or any other field, experience is your most important ally. The more experience we gain, the more we develop the competencies necessary to manage procurement challenges, along with the confidence to do so with ease. Each challenge brings important lessons, and each lesson will help you overcome new obstacles the next time things go wrong in procurement.

“Wat the?” 5 things I learnt about Watson Supply Chain in Vegas

Rather than adopting the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mantra, I wanted to share some new insights into Watson that I gleaned at IBM’s mega thought leadership event – Think 2018.

1. Watson needs education – but it’s a fast learner!

When you think of Watson, you probably think of a computer that can win Jeopardy and has a PhD in a whole lot of things…but in reality, when Watson enters a new profession, it is like a child that needs to learn.

As humans, we learn from birth and can only pass on that knowledge to someone who in turn spends time learning.  AI, like Watson, is similar. It learns by gathering information (i.e. data) and interacting with humans.

You could liken Watson Supply Chain today to a  5th-grader, but its rate of growth is so exponential that it will have a Master’s Degree in Supply Chain within the next three months.

How? Because IBM’s own supply chain practitioners are training it daily by feeding their US$30Bn spend through Watson, pushing through millions of documents, data elements and hundreds of real life supply chain challenges that are resolved each day in the Watson Resolution room. Last year, Watson supported $71.7 billion in revenue, managed 150,000 contracts, and supported 20,000 professionals and 11,000 suppliers to ensure 5,000,000 deliveries were made.

With every insightful response and interaction, Watson is getting smarter. The more Watson is used, the more knowledgeable and insightful it becomes.

I first met Watson at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive conference in London last year. Catching up six months later at Think 2018 in Vegas… even I could see the growth.  Watson is now answering supply chain questions in natural language (plain English), and can curate what is most critical for you to pay attention to – alerting you to an impending disruption, immediately assessing the financial impact of the disruption and will help you drill down effectively to understanding what the issues are that you want your team to resolve, and quickly. Watson does this through opening a resolution room, quickly providing answers that typically reside in different system which reducing the time needed to write emails, make phone calls and follow-ups.

The team at IBM told me that their own implementation of Watson has seen disruption mitigation time reduced from days down to hours – or even minutes in some cases – which is critical when you’re moving inventory in the millions of dollars.

“Watson is brand new every day.  Every time you go away, it grows and becomes more interesting, because it is constantly learning.  You come into the office and there will be a new API. Watson doesn’t take a day off, it is adding knowledge and features 24/7/365.”

Watson Supply Chain Program Director, Rob Allan.

2. Watson Supply Chain is helping save lives

… literally. One of the first user test cases for Watson is a global philanthropic organisation working to improve vaccine distribution in Kenya. Local African pharmacies battle constant low stock of critical medical supplies due to lack of inventory and poor visibility across the supply chain.

It is still early days, but the IBM team is really motivated and engaged with this important humanitarian project. I caught up with IBM Watson Supply Chain’s Program Director Rob Allan, who was energised after a recent visit to Kenya. “It’s great to be putting Watson to work on such a worthwhile project. In Africa, it’s not uncommon for a mother to walk half a day to get medicines, with no guarantee that she will be able to secure what she needs. Our program will deliver vaccines and supplies to more than 4,000 delivery points in Africa. This should make a huge difference to access much needed healthcare. We really hope we can make an impact.”

3. The proof is in the pudding.

 Leading companies, like Lenovo, have started mapping their thinking supply chain journey with Watson…but the biggest proof of concept is IBM itself who has been using Watson to manage its multi-billion dollar global supply chain for the last 18 months.

We all know that necessity is the mother of invention and this was certainly the case for the creation of this product. You may not know that it was actually IBM’s internal supply chain team that created Watson Supply Chain Insights.

If you listen to this webinar, you will learn that IBM’s VP Supply Chain at that time, Joanne Wright, had an “aha” moment back in 2011. A series of unthinkable events prompted Joanne to look for a solution. The Japanese Tsunami had wiped out components globally, volcanic eruptions in Iceland disrupted Nordic freight lines and floods in Thailand destroyed disc drive head production.

Joanne’s team struggled to get the right data and she dreamt of a day where she could get a smartphone alert prioritising supply chain failures, present the relevant data and even suggest solutions.

It wasn’t perfect at first. The team had to find and clean the data and learned that you must train Watson … that can’t be underestimated. They consulted the Watson Health cancer team and understood how to train Watson to talk supply chain.

It would seem that it was worth the effort, as it helped IBM’s Supply Chain save millions in inventory and freight costs, not to mention IBM reduced their supply chain data retrieval times by 75% using Watson – and helped build the technology that will drive supply chain into Industry 4.0.

4. It’s not a big a deal as you think!

From everything I have learned in the last 12 months, implementing Watson Supply Chain may not be as onerous as you think. In terms of time to implement, from London, Raleigh to Vegas I have asked numerous executives and they’re all convinced that they can overlay Watson on existing clients’ systems and have a meaningful dashboard up and running within a month.

5. Blockchain … coming soon.

Having been a Queen B2B in the late 90’s, I have long known the value of having common language and data for taking friction out of business transactions. That’s why I’m excited about blockchain. There’s certainly been a lot of hype, and, of course, the bitcoin currency part is totally out of control… but the idea of having a common ledger or “one version of the truth” for all B2B transactions, with the ability for business partners to get in and view the same information, is very appealing.

Watch this space! IBM previewed a new, blockchain-based offering called “Shared Ledgers” at Think.

Taking the plunge…

There’s definitely been a lot of hype about Watson, but there are some real reasons to start your thinking supply chain journey, powered by AI.

In explaining why Lenovo took the plunge with Watson, Bobby Bernard said, “This space is evolving quickly.  We want to be an influencer about these new supply chain technologies.”

With most technology introductions, most organisations have been able to wait out the early adopters and jump on-board when the technology is mature and in widespread use.

But IBM is warning that this is not the case with AI. According to Watson Customer Engagement GM, Richard Hearn, “Everyday you’re not using AI is another day your competitor or upstart might be leveraging AI to learn, adapt and disrupt your market and you!”

Procurious Founder Tania Seary is an IBM Watson Customer Engagement Futurist and attended #think2018 as an #IBMPartner.

Public Sector Procurement Talent: Fact V Fiction

The search is on for top talent to fill an increasing number of procurement roles. But is the public sector being beaten to the finish line by its private sector counterparts?

In the first in a series of articles charting the key issues facing public sector procurement, we examine the facts and fictions of the public and private sector battle for talent.

Talent and recruitment – just two of the key issues for CPOs and Heads of Procurement around the world. As the role of procurement expands, managers need to know their teams have the right skills for the job. For many, this means searching for the profession’s top talent, the high achievers. The superstars.

But identification is only half the battle. Actually attracting these stars to your team is another challenge entirely. And this is where many believe that the public sector loses out to its private sector counterpart. But how much truth is there in this?

The Facts

According to the CIPS/Hays Procurement Salary Guide 2017, 70 per cent of managers said they were planning to recruit within the next 12 months. However, 51 per cent also admitted that they faced challenges in finding the right talent in the face of a skills shortage and budget constraints.

Let’s set budgets aside for a moment. There is a distinct set of skills required for success in public sector procurement. Sure basic skills are all transferrable, but public sector professionals need to adapt to a very different, highly political, environment.

Add in the requirement to drive new ideas, use specific IT systems, and operate within the bounds of EU Procurement Regulations and you’re starting to look at quite a bespoke skill set.

Speaking from experience, the majority of these skills can be learned or trained. But with budgets (that word again!) tight and time short, training is becoming an increasingly unaffordable luxury for many in the public sector.

This means public sector hiring managers are chasing the white rabbit – those professionals with all these skills, able to hit the ground running on Day 1.

But in a sellers’ market where there are an increasing number of procurement jobs to be filled, professionals with these skills are in demand. And this comes at a price.

All About the Money, Money?

Money isn’t everything and it can’t buy you happiness (according to Rousseau at least), but it is a key driver for procurement professionals when they look for new roles.

According to the CIPS/Hays Guide, 72 per cent of respondents highlighted salary as the key factor for a new role. This is compared to 41 per cent and 36 per cent for flexible working and non-salary benefits respectively.

The money argument seems to be borne out by the average salaries across the sectors in the UK:

  • Private Sector – £46,825
  • Public Sector – £40,915
  • Charity Sector – £40,379

And the trend continues when the average salaries are broken down by seniority within the public and privates sectors (see below):

The picture doesn’t get any better for the public sector when bonuses are taken into account either. In 2017, an average of 50 per cent of professionals received a bonus in the private sector, versus only 13 per cent in the public sector.

However, the public sector may have the beating of the private sector in one facet – non-financial benefits. Over two-thirds (67 per cent) of public sector professionals have access to flexible working (versus 36 per cent of the private sector), along with greater provision for support for study and career development.

The Permanent vs. Temporary Debate

The other option open to hiring managers is bringing in interim or contract workers. This has proven to be a good way of providing additional resources in a flexible manner for specific projects or time periods. The CIPS/Hays Guide states that 61 per cent of public sector organisations will recruit in this way.

While this suggests that there is an attraction for some professionals in contracting, many looking for new roles want the security and safety of a permanent contract. So how much truth is there in the belief that the public sector isn’t able to offer this type of contract?

While it was certainly more fact than fiction when it came to salaries, there is certainly less evidence for the permanent-temporary contract question. A search across UK job sites for public sector procurement roles shows that actually there are almost twice as many permanent roles advertised as temporary, contractor or interim roles.

So taking this factor out of the equation, what solutions are available to the public sector to meet the recruitment challenge?

Redressing the Balance

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Budget restraints make it nearly impossible to compete on salaries, bonuses and other financial benefits. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is plenty to offer besides salaries that make jobs attractive.

The CIPS/Hays Guide shows that the majority of public sector organisations are making flexible working available to their employees. Having contracts that are as flexible as possible only increases their attractiveness at a time where people (and many organisations) are looking to step away from the traditional desk-bound, 9-5 roles.

Flexible working hours, flexi-time, working from home and contracts allowing greater work-life balance are just some of the non-financial benefits job seekers will look for.

The second area is the attractiveness of the roles. This might seem like a counter-intuitive argument given what’s been said before, but this doesn’t relate to money, contracts, or working hours.

A common (mis)conception of the public sector is that it isn’t as interesting. The truth is far removed from this. From roles that allow procurement professionals to directly impact their cities for the better, to working on major, one-off projects – think the European Championships in Glasgow in 2018, or the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.

And these are just a couple of highlights in the vast array of fascinating projects in the areas of sustainability, technology and services only available in the public sector.

Raising the profile of these roles or projects and their interesting, challenging and diverse nature can only help to attract the superstars.

So here’s my challenge to you in the public sector. What are you going to do to help?

6 Ways Procurement Pros Can Be More Effective

87 per cent of organisations have faced a disruptive incident with suppliers in the last 2-3 years. How can we work in more effective ways?

Transforming into a strategic procurement organisation is not an easy journey. But there are a few obstacles that procurement teams should address sooner rather than later when thinking about how to be more effective in procurement. Here are 6 challenges to tackle today for success in the future:

1. Unproductive business relationships

The majority of CPOs rate their current business partnering effectiveness at less than 70 per cent with hopes of greater than 90 per cent in the future.  How can procurement become a better business partner? By creating a purchasing process that is the easiest, fastest and most affordable way for business partners to do their jobs. Users need what they need to do their jobs and they need those items quickly – and that’s all they care about. If you roll-out an e-procurement solution that is truly the easiest way for employees to request those goods and services within the natural course of their daily work, they’ll use the system and they will see the value that procurement is delivering. And when managers see how this process streamlines approvals and helps them better manage their budgets with real-time tracking, they’ll become champions of procurement as well.

2. Slow, inflexible approval workflows

Speaking over approvals, we’ve seen hundreds of approval workflows, each unique based on business maturity, locations, department structures and technologies. But a consistent challenge among many companies is that approval workflows often make purchasing more difficult for the requester. If requesters could make their purchases without needing to understand approvals or the inner workings of the procurement department, imagine how much easier it will be to get them spending in the preferred manner. Procurement professionals should look at ways to minimize the impact of approvals on the end-user. One way to do this is what we call “line item requisitioning.” This is when the approval workflow is configured so a single requisition/shopping cart can be split and sent through separate approval paths at the line item level. This means that items on the requisition that require fewer approvals get approved and POs are submitted, without being held up by other items that may take longer to get approved or require more reviews. And, the approvers only see the items on the request that pertain to them, making it quick and easy for them to sign-off on the items.

3. Supplier risk & fraud potential

87 per cent of organisations faced a disruptive incident with suppliers in the last 2-3 years. Risk inside of the supply chain remains a focus for procurement leaders. So, what’s the key to reducing risk? Transparency. The more transparency you have with suppliers, the more you can build up those relationships and better understand your suppliers’ needs. Perhaps you find out you have a key supplier that is struggling with cash flow needs – work with this business partner to understand their position and look at strategic payment programs that benefit both parties to mitigate that risk upfront. You can also leverage the wealth of data at your fingertips to pinpoint issues like this early on and better manage supplier data to prevent fraud.

4. Lack of spend visibility

If you want to know how to be more effective in procurement, I have two words for you:  spend visibility.

Every strategic procurement initiative starts with knowing how 100 per cent of the company money is being spent – not “some” of the money, all of it. 40 per cent of CPOs are focused on consolidating spend, but if they’re not seeing the full picture, those efforts will prove futile. Spend visibility – from both direct and indirect spending – allows CPOs to do what they do best, including: consolidating spend, rationalising the supply base, leveraging volume buying, negotiating better contracts, sourcing strategic suppliers and more. The data needed to support all of these activities is in the company spend data.

5. Manual reporting and analytics

65 per cent of organisations are accelerating investment in procurement-related analytics. But you really need to accomplish 2 things before making this investment: 1) Capture 100 per cent of financial data 2) Focus on data science within the procurement department. If you aren’t capturing 100 per cent of your data by on-boarding all your suppliers, achieving 100 per cent user adoption and processing 100 per cent of your invoices through the purchase-to-pay solution, your analytics tool won’t have the data needed to give you the right insight. And, once you have that data, you need someone who understands how to turn actionable insight into results – so make sure your procurement team is thinking about the skills they need for the future.

6. The talent gap related to technology

Related to the skills needed for the future is the talent gap procurement is experiencing, especially when it comes to technology. 87 per cent of CPOs believe talent is the single greatest driver of procurement performance, and yet organisations spend less than 1 per cent of their budget on equipping and training their procurement teams. Think about the tools, technology and training your procurement team needs to keep up with organisational transformation and deliver value, then start developing skills in those areas now – procurement is only going to get more digital. Check out my recent post on bridging the talent gap in procurement for other tips on attracting, hiring and developing new talent for this function.

If you’re questioning how to be more effective in procurement, overcoming these challenges will put you on the course for success. At Basware, we have a heritage in helping companies transform, so you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out– we’re here to help.

These stats are taken from Deloitte’s Global CPO Survey

PLEASE FIRE ME: I JUST CAN’T QUIT!

Stuck in a miserable, but well-paid, job you can’t afford to quit? Don’t get yourself into that position in the first place!

Philip H. “hates his life”. Those are his exact words. Specifically, he hates his all-consuming job. The work bores him and he no longer believes in his firm’s mission. The gruelling hours he puts in cost him time with his family that he can never recover.

Here’s the kicker: Phillip earns several million dollars a year heading a major office of a top-tier advisory firm. So, you might ask, why doesn’t he quit?

He’s says he can’t afford to.

There’s a big mortgage on a luxury apartment, and another on the beautiful beach house he and his wife bought two years ago. (“The summer weekends we spend there are the only thing that keep me sane,” he says.) Then there are the three kids—all enrolled at a private school. The eldest will start college in a year; the others will follow soon. Tallying up his obligations, Philip envies his Wall Street friends who earn ten times as much as he does.

A couple of days ago I mentioned this story to a well-known financial columnist. “I hear this all the time,” he said. “Lots of people moan about how miserable they are at work but they can’t see a way out.”
“Boo, hoo,” you might say. “I’d trade places with Philip in a heartbeat.” But would a huge income really make up for feeling horrible about your life?

You might think that you could put up with a few years of misery for the freedom it would buy you. You’d put a lot of money in the bank, and then walk away to do whatever you like: launch a small company, or spend the rest of your days lolling on the beach. Maybe you’d devote the rest of your life to doing good in the world. Whatever your goal, you’d collect your last paycheck and say, “Adios.”

It’s not that easy, though. You wouldn’t make a bundle starting out. You’d have to put in your time first. And when serious money began to come in, it would be tempting to reward yourself creature comforts for all the stresses you endure. The higher you climb the ladder, the harder it will be to leave. Then one day you’d turn around and find yourself in Philip’s unhappy shoes.

It might seem that I’m writing about a problem that affects only a small set of people. But I think Philip’s case illustrates issues that apply wherever you are now in the organisational hierarchy, and whether you love your job or loathe it.

Most work choices aren’t either/or

It’s late in the game for Philip, but assuming a different role in his firm might be rejuvenating. Going on sabbatical might set a great example for other colleagues. By framing his decision as stay-or-go, he’s missing other opportunities.

If you’re unhappy at the office, other people know it

Philip’s negativity must come out sideways. If he hates his own job, how can he be enthusiastic when a colleague lobbies for a new project? A big part of his job is evaluating other people’s performance. His attitude is bound to warp his judgement. (I also worry about what he’s like at home.)

Toughing things out is not a career plan

Somehow Philip drags himself to work every day. Maybe he takes pride in his perseverance. As they say, however, “persisting in the same behavior expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” The way things are headed, he risks getting pushed out by his peers. Maybe that’s his subconscious agenda, but it would be an ugly way to go.

Plan your end game

When you take on a job, set a date when it will be time to move on to something else. You can always revise it one way or another, but it’s usually better to leave a year early than a year too late.

The most important lesson of Philip’s story is not getting into his situation in the first place. If Philip had kept these precepts in mind, he would have been alert to his growing feelings of frustration. At an earlier point, a lateral move to another firm or an entirely different field might have been easier. And if he had allowed for the possibility that the job might get stale, he might not have saddled himself with so much debt. But by the time he realised he was on a treadmill, he had gone so far he felt he couldn’t step off.

Sunk cost traps aren’t just financial. They can also be social, emotional, and deeply personal. Philip may have trapped himself with worries about what others will think about his walking away from what most regard as a dream job. I’d remind him of Samuel Johnson’s advice – that we’d worry less about what others think of us if we realised how seldom they do.

In the end, Philip’s self-respect is what counts. Walking away might feel as if he’s repudiating how he’s spent his recent years. But to me, belatedly changing an unhappy life sounds a lot better than doubling down.

This article was written by Professor Michael Wheeler and was originally published on LinkedIn. 

It was first published on Procurious in August 2017.

Professor Michael Wheeler’s Negotiation Mastery course on Harvard Business School’s HBX launched earlier this year. Applications for the next wave of students, starting in September, are now being accepted. Version 1.4 of his Negotiation 360 self-assessment/best practice app is available for both Apple and Android devices. It includes coaching videos and a tactics exercise.