How To Make Your Company More Honest (And Why It Matters)

It’s a fact that honest companies outperform their dishonest competitors. So how do you motivate your teams to perform with greater integrity?

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There is ample evidence that honest companies outperform their dishonest competitors. And while almost every company says they are honest, many do not create and support a culture of honesty.  The research tells us there is one key thing any company can do to ensure we are honest at work. 

According to annual research conducted by global accounting firm EY, 97 per cent of businesses say it is important that they operate with integrity. Businesses want to be honest for one very simple reason.  Their reputation is on the line.  Almost all of them rate customer perception as the most important reason to behave honestly, with public and shareholder perception coming a close second and third. 

They believe that honesty, or at least having your customers, shareholders and the public believe you are, is key to successful business performance.  Obviously, acting with integrity makes it easier for organisations to operate by reducing scrutiny and fines,  but there are other much more important ways that honesty improves business performance.  Dishonesty also has a direct impact on the bottom line.  A recent study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found that about 5 per cent of a business’s annual revenue is lost when that business is struck by dishonest acts such as asset misappropriation (theft and skimming), corruption (bribes and conflicts of interest) and financial statement fraud (misreporting sales and expenses).

Besides those direct impacts, honest organisations attract the best employees and customers. We would all prefer to do business with an honest seller or buyer and we would all prefer to work in a place that has a reputation for integrity.  While the impact of better customers and employees is difficult to measure, there is little doubt both improve the bottom line. Every year Ethisphere ranks the World’s Most Ethical Companies and compares their performance to their competitors.  Their research shows that over the five years to 2018, the World’s Most Ethical Companies outperformed the US large cap sector by 10.72 per cent.

So, the benefits are clear.  But according to the EY report one in six companies still undertake fraudulent and corrupt behavior. Its not for lack of policy.  Almost all organisations have implemented anti-fraud and corruption programs and 95 per cent say their senior leaders set examples of good ethical behavior. 

The problem isn’t lack of desire for honesty.  The problem is getting everyone to actually behave honestly.  There is however one key thing every organisation can do to drive a culture of honesty, remind us we are honest.

The research on cheating and lying tells us that it doesn’t take much to remind us that we are all, at base, honest people who are happier if we behave morally. Once we remember that, we generally behave that way. The most effective method to remind people of this is to prompt honesty at key moments. Usually these little prompts are cheap and easy to implement, and most important when we are tempted to fudge things a bit. Professor Dan Ariely from Duke University has spent more than a decade putting people in situations where they could lie and seeing if they do.  His research demonstrates that people don’t lie more just because the reward for lying is bigger and they don’t lie less just because the chance of getting caught is greater.

When people don’t have to lie to a person face to face in return for the reward, they cheat a lot more.  Making us deal with people face to face halves the chance of dishonesty.  And we are also more likely to be dishonest if we think everyone else is being dishonest and conversely more likely to be honest if we think everyone else is honest.

But the real kicker, was the one thing that stopped almost all the lying.  It was simply reminding us that our workplace has code of honesty before we are put in a situation where we might be tempted to be dishonest. Bizarrely the studies showed that even something as simple as getting people to sign the top of the test (before they lie) killed the cheating. If they signed the bottom, after they lied, they cheated as normal.

When this was implemented in a large-scale trial of insurance applications, the results were even more impressive. Researchers from the Harvard Business School decided to see if signature placement on insurance forms changed the level of honesty in disclosure. The results showed that customers self-reported 10.25 per cent more miles when they were asked to sign the declaration of honesty before they filled in the form. This would amount to an insurance premium being on average $97 more costly per car depending on whether the form was signed at the top or the bottom. Even at a significant personal cost, people were more inclined to be honest if they declared honesty before they filled in the form.

Of course, the other way to stop people lying is to do what they did in the control state of the study – check everybody and everything all the time. But who really wants to work in a police-state? Life is so much easier if you can trust people to be honest. 

Why You Need To Hyper-Specialise

The days of the generalist are over. Today, the most influential people in your organisation are those with the ability to hyper-specialise.

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When I first started working in the world of influence and influencers, it was possible to own a massive space; whether it was leadership, real estate, finance, money or health. There were very few “gurus” who had access to a platform from to talk about their wide area of expertise.

Today, however, everybody has a platform. The internet is crowded with blogs, podcasts, Youtube channels and social media influencers, with the result that there’s way too much noise to own a huge space anymore. Now, the future belongs to micro-influencers; micro-authorities who hyper-specialise.

When stakeholders need help from a procurement professional, they need to be able to find you fast. They want to know – straight away – whether the space that you own aligns exactly with their situation and needs. An IT professional, for example, doesn’t want advice from a procurement generalist. They want to talk to an IT purchasing specialist – someone who understands the challenges involved and is well-known as an expert in that space.

Do you own your space on Google?

When was the last time you Googled yourself? Take a minute to do so now. What did you find out – do the search results make it clear what space you own?

According to Harvard University, over 50% of decisions are now made before we ever making contact i.e via what I would call “Google stalking”. When you first make contact with a talent prospect, a supplier or a potential consultant, one of the first things they will do (I guarantee it) is Google stalk you. If what they find is irrelevant, not specific to their needs or if they can’t find it fast enough, then you’ve lost that race.

To become an influencer, you have to own your space – but you can’t own a space unless you are clear on what space it is that you want to own.

Influence Intersections

But how do you find out the niche that you want to own? How do you discover the hyper-specialisation that will set you apart from everybody else?

Let me introduce a concept that I call Influence Intersections. Picture a Venn diagram: the first of the two circles is a world in which you have mastery, insights or experience. Then you overlay this with another world where you have mastery, insights or experience. The intersecting space in the middle is the space that only you can own. The space where your expertise will stand out.

Two celebrity influencers who hyper-specialised

Take Jamie Oliver – when he first started out there were many celebrity chefs from six-star hotels and restaurants. Then Jamie came along, and what did he have? He had mastery, experience, and insights into the high-end world of cooking, but he also had personality. The personality he brought to the front was that he understood families and what it’s like to cook for your children on a budget quickly in a healthy way. The place in the middle between those two spaces was a place that only Jamie could own.

Steve Jobs is another famous example. He took the world of engineering and computers and overlayed this with another world he knew – the world of the creative innovator. That space in the middle then became the key Apple needed to dominate the marketplace.  

Why should a procurement professional hyper-specialise?

One word – influence. Procurement professionals are typically frustrated by their lack of influence (or “seat at the table”) within their organisations, but building up your profile and becoming known as the go-to expert in your space will lift your influence and cause others to seek out your advice. Imagine, then, a whole team of hyper-specialised procurement professionals, each one famous in the organisation for owning their space. How influential would that department become?

It’s also a great tool to keep in mind for your next career move. If you begin hyper-specialising today with the aim of becoming known as the guru in your particular space, you might just be in a job interview situation one day where the interviewer says, “I’ve heard of you – your expertise is a perfect fit for this opportunity”.

Remember, the days of the generalist are over. Generalists rarely become voices of authority. In addition to not being renumerated as well as perceived ‘experts’ they also receive less engagement and fewer opportunities. Specialists, on the other hand, receive more credibility, more respect, more opportunities and more influence. 

What are the two worlds you can overlay to find – and own – your space?

Two Ways To Transform Your Supply Chain In A Hypercompetitive World

Tom Derry, CEO – ISM discusses how to turn your supply chain into a key source of competitive advantage and what not to do in supply chain management.

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Everyone loves to talk about the romance of startups and small businesses. But today it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we’re living in the age of the corporate giants. And the big brands such as Amazon Apple, Google and Walmart are only getting bigger. There’s a whole host of reasons that these giants are repeatedly found in the top 10 places of Fortune 500 year after year. But one reason that stands out is that they recognise their supply chains are a key source of competitive advantage. We asked Tom Derry, CE0 – ISM, to outline the key elements needed to transform a supply chain into something a company would proudly put front and centre in its annual report to share holders. For Tom, it boils down to two things.

1. Last mile customisation

“[As supply management professionals] you’re serving regional customers and local customers even if you’ve got a global supply chain,” Tom begins. “And local markets demand customisation and localisation even if it’s just printing your user manual in the local language. HP did that famously a decade ago. Diageo are currently customising for delivery in Asia from a distribution centre in Singapore.

“Being able to access local markets and extract the most value from local markets is critical for supply chain professionals.”

2. Agility

Tom argues that supply chains are a form of agility. “In light of all the recent controversy around taxes and tariffs – if [supply chains] flexible and responsive they provide strategic agility to the company, which is becoming increasingly critical.”

“The most important consideration in determining how a supply chain is structured usually comes down to two economical factors- taxes and tariffs. [Last year], the US passed a new tax law, which ostensibly puts US manufacturing first. The question around tariffs is critical and the threat of them, whether they’ve been implemented or not, is already affecting the way supply chains are designed and implemented.”

Supply chains in the US have seen the impact of the steel and aluminium tariffs imposes on European exports, which has led to retaliation. Tom cites Harley Davidson, who announced that they have to shift their production to the EU in order to continue to grow its non-US sales, which are critical to company’s future growth. “The president is trying to protect the production of steel and alumninum ostensibly on a national security basis but he is actually is forcing production of goods offshore and thereby threatening jobs – and [Harley Davidson] is just one example.”

According to Tom, the old concept of money is fungible but supply chains are flexible holds true. “Some people may not appreciate the degree to which we have built in agility and flexibility over the last twenty years. It’s clear that companies can, and have to, respond to maintain competitive advantage and maintain their margin and they will flex their supply chains to meet the circumstances they face. We’re all short sighted if we think that’s not going to happen and if we think we can impose a set of conditions that cause current supply chains ,as they exist now, to be set in place. They’re going to flex and move.”

Part Eight of Tuesdays with Tom is available now. Click here to sign up and hear ISM CEO Tom Derry discuss how to turn your supply chain into a key source of competitive advantage and what not to do in supply chain management.

Could RPA Make Procurement Jobs More Human?

The new “hot” technology generating hype in 2019 is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Here’s how it can help procurement…

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Procurement is, by nature, in the business of relationships. Whether it’s managing suppliers or stakeholders, the success of any procurement organisation relies heavily on building relationships between people.

Despite this, many procurement professionals do not have the time to focus on the human side of their job. Data collection, reporting, transactional activities, urgencies, etc. are all tasks that eat up their precious time and prevent them from focusing on relationships that could generate more value and better outcomes.  This problem isn’t new and is the main driver behind the constant, growing interest in procurement technologies that automate processes and increase efficiencies.

What is new, though, is the pace of innovation and the hype around some of the latest technologies.

Emerging technologies have begun to dominate discussions in the procurement space, and it has become impossible to avoid debates, articles, publications, etc. on artificial intelligence (AI) or blockchain. The new “hot” technology that has been generating a lot of hype in 2019 is Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Before jumping on the RPA bandwagon, it is critical to look beyond the features to understand the bigger picture. In the case of the latest RPA technology that has integrated AI, it is about making procurement jobs more human by offloading even more mundane, robotic tasks to… robots!

The goal is to augment, not replace, people by combining the best qualities and capabilities of both human and machine to achieve better outcomes.

RPA: Copy/paste on steroïds…

“[RPA is] a preconfigured software instance that uses business rules and predefined activity choreography to complete the autonomous execution of a combination of processes, activities, transactions, and tasks in one or more unrelated software systems to deliver a result or service with human exception management.”

Source: IEEE Guide for Terms and Concepts in Intelligent Process Automation (whose purpose is to provide standard definitions of concepts, capabilities, terms, technology, types, etc. for emerging process technologies)

This technical definition of what RPA is and how it works can be summed up with a simple analogy. Imagine that you have to repeatedly copy data from one Excel file to another to produce a monthly report. One way to eliminate these mundane, low-value, tedious tasks would be to create a macro that would do all the copy/paste for you. In addition to saving hours of your precious time over the course of the year, it would also reduce the risk of errors. This is, essentially, a simplified definition of what RPA is about. It’s a way to automate repetitive and scripted actions that are usually performed manually by users (not just copy/paste!). It is a form of business process automation.

The typical benefits of RPA are:

  • efficiencies to free-up resources usually spent on manual tasks and re-focus them on core business (efficiency fuels effectiveness)
  • better consistency and compliance in data entries by reducing errors
  • from a system/IT perspective, RPA is a valuable workaround to break data silos. It avoids the costs (investment, change mgmt.) and risks associated with replacing an existing system or creating interfaces. RPA solutions sit on top of the existing infrastructure and simply simulate user actions to take data from system ‘A’ and put it in system ‘B’.

RPA has limitations and it is important to be aware of them and consider if the trade-offs are worth it. Some of them are:

  • RPA can do one thing and only one thing. If there are changes in the source or in the destination systems, then it will stop to work correctly
  • It requires extensive programming to ensure that the RPA solution takes all cases into account. If not, it will not work or, even worse, it will create even more issues as it is very consistent in executing rules. If something is off, the same error(s) will be consistently repeated
  • For the same reason, it is vital to ensure that processes are running well before implementing RPA

If RPA only Had a Brain…

There’s no getting around it: RPA is a very dumb technology.  It does exactly what it’s told, blindly executing whatever set of rules it’s given. Such technology has been in use for years but on a limited scale. However, with the advancement of other, smarter technologies opening up new opportunities to make RPA more useful and less “dumb,” it is experiencing a revival. AI is one of the emerging technologies revitalising RPA, and stirring up hype. These days, it’s rare to see RPA without an AI component, which has also lead to a lot of confusion between RPA and AI.

“[AI is] the combination of cognitive automation, machine learning (ML), reasoning, hypothesis generation and analysis, natural language processing and intentional algorithm mutation producing insights and analytics at or above human capability.”

Source: IEEE

By nature, RPA and AI are very different technologies:

Because most business processes require a combination of “DO” and “THINK,” newer generations of RPA solutions integrate AI components to:

  • Understand input via natural language processing, data extracting and mining, etc.
  • Learn from mistakes and exceptions
  • Develop/enrich rules based on experience

It is this new, smarter generation of “RPA+AI” solutions that has broader applications as a valuable tool for Procurement.

RPA Applications for Procurement

“It is not the type of business process that makes for a good candidate for RPA, but rather the characteristics of the process, such as the need for data extraction, enrichment and validation.”

The Hackett Group on Procurious

RPA is particularly well-suited for operational and transactional Procurement because these areas are characteriSed by countless manual activities. Here are some examples:

  • Automation & elimination of mundane tasks
    • Invoice processing: It is possible to drastically reduce efforts and cycle times to extract essential information from an invoice and perform an m-way match by using a combination of RPA and AI (Optical Character Recognition + Natural Language Processing)
    • RFx preparation: Tasks related to data collection (quantities from ERPs, specifications from PLMs or other file sharing systems, etc.) and even the drafting of RFXs can be streamlined by using RPA.
  • Data compliance and quality
    • Supplier onboarding: RPA can automatically get more supplier data or data needed to verify registrations or certifications by crawling the web or other data sources.
    • Data mappings and deduplication: RPA can be a great support in Master data Management (MDM) by normalizing data (typos, formatting, etc.) and by ensuring that naming/typing conventions are respected.
  • Support to gain better insights
    • Supplier scorecarding: This is an activity that requires thorough data collection. RPA can be leveraged to collect data from various sources and integrate the information into one system either for internal purposes and/or for the preparation of a negotiation or business review
    • Contract analysis: RPA can crawl file sharing systems, network disks, and even emails to collect and gather contracts in one central location. Then, it can extract key terms and store them as metadata in a contract management solution.

Conclusion

RPA, in combination with other technologies, is an efficient way to connect silos (from a data perspective) to win back valuable time and remove the “robot” work from the desk of procurement teams so they can focus on the human side of their job.

On top of that, procurement organisations can gain tremendous insights from implementing RPA because it can make new data digitally accessible and more visible.

However, it is important to keep in mind that RPA is only a workaround; it does not break silos like an end-to-end procurement platform would do.

Procurement Pros – What’s Your Legacy?

Procurement leaders are starting to use the phenomenal buying power of their organisations to address big social challenges. What legacy do you want to leave?

In the old days, procurement was focused on two things: minimising costs and risk.

Purpose should be a pivotal part of every organisation’s business strategy. Being purpose-focused is essential to engaging customers and employees and being perceived as relevant, admired, and innovative by investors, partners, communities, and public entities. Today, it’s all about sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Why are organisations increasing their focus in this area? It is not purely out of the goodness of their hearts, rather, they understand that key stakeholder groups care about these issues.

Consumers increasingly gaining a conscience is helping to drive this change. According to the 2016 US National Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, which surveyed some 1200 individuals, 39 per cent  of consumers are likely not to buy a company’s products or services if they believe they are not “responsible” and 25 per cent will actively advise friends and family to avoid the company. Additionally, the report reveals that 84 per cent of global consumers actively seek out responsible products whenever possible.

Everywhere you look, business is under scrutiny. Whether it is for environmental practices, labour conditions, tax or paying suppliers on time, individual citizens increasingly are expecting companies to behave in a socially responsible manner. Stock exchanges and Governments are also now issuing requirements for companies to report on CSR data in annual reports, and CSR is increasingly perceived by investors to be important for their understanding of a company’s risks and opportunities.

Many of these issues are embedded in supply chains, and the role of procurement and supply chain in addressing them is therefore clear. Concerned citizens will expect action from government and businesses, which will, in turn, encourage firms to take steps that will reverberate throughout complex supply chains. The world is becoming smaller, which means we have increased, and faster, access to information about what organisations are doing and how they behave. This is a great opportunity for procurement and supply chain executives to play a leading role in these “wider world” issues.

This issue is no longer just for idealists or activists. For example, globally there are 46 million people worldwide who are modern-day slaves and about 150 million child workers. Any company doing business needs to make sure that its supply chain is not tainted by this cruel practice, and in many countries now, it’s not just best practice – it’s the law.

Eliminating forced labour from your supply chain is just one example of what SAP Ariba calls “procurement with purpose”. This is an umbrella term that includes social, environmental and sustainability practices. Leveraging the power of business networks like SAP Ariba and the intelligent, cloud-based applications underlying it, companies can gain a whole new level of transparency into the capabilities, performance, and social and environmentally responsible practices of their suppliers – and their suppliers’ suppliers. They can map the bill of materials for products and services right down to their raw materials and cross-reference this information with hotspots where there is a high propensity for the use of forced and child labor to determine their risk.  And, more importantly, they can receive timely alerts, which can be used to drive actions and report on them in meaningful ways.

All business leaders need to be focused on these topics. Research suggests that companies that do so can significantly outperform their rivals over a 10-year period. Or look at it this way: can you afford the reputational risk of a photo in social media showing one of your suppliers using child labour?

To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate”. Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock (the world’s largest investment company)

Procure with Purpose

Procurious have partnered with SAP Ariba to create a global online group – Procure with Purpose.

Through Procure with Purpose, we’ve been shining a light on the biggest issues – from Modern Slavery; to Minority Owned Business; and from Social Enterprises; to Diversity and Inclusion.

Click here to enroll and gain access to all future Procure with Purpose events including exclusive content, online events and regular webinars.  

SAP Ariba are sponsoring Big Ideas Summit London on March 14th. Sign up now as a digital delegate to follow the day’s action wherever you are in the world. 

Cybersecurity – What Does It Mean For Procurement In 2019?

How should procurement professionals be addressing cybersecurity within their organisations and addressing the weak links?

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Google and McAfee estimate there are 2,000 cyber- attacks every day around the world, costing the global economy about £300bn a year.  The widespread adoption of digital solutions for the management of big data is a threat that is making organizations vulnerable to security breaches.   The proliferation of new SaaS products on the market and the use of cloud-based solutions are focusing our minds on how to protect our data and intellectual property.  The growing use of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is adding to the complexity of defending organizations from attacks. 

Protection from data hackers has traditionally been the responsibility of the I.T. department where it should be taken seriously, although some companies have been inclined to put the issue on the back-burner.  Procurement’s interest in cyber-security is two-fold: 

a) it has to manage the myriad of potential security issues within the supplier community

and

b) it has to concern itself with data security issues within its own operations

Cybersecurity at suppliers  

Cyber-attacks do not always come in through the front door.  Many breaches come through weaknesses in the lower layers of the supply chain:   e.g. importers, agents and other service providers. Hackers, whose main objective seems to be to hold organisations to ransom, can infiltrate any of these layers. 

The weak links

  • Your suppliers’ suppliers are often targeted because they are more vulnerable.   They may have access to important information of yours and only have a very immature approach to data security.  It is estimated that over a third of corporate IT breaches are via third-party suppliers.
  • A lack of awareness among employees about how hackers gain access to systems.  The act of “phishing” which attempts to acquire usernames, passwords and credit card details via email for fraudulent purposes is a widespread activity that preys on peoples trust.   
  • The lax use of BYOD at suppliers can cause major security issues as malware protection and detection on these devices is often inadequate. 

 “Cybersecurity is never just a technology problem; it’s a people, processes and knowledge problem.”

US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

How to tackle the weak links

  • Due diligence.  Conducting risk assessments on each supplier before contracting will allow you to identify any areas of concern.  Firstly, potential suppliers should be vetted to ensure that they are not on any denied party or watch lists. On-boarding of new suppliers should include asking leading questions about their approach to data security and which protective systems they are using.  Many large organizations are adopting ISO 27001 which accredits them through an auditable security management system.               
  • Access control.   The level of access of each approved user to information needs to be monitored especially when there is any change in the relationship with a supplier.  This could be an organisational restructure or a takeover at the supplier which affects access to a shared system.  The aim is to prevent unauthorised access to data and procedures.
  • Education and training of staff Awareness programs and training staff about their responsibility for data security should be standard practice, both in-house and at suppliers.  Advice such as don’t click on unknown attachments, always use strong and unique passwords, and keep an up-to-date backup is a start. 
  • Notification about breaches   A contract clause that requires a supplier to inform the organisation regarding any security breach that may impact either business should be included in any supply agreement.

Cybersecurity within procurement

Large warehouses  of data are used by procurement professionals to identify cost-saving opportunities through spend analysis within their organisations.  Other files include supplier contracts, financial information and many P2P transactions.  We need to protect the confidentiality, availability and integrity of our information.   Cyber-attacks can be delivered through counterfeit hardware or software that is embedded with malware.  Outsourcing procurement functions with no due diligence or using unreliable and untested software packages can open the door to hackers.  Security gaps can arise due to the incompatibility of legacy systems with the outsourced solutions.  

Remember the data breach at TalkTalk in 2017?  The then CEO, Baroness Dido Harding said,

“There was the IT equivalent of an old shed in a field that was covered in brambles, all we saw was the brambles and not the open window.”

 She was referring to the weakness in their legacy systems.  The firm was fined £400 000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

What can we do today?

  • Collaborate with our IT department to regularly monitor systems, frequently update internal policies to create a security fence for the organization
  • Assist suppliers to build a robust cybersecurity plan to strengthen their IT infrastructure and cyber resilience
  • Stay updated on the latest innovations in data protection  
  • Work with suppliers to ensure that their IT systems and infrastructure are regularly updated. Ongoing reviews at regular intervals will help to identify emerging concerns
  • Develop a contingency disaster recovery and continuity plan to accommodate any potential supplier failure, including alternative suppliers. Always have a plan B.

Traditionally, procurement-specific risks just meant price fluctuations, delivery disruptions, supplier failure, fraud and non-compliance but no longer.   

Besides the reputational risks such as environmental crises, unfair treatment of staff and safety issues, the loss or corruption of corporate information can severely disadvantage a business.  The extent of the financial and reputational damage depends on the size of the breach, number and type of stakeholders affected and how quickly and effectively the company acted. 

5 Productivity Hacks You Should Be Using Now

When things are really hitting the fan you don’t just need one productivity hack – you need an arsenal.


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The panic is real. So many things to do, all of equal value and all due yesterday! How do you cut through the noise? Here are my proven hacks for achieving the impossible.

Mindset

The most important place to begin is your mind. Often in high pressure situations you begin to worry. You worry about the volume of tasks you need to do, the timeframes, the pressures put on you to deliver and the number of project responsibilities.

Within this context (the brow furrowing worry), the brain becomes overwhelmed. Research has proven that ability of working memory to direct attention to what’s relevant is incredibly compromised, the brain is effectively running lots of programmes at once and everything slows down. In terms of how the brain processes information, we know that the brain dedicates capacity to verbal information and some capacity to spatial information. When people are worried it is common that they talk to themselves in their head – worries tend to be verbal and therefore compete for the limited pool of capacity.

Psychologist Sian Beilock found that when students are presented with a mathematical problem presented horizontally “32 – 17 = x” it demands more of the brain’s verbal resources than when the same problem is presented vertically.

The brain processes vertical information visually and therefore accesses the spatial capacity which has less demand for its resources.

This is often why making lists can feel better!

Taking back control

Understanding how the brain works is one thing but if things are really hitting the fan then don’t just need one productivity hack – you need an arsenal! Here are my top five productivity hacks to help you take back control.

1. Eisenhower Matrix

President Eisenhower was on to something when he shared this technique of decision making and prioritisation. It is a four box quadrant that helps you organise tasks in order of urgency and importance. My on-the-ground approach is to draw up four large boxes in my notebook and head them up according to what I need e.g. Urgent / Do now, Do next, Monitor, Delegate then I simply put each task under these headings and focus on one thing at a time.

2. Find an organisational app like Trello

Once you have identified the individual tasks and organised them into an Eisenhower, it can be helpful to transfer them to an electronic platform where you can easily access and update them. I am a huge fan of Trello, it is a free “to do list” app that I use for all of my projects. Having your to do list in an electronic platform gives you the opportunity to share your to do list and collaborate with other people as well as update things when you’re on the go.

3. Pomodoro Technique

This is a time management technique that dates back to the 1980’s, it was created by Francesco Cirillo and is based on the principle of short, sharp, concentrated bursts of activity. If you’re curious, the technique is named after the Pomodoro (tomato) timer that Cirillo used when he was at university.

Once you have your Eisenhower Matrix completed and your life uploaded into Trello, take the most urgent tasks and block out your calendar accordingly. You may need to play with the time period that suits you, some people can do a full hour but I prefer no more than 30 minutes – that’s a long time concentrating on one task!

4. Technology lock down

It’s so simple to do and yet most people do not apply this last trick, shut down the emails! Close your emails and any other system that can notify or distract you.  Do not assume that you are superior to the temptation of technology and distractions. If you see an email pop up, you will be tempted to answer it. Just say no!

5. Change your environment

If possible, work away from your usual spot. Either work from home, a different desk, a café, a meeting room. It can be anywhere just as long as you can concentrate. Breaking away from your usual work spot should reinforce the objective you are trying to achieve, and most importantly it can keep you from being interrupted.

If you implement all of these tools and combine them into a new way of working, you will be sure to come out the other side winning. What are your proven hacks? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear about them.

Three Technical Terms Procurement Pros Should Stop Using Now

Do these technical procurement terms have a place in today’s organisation?


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Technical procurement terms. Whether you love ’em or loathe ’em you’ll probably have experienced definition disagreements and C-suite confusions. And that begs the question, do they have a place in today’s organisation?

For Nick Dobney, Former Global Head of Procurement – Puma Energy, procurement terms is the one thing that really gets under is skin. “There are terms that my C-suite won’t understand, my stakeholders won’t understand and, frankly, in procurement we spend a lot of time debating them as well.”

Nick believes that all the time and effort spent defining and redefining technical procurement terms is distracting procurement professionals away from delivering on behalf of the business. At Big Ideas Zurich last year, he outlined three of the terms causing him the most grief.

1. Tender

“My team know full well to never come to me and talk about tenders,” Nick jokes. He argues that “tender” is such a broad word, open to so much interpretation, that it has actually become meaningless.

“What do you want to do?” he asks. “Are you selecting a supplier? Are you exploring the market? Are you benchmarking your costs? If those are the things you’re doing, let’s say them. Let’s not wrap them up or hide it into the word “tender.”

2. Direct/Indirect

In procurement we constantly talk about direct and indirect spend.

“I’ve been in procurement for 25 years and I’ve never worked in a manufacturing company.” In a manufacturing company it might make total sense to use these terms and easy to understand the difference between direct and indirect spend. But the same can not be said for service companies.

Nick worked for an airline, where the distinction is unclear. “We bought aircraft, we bought fuel, we bought engineering services, we bought food and drink, we bought ticketing systems, we bought call centre operations. What’s direct and indirect?”

“In my world when I talk to the C-suite I need to talk about impacting operating expenditure, capital expenditure or the cost of goods sold.” Whilst it might be ok to reference indirect and direct spend amongst procurement professionals Nick advises not to waste energies trying to explain the terms to the wider business.

3. SRM

Some call it Strategic Relationship Management. Others say Supplier Relationship Management. “I don’t think [a room full of procurement professionals] could come together with a single definition,” says Nick.

“I know I’ve never used the words SRM in conversations with the CEO. The fundament of SRM means getting the best performance I can out of the suppliers I choose. So let’s talk about it as performance. Let’s talk about it as a means by which I get the performance I require in my business from my supply base and from my suppliers.”

Speaking in these accessible terms makes the procurement function accessible to business leaders and that’s what procurement professionals should be striving for. “We want to break those doors down. There’s lots of talk about getting procurement a seat at the top table and the first thing we have to do is make sure these terms we’re talking about – we only use amongst ourselves!”

Impacting the business

“The terms we use with our business leaders has got to be the terms that they understand,” Nick explains. “Can you explain simply and straightforwardly the impact you are having on the business?”

Leaders in your business want to know:

  • Are you taking assets of our balance sheet so we can free up resources to invest in product development?
  • Are you improving our margins?
  • Are you getting a better return on our investments?
  • Are you reducing our net debt?

And as Nick says, “the language we use is fundamental to how we can move away from being seen as a very technical function into being a function that really does contribute to the business.”

Nick Dobney speaking at Big Ideas Zurich 2018


Good Hire Or Bad Hire? How To Know You’ve Hired The Right Person

So much is written about how to hire great people and what to look for when hiring. But that is merely the start of the journey…


By pathdoc / Shutterstock

Good hire or bad hire?

You’ve done the hard work, you’ve made the decision and your shiny new hire has finally joined the team.

Great, now what?

So much is written about how to hire great people and what to look for when hiring. But that is merely the start of the journey.

After the hiring decision is made, the work begins. Your team has grown and, at some stage, you’ll need to decide whether the person you recently hired is adding value. If not, it might be time to make some hard decisions, or even revisit your hiring methods.

Here are five powerful indicators that you’ve made the right choice.

1. Dedication

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

– Abraham Lincoln

There is a lot of talk about hustling in the startup community. It’s a badge of honor. But hustling is not a skill, it’s a behavior. It is therefore a choice.

Every startup hopes its team members will make that choice every day.

You can encourage hustling by communicating your company’s vision and values, as well as creating a collaborative and fun work environment.

Without those things, even the best hustler may run out of steam.

When people buy into your company’s vision, they are more likely to become dedicated to your team. A dedicated team member is an excellent outcome, but it takes both sides to make that happen.

Making the right hiring decision isn’t just about hiring someone who is great in isolation. Rather, it’s about hiring someone who is great for your team. In other words, a great hire is someone who will eventually become dedicated to your team.

Dedication looks pretty much like hustling, but it’s sustainable. So look for sustained and purposeful effort. It’s a good indicator of both performance and engagement.

2. Initiative

“Initiative is doing the right things without being told.”

– Elbert Hubbard

Having people who can do things well without being told is a gift.

In his article, One Behavior Separates The Successful From The Average, Benjamin P. Hardy describes people who take initiative as follows:

“They don’t need to be managed in all things. They don’t just do the job, they do it right and complete. They also influence the direction for how certain ideas and projects go.”

But it’s not enough to just do things well. After all, that’s what is expected. It’s about doing the right things well. Knowing which things to prioritize requires good judgment. Initiative coupled with bad judgment can be counterproductive.

When people take initiative, productivity increases and the confidence goes up. Team members know they can rely on each other to get things done.

3. Cultural Stretch

“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.”

– Bruce Lee

In his article, Hire for Cultural Fitness, Not Just Cultural Fit, Gustavo Razzetti argues that good hires should make the culture stretch, not just adapt to it.

That’s a great perspective.

When new hires form independent relationships with other team members, and impact them in a positive way, you can be sure that your culture is stretching. It’s evidence that they are adding something, not just assimilating.

It’s a beautiful thing to see the team growing. Not just in numbers, but in intellectual firepower and curiosity.

Any new hire that makes a contribution to the team’s growth is a leader in the making, if not a leader today.

4. Improvement

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

– Benjamin Franklin

There is always room for improvement, no matter who you are.

It’s a wonderful feeling to see people improve over time and, for high performers, improvement is not an option, it’s an irresistible desire.

In his article, 76% of high-performance employees say trade mastery, not money, most important in career decisions, William Belk argues that “corporate culture and directive”should encourage team members to develop their skills in the pursuit of mastery. This will result in high levels of engagement and sustained innovation.

Improvement is therefore a strong indicator of performance. Assuming people are set up for success, strong team members will look for opportunities to hone their craft. An ethos of continuous improvement needs to be encouraged and, sometimes, leaders may even need to get out of the way to give the team space.

People with a capacity and willingness to improve their skills become more valuable over time. Rather than having their careers developed for them, improvers create opportunities for themselves. For companies who believe in empowering their teams, constantly-improving team members are obvious assets.

5. Surprise

“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.”

– Boris Pasternak

Trying to hire people who will surprise us is a contradiction in terms. We hire people to perform certain tasks and we expect them to perform those tasks very well. High performers may exceed our expectations in the quality of their work, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.

Every so often, people do things that catch us off guard. These acts of wonder cannot be found in a job description, they require skills that we don’t necessarily associate with the person who surprised us, and they are not things we would have thought to do ourselves.

It’s something intangible, and there is no point looking for it. But when it happens, we know that we have someone special on our hands. We got more than we bargained for.

Then, You Know It’s Real

“To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.”

– Oscar Wilde

When I reflect on the five indicators of a sound hiring decision – dedication, initiative, cultural stretch, improvement and surprise – what stands out is just how human they are. They are, more or less, what Seth Godin would call “real skills”.

That doesn’t mean that technical skills, which Godin calls “functional skills”, aren’t valuable. Of course they are. They are the baseline, the minimum standard.

But it’s the “real skills” that make a new hire stand out. They influence how the work is done, the impact on the rest of the team and the propensity for growth.

When the time comes to assess a hiring decision, it is helpful to look beyond how individual tasks are performed and see each new hire through through a “real skills” lens. In addition to an assessment of performance right now, you’ll get a strong indication of what you’re likely to see in the future.

This article, written by Omer Molad, was originally published on Vervoe.

Thanks Gillette. Why Men Should Aim To Be The Best They Can Be

The recent Gillette ad caused a massive response for a 1:47 minute film. Is it the close shave we had to have, or one that’s just too close for comfort?

The ad actively highlights the importance of rejecting toxic behaviour, showing men intervening when others are harassed or bullied, and helping to protect children from the same behaviour. Promoting civility, care and protection can’t be bad. Can it?

Alignment with the #metoo movement may be enough to raise the red flag to some. But even, so, just why is the ad’s message so controversial? Gillette’s strapline change from ‘the best a man can get’ to ‘the best a man can be’ seems nothing short of genius. Why is it not universally inspiring?

Unfortunately, diversity initiatives are now well known to backfire and cause backlash. Any attempt to change people’s attitudes and beliefs will almost certainly do this. The history of Civil Rights in the US is an unfortunately good example.

Whether this initiative does or doesn’t result in unintended negative consequences for Gillette, there are lessons that can be learned from the response. At the heart of the contention is the portrayal of the toxicity of hyper-masculine cultures.  

The key characteristics of a toxic masculine culture are:

  • Show no weakness – don’t admit you don’t know, don’t express doubt;
  • Show strength and stamina – stronger, longer, and bigger are better;
  • Put work first – work hard, don’t let family interfere;
  • ‘Dog eat dog’ – watch your back, you’re in or out.

These characteristics are traditionally associated with men’s work, and with leadership. They are prevalent in many industries and occupations, not just dangerous or physical strength-related ones, such as the military or emergency services. They also characterise engineering, construction, and white collar industries like finance, procurement and law. Many mainstream organisations conflate the demonstration of masculine traits with effective performance.

It’s not the characteristics themselves that are the problem. And it isn’t men either.

The problem with these characteristics is when they are the majority characteristics of an organisation’s culture.

An interesting feature of masculinity is that it isn’t ever settled, it always needs to be contested. The problem is not in the behaviour of individual men, but in workplace cultures that reward survival-of-the-fittest and dog-eat-dog competitiveness.

The expectations are neither inevitable nor are they universal. The nature of teams, the structure of work and the core tasks associated with specific occupations all moderate how cultures form and are experienced in male-dominated occupations. For example, where firefighting crews were encouraged to express camaraderie and work with good humour, they were much less likely to engage in high risk behaviour. They were faster to coordinate, had fewer accidents, and caused less property damage.

In one study of leadership climate, 56 per cent of people considered that the managers they interact with every day displayed toxic leadership to some degree. Masculine contest cultures are less inclusive, and there is a lower level of psychological safety. Higher employee stress, work-life conflict and turnover intentions result. Organisational commitment is low, as is wellbeing. The more toxic the culture, the worse performance becomes over time.

When men who strongly identify with masculine characteristics experience threats to their superiority, they also tend to reduce support for gender equality. If they see programs for gender equality (such as this ad) as a zero-sum game, ie, any gains to be made by women will be losses to them, they withdraw their interest, don’t get involved, or oppose the programs.

Moves towards equal pay, for example, are seen as reducing opportunities for men and placing downward pressure on men’s pay. In a contest culture where men are competing against other men, women’s access into the competition is seen as disrupting the advantage that men have.  Attempts to increase the representation of women will be difficult.

It is when men who identify strongly with masculine characteristics perceive threats to their masculinity that they are more likely to sexually harass others. And they may harass either female or male colleagues.

Where men believe that gender roles are fixed, they tend to rationalise the social system. They are more likely to justify the system and its inequities. On the other hand, where men are primed to see gender roles as socially ascribed, their identification with ‘male’ decreases as does their defence of gender inequities. Their views align more with women’s.

A real part of the problem for change is that working in a masculine culture is associated with greater work engagement and job meaning for some men. Some men find the prospect of winning masculine status so seductive that they will sacrifice their wellbeing for opportunities to be in the contest.

Finally, a major challenge is that those organisations that need training the most are the least likely to benefit from it. Organisations that promote masculinity context cultures won’t change through traditional diversity and sexual harassment training. In such cultures, conventional approaches have not been effective and in some cases have backfired.

Diversity and sexual harassment training is only effective in those organisations that support its purpose and content. When there is misalignment, when training is done to meet external reporting or is tokenistic, training is at best a waste of time.

These issues highlight some of the reasons behind the strong, negative reactions to the Gillette ad.

If you are someone who sees the Gillette ad as a breath of fresh air, and you want to reduce the degree of masculine contest in your culture, keep these three key things in focus:

  • Let people control their own solutions to inequities, by engaging them in the problem, make sure they are volunteers, and use curiosity as a key hook. This makes it rewarding
  • Increase contact and connection between under-represented groups, and ensure they work together as this minimises status differences and focuses on work and learning;
  • Make responsibilities transparent, and make people accountable for their actions, which taps into their desire to look good to others