A Letter To The Board

Sorry to bother you, I know you’re all so much busier than me. It’s me, the chief procurement officer; the one who buys the custard creams.

By mpaniti/ Shutterstock

Dear C-suite,

Sorry to bother you, I know you’re all so much busier than me. It’s me, the chief procurement officer; the one who buys the custard creams.

Just wanted a word about this procurement lark that I’m beavering away at, while you all do much more important stuff like tweeting the latest thought leadership thought. It’s just that I’m feeling a bit, well, ignored by you all.

No, finance director, I haven’t come over all touchy-feely, though it would be good if you did; don’t you know empathy is one of the key skills of the future, even in the finance function? I have more hard facts than you can shake a stick at, if you’ll bear with me. Yes, that means you too, CEO.

I know procurement is hardly the bad boy of the C-suite, but let me tell you, that’s about to change. Think Olivia Newton-John at the end of Grease; that’s how much procurement is about to change. No less a person than Kai Nowosel, Accenture’s procurement chief, agrees with me. “I want to break the mould of traditional procurement,” he says. “Procurement is the tinder of innovation. I want to get into that model of being sexy instead of being a back-office function.”

See? But I’m not feeling the love. I know some of you are a bit vague about what I do; let’s face it, less than 10 per cent of global corporations have a board-level procurement director. So here’s your starter for ten: how much of the value of a company’s products or services is derived from its suppliers? Anyone? No? Almost two thirds, that’s how much. Write it down in your notebooks; 65 per cent, according to CAPS Research for the Institute for Supply Management.

And here’s another fun fact: world-class procurement organisations have 22 per cent lower labour costs, according to the Hackett Group. I heard that, marketing! Yes, of course I’m running a world-class procurement organisation. This company’s costs would be a darn sight higher without me.

That means you’ll miss me when I’m gone. No, public relations, it’s a figure of speech, I’m not actually going. Here’s an example of why procurement is important. The government has plans to name and shame anyone breaching the slavery law. So I’m the one standing between you and those headlines about our products being made by vulnerable illegal immigrants living in sheds, because you used some dodgy temp agency. Do you want to finesse that kind of PR disaster? Thought not.

But I could do so, so much more if only you’d put a bit of welly behind me; everyone seems to be getting a piece of our digital transformation except me. Fewer than 10 per cent of companies have deployed procurement solutions based on key technologies such as big data, the internet of things, serverless architecture or blockchain technology, according to Procurement Leaders (that’s an intelligence and networking company just for people like me).

It’s just not fair, especially when I could save up to $86 billion a year with a fully automated procurement function. Well, when I say “I”, I mean the Global 5000, but that’s 5,000 of my closest friends.

The thing is, digital is going to mean a bit of an upgrade in the old skills front. I’ll be honest, chairman, it’s going to be tough for that uncle of yours who works with me. But he did join the procurement department in 1973, didn’t he? I bet he’d rather work on his golf handicap than learn about embedding data science and analytics expertise.

So there might be some work to do for you, HR. Egeman Tumturk, global sourcing director at Bugaboo, said digital “requires a huge change in talent and the way we do our day-to-day activities, our jobs”, when he was interviewed by Procurement Leaders for its CPO Insights. He called it “a revolution”.

See, that’s really what’s happening here. We’re not talking about a bit of an upgrade, a few new smartphones and fling in a bit of software while we think about it. This is properly transformational; it’s not just about efficiency.

My job is about to morph from tactical biscuit-buying to strategic business innovation; that’s what management consultants Bain & Company says, anyway. “Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation are automating manual tasks and freeing up time for more strategic activities,” wrote Coleman Radell and David Schannon last autumn. “Digital technologies also provide a competitive edge by improving the speed and quality of procurement, reducing risk and enhancing innovation.”

Let’s face it, you need me to do this stuff, otherwise we’ll be overtaken by our competitors, who are already using advanced analytics to get value out of their historical data. It’s not really an option to leave me with an Excel spreadsheet and a glitter pen any longer.

Like me, Accenture’s Mr Nowosel sees the procurement role moving away from simply control and compliance, and into a core business function. It’s now about finding the right partners in the ecosystem, mitigating risk, protecting the brand and staying competitive. He says: “Getting competitive is more than having a great negotiated price. It is having the right solution for your customers at the right point.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. We have a hyperconnected and increasingly transparent world out there and I’m the one with the bird’s eye view of it. If you invest in me and provide me with the right tools and people, I can develop an agile ecosystem that learns from its mistakes, protects our corporate reputation, cultivates a sustainable supply chain, delivers real-time data insights and predictive analytics, and saves you money – worth more than a few chocolate Hobnobs I expect…

Best wishes,

Chief procurement officer

This article, edited by Peter Archer, was taken from the Raconteur Future of Procurement report, as featured in The Times.  


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Minding The Procurement Gap: Where You Are Vs Where You Think You Are

To meet the ever growing list of procurement objectives, procurement leaders must effectively transform their organisations. While most organisations have begun this journey, many hit roadblocks along the way, which could easily have been avoided. During our latest CPO roundtable in London, sponsored by Ivalua, Arnaud Malardé, Senior Product Marketing Manager – Ivalua discussed how to map a path that enables you to rapidly progress to best-in-class procurement, and beyond, to establish a true competitive advantage for your company.

The keys to effective procurement Transformation

To meet the ever growing list of procurement objectives digital transformation is critical to success. But less than 30 per cent of procurement organisations have digitised more than 50 per cent of their processes. And a great deal of technology initiatives that are implemented fail to deliver.

According to a survey commissioned with Forrester, who surveyed over 400 procurement practitioners, those that have switched eProcurement technology, list the following three reasons for failure:

  • Supplier onboarding 30 per cent
  • Poor user adoption 27 per cent
  • Implementation issues 25 per cent

Of course, the obstacles to your digital transformation success differ depending on how far along you are on your journey. Beginners are more likely to suffer with insufficient budget or lack of executive support whereas teams in the advanced stages might find integration of S2P tools or procurement’s change resistance the most challenging areas.

Arnaud believes there is a gap between where procurement think they are and where they actually are. True digital transformation is a long way off for most.

His advice to plotting your path to successful transformation:

  • Don’t overestimate your maturity
  • Successful leaders focus beyond procurement
  • Evaluate technology carefully: avoid the key obstacles, assess based on today’s and tomorrow’s requirements

Delivering a story with style

As we grow older we increasingly feel as though we’ve lost our ability to trade freely in stories the way children do. But that’s not entirely true. Story telling expert, author, actor and inspirational speaker David Gillespie believes that we don’t ever lose our story-telling skills, just the confidence to use them. But it’s so important to see storytelling as king and queen because it is at the heart of everything we do in our personal and professional lives.

David revealed the seven basic plots of storytelling, one or more of which can be applied to any story. Try it for yourself!

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. The quest
  3. Voyage and return
  4. Comedy
  5. Tragedy
  6. Rebirth
  7. Rags to riches

David also shared his advice for delivering a story with style

  1. Structure is essential – We can’t all be like Charles Dickens or Stephen King who don’t know how their stories will end when they start writing. A good place to start is the end. Decide where you want to take your audience to and work backwards to find the middle and the beginning – the set up, confrontation and resolution. Get your framework right to hang the narrative on
  2. Take your audience on a journey – You’ve got to take the audience on a trip. If you don’t there’s not sense of movement and no change affected. The point of stories is to effect change by taking your audience from point A to point B
  3. Fluidity of the journey – best stories are fluid and easy to follow – you shouldn’t be asking readers to connect from one point to the next
  4. Edit, edit and edit again – When in doubt chuck it out. that’s what the mantra of storytelling should be. As humans, we tend to hang on to things even if it’s not serving the plot. Take it out!
  5. Bring the story to life – All the best stories deserve to be told with the same passion and enthusiasm as how we conceive them

Cyber Security – are you prepared?

There are more reasons every day for organisations to consider the implications of a robust Cyber strategy but many are not sure where to start. There are more reasons every day for organisations to consider the implications of a robust Cyber strategy but many are not sure where to start. Mark Raeburn, CEO – Context discussed how we can manage cyber risk, avoid potential breaches and deter, detect and respond to the most sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Mark talked through the threat spectrum, which plots the desire of certain groups or nations to commit cyber attacks versus their capability to execute these attacks. Russia are by far the most capable foreign power and they have intent. In general, people are fearful of terrorism and, of course, they are massively keen to exploit cyber security but at the moment they are not capable. A big concern would be if ‘hackers for hire’ start working for terrorists.

Key motivations for targeting

  • Prepositioning and disruption
  • Intellectual Property Theft
  • Espionage
  • Stepping Stone Access

If you’d like to find out more about sponsoring or attending our CPO roundtables please contact [email protected]

Lessons In Risk Management: Unity Is Strength

In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter when it comes to risk management…

By View Apart/ Shutterstock

I recently attended a procurement event, and, over lunch, I had an interesting discussion with other procurement practitioners about supply chain risk management (SCRM). One of the people at the table stated that his organisation was not looking into increasing its SCRM capabilities because technology cannot help in preventing issues to happen. To reinforce his theory, he told us what had recently happened to his company. The factory of one of his key suppliers was reduced to ashes by a fire. That incident led to disruptions that, according to him, technology could not have helped preventing or mitigating the impact.

Even if it is true that SCRM technology cannot have a direct impact on the cause of incidents, it is not a reason to ignore potential threats and behave like an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand. The story above is one of the many examples demonstrating that organisations don’t learn and reproduce the same mistakes, again and again.

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.”

Albert Einstein

SCRM technology together with SRM and Category Management can have an impact on reducing exposure by, for example, highlighting sensitive areas (single sourcing of critical components, suppliers in dangerous zones…). They also can help in reacting faster than the competition when problems occur. And there are many examples of that. However, there is more to it…

Being the customer of choice helps

During that same conversation, I mentioned another story I had read about as it was to some extent similar but with a very different outcome.

A buying organisation using a SCRM solution had received a notification that an incident had happened at one of their supplier’s factory. Therefore, the buyer in charge was able to

  • immediately contact the supplier to discuss with him
  • build a business continuity plan.

The immediate action was to have the supplier produce the component in one of his other factory that had some free capacity.

In addition to the speed advantage that technology provided, the buying organisation benefited from the good relationship he had built with the supplier. Because they were considered as a customer of choice, the supplier gave them access to possibilities that less preferential customers probably would never have had.

Get help from bigger than you

The story above reminded me of another one, with a different twist. I heard it a few months ago at a procurement conference in Czech Republic. A buyer (I will call him John) had in his portfolio a certain raw material. He was buying modest quantities of it but the material was nevertheless critical. Also, only a handful of suppliers were selling it. John knew that, in case of peak in demand, he would never be the one served first. In order to prevent shortages, he developed a clever alliance strategy.

John attended a fair where he knew that the major sellers and buyers of that raw material would be. Using the research he had done before the event and his observation skills, he connected with the big players on the buy-side of the market because he knew they would have better contracts and conditions that his. Conditions that would most probably integrate capacity agreements.

Months later, when demand peaked John did not contact his supplier to try to convince him to deliver to him; he knew it would be a vain effort. Instead, John reached out to a buyer (Bill) who he had met at the fair and with whom he had built a good relationship. He explained his situation to Bill. After listening, Bill explained that he could help because he had a contract that stipulates that the supplier must cover his needs as long as they vary within a certain range. As John’s needs were small in comparison to his, adding them to his would remain in the contract’s terms. After agreeing on the condition of this deal, Bill called his supplier to inform him that he would need larger deliveries. The supplier agreed and delivered the requested quantities to Bill who then forwarded what John needed.

In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter

John’s story has a particular resonance for me as I had lived a relatively similar situation when I was a buyer. But, I hadn’t done my homework like John, so I could not seek the help of a larger customer to help me. It took months and lots of efforts to recover.

These stories illustrate that Procurement professionals have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The fact that black swans exist is no excuse for not being ready! It also means that having the people, process, technology, and data to:

–                 identify weaknesses and risks

–                 build contingency and mitigation plans

–                 constantly monitor risk sources

These are the conditions for being proactive and not passive with regards to risks. Also, they should not forget the importance of nurturing relationships as business is human-to-human, H2H, (and no more B2B or B2C). At the end of the day, organisations having a competitive advantage are the ones that get the best out of their relationships with technology AND people; augmenting/enhancing each other.

The Time Paradox of Contract Management

When you’re busy it’s easy to let things slide and ignore contract management in the procurement process. But the idea that you’re saving yourself time by doing so is a paradox we would be well-served dismissing.

By andrey_l /Shutterstock

You’ve taken your time meticulously following the procurement process from inception of the idea through to contract award. You’ve spent all the time you needed getting your ESPD right and crafting some good contract documents to get the necessary competition and achieve best value. Your contract award reports have been signed off and you’ve even managed to fit in time for a lessons learned document.

But you’ve got another tender sitting waiting to be evaluated. And another that needs sign off from the stakeholders before you can publish. Not to mention that phone call you’ve just taken or email you’ve read assigning you a new project or asking for your input.

So you think to yourself, “It’s ok, I’ll arrange the mobilisation meeting and then the Operations side of the business can take it from there. After all, it’s an easy contract – it’ll take care of itself…”.

Stop. No really, stop. Why, after putting all the hard yards in to begin with, would you then choose to step back at such a critical juncture? Are you sure that without your input, all those savings and benefits you agreed with the supplier will be delivered? And can you prove you are getting what you asked for?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Let’s take a step back from this and stop blaming ourselves as individuals. Time is not on procurement’s side (as I have said in the past) and there’s not always time to perform all the necessary tasks as part of the procurement process. When push comes to shove and there are tenders to be published, one of the first things to get dropped, alongside training and development, is frequently contract management.

Why? That’s a hard one to answer. In many public sector organisations, the issue comes down to an unholy trinity of reasons.

  1. A lack of resources in procurement departments, be that head count, budget, or similar;
  2. A lack of time, which has been covered extensively in the past; and
  3. A high churn of tenders, meaning that getting the contract signed has become the priority.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the public sector is falling victim to the paradox of contract management. It might be felt that there isn’t sufficient time to manage contracts effectively, but without a procurement focus, how are organisations going to realise savings offered by and agreed with suppliers.

In some cases, from personal experience, procurement isn’t even charged with the on-going contract management. In many organisations, both in the public and the private sectors, once procurement has put the contract in place, it’s passed to contract managers or end users for its duration.

Not Rising to the Challenge

Look for the importance of contract management and you don’t have to go far to see why and where it drives success. In the past 12 months there have been stark examples of where contract management has fallen down to disastrous and altogether spectacular effect.

The collapse of Carillion and the endless budget overruns of HS2 are just two examples. A bit further in the past, the National Programme for IT for the NHS, which cost £6 billion more than it should have and has, to date, only delivered a third of the predicted benefits, is another.

However, on the flip side of that there are examples of where good contract management has made a tangible (and quantifiable) difference in public sector projects. The new Queensferry Crossing over the Firth of Forth actually came in £100 million cheaper than initial estimates suggested, with credit being given to the overall management of the project.

The NHS Wales Informatics Service project has set up digital systems to aid patients with prescriptions and staff with communication, aimed at creating greater efficiencies across the strained health sector.

And if you’re unsure about procurement’s involvement in these projects, both have been nominated as regional winners for national awards at the GO Awards, which recognises best practice in public sector procurement across the UK.

Getting Mavericks Out of the Danger Zone

Let me start this section by contradicting much of what I have written before. Procurement needs to actively take on contract management, irrespective of the time commitment. And not only this, but it needs to be a priority on the same level as market analysis and tendering. As has been shown with the example above, good contract management can deliver savings and value, but it also extends beyond this too.

Improved compliance, standardising processes and procedures, spend and performance analysis and spend visibility are all key benefits. On top of this, it can help reduce maverick spend (a procurement favourite!) by taking away a route to using a non-contract supplier, or non-contract items.

And, as a final benefit, it’ll help you save time when it comes to retendering, extending or renewing contracts for existing services, as you’ll know far enough in advance to do the full procurement process properly. Not so much spend (money) to save (money), but more spend (time) to save (time). And maybe we can clear up a couple of paradoxes on the way!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

How To Stand Out Through Radical Optimism

Is your news stream flooded with negativity? Do you unknowingly pass this negativity on to others? Perhaps it’s time to try something radical and be optimistic.

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As a species, the human race is hard-wired to react more strongly to fear and bad news than to positivity.

If you think back to our ancient ancestors living as hunter-gatherers, this biological reaction made sense. It was necessary to keep them alive in the wild, where curiosity about an ‘unknown’ within their environment was more likely to lead to death than it was to a positive experience.

In today’s world however, such life-threatening situations are rarely experienced, yet we still find our monkey brains on high-alert, fed by stories of drama, outrage and anxiety via social media and 24/7 news feeds.

These dramatic, fear-based headlines that are so common in today’s media prey on our anxiety and insecurity and leave us cautious at the best of times.

We find ourselves unable to think rationally or creatively or produce solutions that might otherwise benefit those around us.

I recently discussed this issue on my Inside Influence podcast with Dr Angus Hervey and Tane Hunter, the co-founders of Future Crunch.

Future Crunch believes that if we want to be more influential in our work environment, to think more creatively and produce solutions to problems that might otherwise remain unsolved – we need to become more conscious of maintaining a ‘healthy diet’ when it comes to the information we consume and share.

So how do we do that?

Change your information diet

The first step is to think of your consumption of news in terms of a diet.

Negativity is like junk food – it’s fine to consume every so often but indulge too much and your mental state will start to suffer.

Just like the physical body, the majority of your mental diet – the information you consume each and every day – should consist of healthier options that nurture, nourish and energise you rather than prey on your mental fears and anxieties.

Remember, all media news feeds (including newspapers) as designed to ‘feed’ us information that we have shown interest in in the past. Each and every time we click on headlines that promote anger, outrage and drama we’re telling these companies that we want to see more of the same.

It’s essential that we make a more conscious choice around the ‘information diet’ that we consume, to minimise the negative information stream and make sure that we’re staying in a productive and healthy mindset.

Now – let’s be clear – this does not mean ignoring important information in relation to your field, industry or the world at large. It helps no one to stick your head in the sand and pretend that bad things aren’t happening.

What this means is that – if you can maintain a healthy balance in what you consume – you will be more resilient when the bad things appear on the horizon. This means you will be able to easily think of effective and creative solutions. As opposed to being so beaten down and overwhelmed – that a fast and considered response is impossible.

Use optimism to stand out

Politicians from Julius Caesar to Donald Trump have always known that fear, drama and outrage are an incredibly effective tool for capturing the attention of others.

Take the rise of automation, for example. How many headlines have you seen out there that focus on the negative possibilities of robotics, such as mass unemployment or even an existential threat to the human race? Good news stories about how robotics will improve our quality of life tend to be lost among the negative noise because – again – we are hard-wired to pay attention to bad news.  

But here’s the secret. If a single person in your network, your organisation or your team chose to reframe these developments. Took the time to research, communicate, or write a list of exactly what opportunities these situations might create – would they stand out?

The answer is absolutely yes. To stand against this negative tide and broadcast their message through optimism and positivity – they’ll get noticed. Not only that – but my money is that that person will be the one invited to the table, offered the promotion or requested at the next high-level meeting.

The positive alternative

Overcoming our hard-wired preference for negativity isn’t easy, but it can be done.

Environmentalists around the globe are today coming to understand that they’ve made a critical error in spreading the message about global warming through a narrative of fear – talking about the disastrous consequences of climate change certainly won everyone’s attention, but progress has been slow.

Compare that to the new messages that are now appearing – where we’re being shown the limitless possibilities of renewable technologies and a greener world. Where we’re being given real and actionable ideas to help the situation.

Now that’s an approach to influence that will change things.

Optimism in procurement

Most procurement professionals will one day face the challenge of trying to get their business stakeholders on board with some sort of change agenda – whether it’s getting them to use a new system, reducing maverick spend, or simply engaging procurement earlier in their decision-making processes.

There are two ways to get people on board – through fear or positivity.

It’s a bit more complex than the carrot versus stick approach, but it boils down to replacing threats and cajoling with a positive, what’s-in-it-for-you message.

Instead of telling stakeholders that failing to engage with procurement will risk their project or earn them a slap on the wrist, educate them instead about the benefits – lower costs, higher savings, and better outcomes that align with their goals.

In the end, you want stakeholders to come on board with your initiative out of enthusiasm rather than out of fear.

In short, be aware of the power of fear and replace it with positivity wherever you can. Most of us made a 2019 New Year’s resolution to improve our diet – now it’s time to pay just as much attention on the fuel we give (and offer) our minds.

10 Phrases You Should Never Say At Work

What are the phrases you should avoid in the workplace? We reveal the top ten most irritating and annoying phrases that are guaranteed to wind up your colleagues…

Some are just totally meaningless pieces of jargon – thrown into the conversation to disguise the fact that you have don’t know what you talking about. Others are downright rude or deliberately confusing. While some of the things we say at work just make us look stupid.

So, what are the phrases to avoid? Well the top 10 most irritating and annoying phrases to say at work (things that are guaranteed to wind up your colleagues) are:

1. With all due respect

When someone says this, what do they actually mean?

Often, it is the exact opposite… this is just a passive/aggressive way of saying, “I know better than you”.  Respect you? Well, they obviously don’t.

So, it is probably no surprise that these four words really wind us up and have been voted the most aggravating in the workplace by around half of those surveyed by CV-Library. If you are ever tempted to use this phrase (even ironically), don’t.

2. Reach out

The problem with this phrase, is that it can have so many meanings. When you thank someone for “reaching out” to you, are you implying they are offering to help you or that they are asking for help? Telling someone else to do this (as in ‘go and reach out to accounts’) is patronising particularly if what you really want them to do is make contact in a highly professional manner.

While “I’ll get my people to reach out to you” is incredibly confusing. What does mean? That they will be in touch next week? Or is this just a polite way of saying “don’t call us and we won’t call you”?

3. At the end of the day and 4. It is what it is

So, the boss is stumped…and cannot think of a solution. So, they say “it is what it is” as a way of saying let’s just accept a bad situation. Worse, “at the end of the day” implies that what will be, will be. Put the two phrases together – At the end of the day, it is what it is – and you might as well throw your hands in the air and give up. Please: just say it like it is.

5. Think outside the box

What is wrong with telling someone to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions? Context. Generally, you are told to “think outside the box” when everyone else is stumped for ideas. So, you are being asked to do the impossible. Also, most organisations don’t actually welcome unconventional and original thinking.

6. Let’s regroup

This is another phrase that has too many meanings. Is this a polite way of telling a group that they are all useless and new people need to be brought into the meeting? Or that you need fresh ideas? Or just more time to think of new ideas? Confused? You will be.

7. Can I borrow you for a second? and 8. Have you got two minutes?

Another irritating habit is using a euphemism to impose on your time when you are already extremely busy. Let’s face facts: the interruption is never for two minutes let alone a second. The person who uses this phrase, knows you would refuse to give up your afternoon to help them. But when they pretend that all they need is just a small amount of your time, it is really hard to say “’no” without appearing difficult. Irritating, isn’t it? When you are tempted to use either of these phrases, think about that.

9. At this moment in time

This is a great way to obfuscate when you do not have a clue/haven’t completed the project/forgot to follow a lead/don’t want to commit to a yes or no.  etc. So, “Is the client going to make that purchase?”. Answer: “At this moment in time, they are considering it”. The truth? Anyone’s guess.

10. Get the ball rolling

This is a bit last century when sporting metaphors dominated the world of business gobbledegook. Remember: “pass the ball”, “left field”, and “knocking it out of the park”?  Not only is this dated, once again it is not good communication… tell it like it is.

Surprisingly, motoring metaphors such as “in the fast lane”, “shift up a gear”, “put the brakes on”…or that highly annoying “let’s park this to one side”, don’t feature in the top ten.

So next time you are tempted to slip into jargon remember it is highly irritating. Also, being direct gets better results. “People may take what you are saying the wrong way,” says Lee Biggins, founder and CEO of CV-Library. “If you’re hinting a circling back to the task later or asking for more hands on deck, this can come across as rude. Are they not good enough for this task?”

….AND THE 10 THINGS THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY IF YOU WANT A PROMOTION

While jargon is annoying, in an interview for a step-up the career ladder, it is being too informal that is the problem.

What are you trying to convey? If you are a more mature candidate, perhaps you believe (wrongly) that saying words like “epic fail” makes you down with the kids. It doesn’t.

Or if you genuinely litter your conversations with “totes” perhaps you don’t realise that this is NOT the way to get a better job (even if it is a very informal setting). It is just not professional.

So don’t be tempted. These are the buzzwords employers are fed up with hearing:

  1. Literally 
  2. Like
  3. Just sayin’ 
  4. Banter
  5. Totes
  6. Amazeballs
  7. My bad
  8. Yolo 
  9. Me thinks
  10. Sorry not sorry

“Be mindful that if you’re after a promotion, your employer won’t appreciate you saying a buzzword like ‘my bad’ to excuse yourself for making a mistake,” advises Lee Biggins who warns that using colloquialisms makes you appear less intelligent, can confuse colleagues if they don’t know exactly what you mean and frustrates those you work with because there is a “lack of substance” behind what you’re saying.

Want to get your wheels turning towards a supply chain career one could only dream of? Then don’t miss our upcoming Career Boot Camp with IBM – a free 5-part podcast series with some of the very best of the best. Check it out here: https://www.procurious.com/career-boot-camp-2019

Procurement Across Borders – How To Navigate Cross Cultural Situations

Tom Verghese shares his advice on how to navigate cross cultural situations with different attitudes to hierarchy, religion and collectivism…


By Daniel Jenny/ Shutterstock

In our last article, we began looking at CQ Knowledge which refers to your own personal knowledge and understanding of other cultures. We introduced the idea that differences and similarities between cultures can be assessed in terms of core values, beliefs, norms and behaviour and provided a cultural mirror which plots Nine Dimensions of Culture.

Having already discussed the first three dimensions, this month we will move onto the fourth, fifth and six dimensions and explore their application and give some tips and ideas on how to navigate these dimensions in cross cultural situations.

Dimension Four: Collectivism – Individualism

In Collectivist societies, people are concerned about the impact of their behaviour on other people and are more willing to sacrifice personal interest for the attainment of collectivist interests and harmony. Group harmony, loyalty and unity are emphasised. Examples of countries with a stronger preference for collectivist beliefs are Japan, Ecuador and India.

Individualistic societies tend to use personal characteristics and achievements to define self-worth. Free will and self-determination are important qualities. Individual welfare is valued over that of the group and everyone is expected to look after themselves and their family. Examples of countries with a stronger preference for Individualistic beliefs are The USA, Australia and Germany.

Some tips for people coming from a Collectivist culture working with an Individualistic culture are:

– Have a point of view on topics

– Be willing to speak out and challenge in meetings

Some tips for people from an Individualistic culture working with a Collectivist culture are:

– Think more from a ‘we’ than ‘I’ perspective

– Ask more questions to engage and get of sense of people’s thinking

Dimension Five: Religious – Secular

In religious cultures, religion plays a part in the everyday practices of life. This can include things like prayer, eating certain foods, observing special religious holidays etc. In these countries work and religious practices are intertwined. Countries that can be considered to have a stronger religious preference are Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Israel.

Secular cultures believe that there needs to be a separation between state and religion. These types of societies believe that decisions, work and public activities should be free from the influence of religion and religious practice. Some examples of Secular countries are Australia, Mexico and Denmark.

People coming from Religious cultures and working with Secular cultures should:

– Appreciate that others may not share the same beliefs as you

– Avoid bringing up the topic of religion unless asked

People coming from Secular cultures working with religious cultures should:

– Have an appreciation of how religious beliefs impact thinking

– Respect different belief systems

Dimension Six: Hierarchical – Equality

In Hierarchical cultures, inequality is seen as normal and is accepted as part of life. Titles and class position are very important and those in authority tend to exercise power in an autocratic and paternalistic manner. People in these cultures feel dependent on those in authority and are cautious about challenging or disagreeing with them. Countries with a stronger preference for this type of culture include Korea and India.

In Equality based cultures, value is placed on minimising levels of power. People expect to have more control and to be involved in the decision- making process. Young people are treated as equals and adults expect to be treated in the same way as those in leadership roles. Countries with a stronger preference of Equality based culture are Denmark and Switzerland.

Tips for people from Hierarchical cultures when working with those from Equality cultures:

– Learn how to express ideas with those in senior roles

– Be courageous to challenge ideas and address others as equals

Tips for people coming from Equality cultures when working with those from Hierarchical cultures:

– Respect titles, age, qualifications, positions and appreciate where you fit in

– Learn how to adapt your tone of voice, pitch and language depending on who you are speaking with.

By taking into account some of the different values and beliefs that cultures may have, we are able to increase our agility and better manage and understand some of the challenges we may face in cross cultural situations. In particular this leads to better results and fewer tensions in the work place.

The Moment When You Become Your Worst Customer

What happens when the shoe is on the other foot? What can you learn from being the customer?


By Billion Photos / Shutterstock

Recently I found myself buying graphic design services and it was a very interesting and informative experience. From the outset and initial engagement I was clear on the base concept and the output that I needed, but through the design process I found myself to be indecisive and part way through I completely changed track.

I’m sure we can all relate to these customer types that the company PATlive have coined.



  • The Complainer: A business’ greatest ally, this customer has a lot to be unhappy about and you’re going to hear all about it
  • The Overly Agreeable:These types will yes you to death and you never get to the root of their issues
  • The Expert: They know way more about your job than you do. Trust
  • The Pessimist: There’s a dark side to every solution. Well, the pessimist believes that’s true
  • The Staller: Hard to convince and hesitant, the staller can be a major toughie

In my experience, as the customer I became The Staller. It was such an unusual feeling for me and it made me think about communication styles and how we treat our stakeholders.

Stakeholder management

What is a stakeholder? Ultimately it’s someone that you need to work with from another part of the business in order to get things done. But really a stakeholder is just a person and the quickest way to keep things moving in your project, is to understand that person, what makes them tick and what world they operate in. You then need to adapt yourself in order to reach a successful outcome.

As a function, procurement can sometimes be considered a Dictator. Most of us would certainly never treat our customers that way, but, ultimately we are operating within a “rules” environment whether we are public or private sector. No matter how agile, flexible or creative we are, our game is managing risk. This can cause procurement people to put themselves in a position that is above the customer or stakeholder, in the earlier example we become “The Expert” and we expect the business to simply trust us based on our job title, our communication style can sometimes be influenced by this subconscious expert bias.

The mash up

In an information rich world, and information rich sector, overlaying customer types and communication styles can be a helpful way to ensure that we are efficient and effective. There are oodles of four box diagrams of stakeholder management, positioning, market dynamics, the list goes on and while this is interesting to understand categories of spend / suppliers and our business – it is largely academic. Just because a supplier sees your company as a “cash cow”, doesn’t mean that the relationship manager (who may be a “pleaser” type) will be seeking to exploit the contract. I find it much more effect to break down companies, contracts, teams and relationship contact points in to communication and customer types and to be open and receptive in stakeholder meetings

Back to basics

Tips for effective stakeholder meetings:

1. Prep

  • Be clear on what your questions are, what are the gaps that you need to know?
  • Be clear on your recommended way forward but be genuinely open to new ideas
  • Know the patterns of the business unit, the trends, what they’re likely to do and have plans A, B and C ready to go
  • Decide what you’ll concede on and what you will not

2. Chat

  • Meet face to face, or at least on the phone. The more connection the better!
  • Be open, be collaborative
  • But don’t be a pushover

3. Handshake

  • Agree what the actions are in a follow up email. We all know the people that smile and nod in front of you but run off and do the opposite! Take the time to follow up a summary of agreed points.

Learnings

By objectively observing my own recent experience, I was able to deepen empathy and understanding of what is like to go through a process you don’t understand or buy something that you’re not an expert in.

My designer being the super cool professional that she is, had me well and truly covered and had already seen my curve ball coming. Such is the role of any professional, she:

  • Know’s her stuff (technical knowledge)
  • Learned me as a customer
  • Interpreted my future needs to future proof hers
  • Led me through the process in collaboration even though she knew that I would land on the final concept right from the beginning

So what did I learn from this process?

It allowed me to fully understand that customers don’t always deliberately drag the chain, they don’t wake up in morning with the intention to delay the project, or with the sole purpose to throw out my work programme. That dilly dallying is not a sign of weakness. And that sometimes, I simply do not know better than my customer!

Although the above answers are tongue-in-cheek, there is some undercurrent of truth that I think we can all confess to thinking from time to time and so I encourage you in those moments to stop and consider how you would feel as your customer.

Extra for experts

When I was writing this it brought to mind the communication style toolbox “StraightTalk” this company has been around for awhile but for good reason, their communication styles make sense and they present them in a box diagram – procurement folk love a good box diagram!

Take their quiz and see what type you are!

Do You Know What Your Procurement Function Can— And Can’t—Do?

Leaders who know more about their procurement functions are more realistic about what procurement can do—and how much more it can achieve.

By RZ Images/ Shutterstock

For many business leaders, the procurement department may seem to rank low on the list of worries. In many companies, procurement accounts for less than one percent of the total functional budget, so it may not attract the same attention as functions with larger budgets. More importantly, however, we find that executives see procurement as purely a transactional function that executes commands and delivers goods, rather than a potential source of value.

But that myopia has consequences. The Global Procurement Excellence survey, encompassing more than 1,100 organizations worldwide, shows that the best-run procurement organizations have a far more accurate understanding of their own capabilities than other businesses have (Exhibit 1). Procurement followers, by contrast, are especially prone to overestimating their procurement skills.

Overestimating existing capabilities blinds companies to the need for improvement. And where is that improvement needed most? Certainly, procurement functions need to get the basics right in category management, global sourcing, supplier development, and risk management. But the survey data show that single most important driver of procurement performance isn’t in these “hard” metrics, but in “soft” metrics regarding the people in the procurement department (Exhibit 2).

Talent management is an especially major challenge, showing significant gaps between procurement leaders and followers. Scores were especially low on procurement career paths, consistent with perceptions of procurement as a field with limited advancement potential. Organizations that created selective job-rotation programs within procurement were more likely to be procurement leaders, as were those that made sure that high performers were well rewarded and moved on to other parts of the business.

Exhibit 1

Procurement leaders invest in talent management and set high aspirations

Exhibit 2

Procurement leaders are accurate in their self-assessment while followers fail to see performance gaps

Furthermore, with digital proving just as critical in procurement as in any other part of the organization, talent attraction and retention are becoming even more important for the future. Only by hiring, training, and retaining people with digital skills will procurement be able to deliver in an increasingly disrupted and competitive landscape.

These findings illustrate how important it is for businesses to keep procurement from becoming a backwater. It’s worth management attention, and it’s worth investing in procurement’s people.

This article was written by Riccardo Drentin, an associate partner in McKinsey & Company’s London office and Fabio Russo, an engagement manager in the Milan office.

Want to get your wheels turning towards a supply chain career one could only dream of? Then don’t miss our upcoming Career Boot Camp with IBM – a free 5-part podcast series with some of the very best of the best. Check it out here: https://www.procurious.com/career-boot-camp-2019

Is Data A Promise Or A Peril? 3 Things That Really Matter

Why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively.

By red mango/ Shutterstock

It’s everywhere and it’s generated every second. Just texted someone? You created data. Just booked an Uber. You created data. Did some grocery shopping? You created data. And that’s before we even get to your professional context. Sending an email, making notes in a meeting, paying invoices, assessing your business strategy. It’s all data.

With ninety per cent of the world’s data having been created in the last two years, Domo’s recent report shares some staggering facts about the explosion of information; equivalent to approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. Not quite sure what quintillion is? If I say a massive, it’s a huge understatement. But you get the idea.

So, with all of this data, why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively. And with all the talk of digital transformation and the role of analytics driving new insights, why is it proving so hard to translate data into meaningful actions and outcomes? These three things really do matter:

1. Upgrade your business and your thinking

Historically, legacy systems, fragmented business models and poor documentation are all elements that contributed to the difficulty of accessing meaningful data. Historically, organisations would have to work for months to collate important data on every aspect of the business; customers, sales, financials, and forecasting to name a few. Data would often be incomplete, unclear, or in some instances, missing. If you weren’t looking for it, you would be working on cleansing it, a painful by-product of the adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. The paradox of the digital world is that this becomes so much easier and harder at the same time. Easier because the capabilities of technology allow analysis of data to be faster and more insightful than ever before. We can now find patterns in historical information, and create predictions that help businesses position resources where demand and customer expectations intersect. And prediction is the alchemy of organisational success. Studying classics at university, I understand that prophecy and prediction are all about enabling the competitive advantage. And technology can enable that with thankfully a lot more clarity than a Delphic oracle.

The flipside of this however is that systems, processes and models are not necessarily well positioned to take advantage of what is now possible.  Doing things the same way is not designed to deliver a different outcome and for many organisations looking for quick wins, the foundational and cultural changes required to achieve foundational transformation are too complex. It’s easier to implement a digital technology. While that will improve the current state, the absence of a more comprehensive improvement strategy means an organisation will only go so far. To capitalise on the real opportunity data must become part of the DNA.

2. Don’t tell me more, tell me what matters

Along with internal and market data, organisations are now able to access a new world of data. Social media, third party data including weather and GPS, IoT and devices. Today data is literally and metaphorically, Big. The opportunity for an organisation here is that they can learn and use so much information that was previously unavailable. The agriculture industry can use weather and IoT to identify optimal harvest time, and retailers can use their own loyalty and purchase data with social media to target customers with highly personalised promotions and offers. And so with the quantum of data being so big, leaders are faced with another well known conundrum; that of analysis-paralysis. Where the challenge previously may have been not knowing enough because it wasn’t available or feasible to access, leaders are now confronted with the proliferation of data that creates a risk around not knowing enough because there is likely more that should be known. The organisational problem this creates then is that leaders are unable or unwilling to make a decision because the breadth of information is just too confusing or because there is personal risk in making a decision that may be proven to be incorrect if more data presents itself. Another mindset shift is required here and that is for leaders to make a decision based on the best possible facts at the time, and be ready to adapt and course correct should new data provide a different option.

3. How you use it matters even more than what you have

Data and big tech companies present very interesting case studies for cross-industry insight on how data can be used, and misused.  Some companies, like Apple’s Tim Cook, have come out very publicly to discuss privacy and how consumer data should be used, and how it should be protected. Others, like Facebook, have been conspicuous in their silence and their absence on their use of data given it underpins their business model. The last two years have seen a significant change in sentiment on what we, as citizens and as consumers, are willing to accept and condone. And while the conversation is still being played out, and the resolution is unclear at this time, it does provide valuable insight for any organisation that is collecting data and contemplating options for how it can be used. Trust in brand, and trust in leaders cannot be separated from how an organisation conducts itself.