7 Negotiation Tricks Procurement Professionals Must Know – Best of the Blog 2019

Every procurement professional has a special bag of tricks for a negotiation – let’s see if you recognise these seven tips from experts in the field…

negotiation tricks
Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

This article was written by Giuseppe Conti and first published in April.

The benefits of countless hours of negotiation experiences is that you know what you should be doing more of and what to stop doing. We discover the key traits and tools that make us perform better and are better armed for our next negotiation.

Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning interviewed seven procurement leaders to find out their favourite negotiation trick that played a key part in their business success.

1. Making the first proposal right away

I like to come to the negotiation table well prepared and well-aware of the market alternatives. Making the first proposal allows me to anchor conditions to a level close to the bottom of the market offer, immediately reducing the amplitude of the BATNA of my counterpart. Then I try to improve the conditions that are more valuable for me by making and requesting mutual concessions.

Francesco Lucchetta, Director Strategic Supply – Pentair

2. Preparation, Target, Value

I make sure I follow these three steps at the starting point in any negotiation where I am leading. The first is undoubtedly being well prepared. Secondly, to have a clear understanding of the desired outcome with a predefined “target range”, and thirdly, to fully understand the “value” of the business in the context of the potential suppliers being considered.

Les Ball, Chief Procurement Officer, ABB Motors and Generators

3. Profile your counterpart

Understand whom you face before negotiating! I use initial negotiation meetings to pique the interest the person I’m negotiating with – letting them discover all the potential benefits of working with my company. Then I encourage the speaker to talk as much as possible whilst showing genuine interest in their activities. I try to understand the way they work, their objectives and challenges. Having key objectives clearly in mind, I can better understand where our common interests are and how to shape the deal accordingly. From this moment onwards, I consider it the precise point where the negotiation starts.

Olivier Cachat Chief Procurement Officer, IWG

4. Asking yourself the right questions

It depends on the scenario but for mepersonally, negotiation always starts from knowing your position versus the market. You need to ask yourself ‘what you need to achieve’ and ‘what is the nature of the parties and the cultures you are engaging with’. Nothing beats preparation and being able to explain ‘what you need, why you need it and what is in it for the other party’. My go-to-guide for knowing the best methods in discussions are those from ‘Getting to Yes’ and its methods of principle negotiation. Be firm on your expectations, be open how to get there.

Jon Hatfield, Director Global Supply Management, PPG

5. Do your homework!

Preparation is the essence of a successful negotiation. Knowing your targets, your limits, and your BATNA is extremely important however it is useless if you fail to understand the other party. Put yourself in their shoes to know what they are looking for and how they would conduct research about your company. Do they really need your business? Are they looking for volume, for margin, for market share or for a combination of these? With these insights you will be able to drive and steer the negotiation to your preferences.

Christophe Schmitt, Head of Strategic Supplies, Omya

6. Make them love your vision and strategy

My preferred technique is to make the strategy attractive to the supplier and develop a common vision. Once the supplier is onboard, you can design an agreement in a very favourable direction.

Fabrice Hurel, Director Global Indirect Sourcing, Emerson

7. Questions, Questions, Questions

Asking questions, particularly the ones carefully prepared for in advance. I recall a negotiation with a professional services provider where the negotiation lasted for 3.5 hours. They started the negotiation feeling very confident about winning the business. After two hours of thought-provoking questions, they decided to substantially reduce their prices and ambitions. At the end, we reached a satisfactory agreement for both parties (good for them, great for us!)

Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner, Conti Advanced Business Learning

The answers were collected by Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a consulting firm that specialises in negotiation & influencing. This article is part of a series aimed at collecting real-life negotiation experiences from Procurement executives.

Why You Need to Hyper-Specialise – Best of the Blog 2019

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

experts hyper-specialise
Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

This article was written by Julie Masters, and was first published in February.

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. People who hyper-specialise, 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?

5 Favourite Supply Chain Job Interview Questions…And Answers – Best of the Blog 2019

There is no limit to the types of questions that can be asked at an interview for a mid-level role in supply chain management (SCM).  We have selected five of our favourites which come up regularly…

interview questions
Photo by Johanna Buguet on Unsplash

This article was written by Elaine Porteous and first published in August.

There is no limit to the types of questions that can be asked at an interview for a mid-level role in supply chain management (SCM).  We have selected five of our favourites which come up regularly but first, let’s pause for thought about what employers are looking for and why.    

Supply chain careers of the future

According to Unilever, a big global employer with complex supply chains, future opportunities are in:

  • Manufacturing
  • Data analysis 
  • Procurement
  • Transportation
  • Customer service

The accepted way top employers assess your specific skills and technical competencies and your future potential is by conducting a behavioural based interview.  You may be asked to describe situations or tasks you were involved in, your exact role and the results. 

They may say “tell me about a time when ………” The skill here is to steer the answers to the best work you have done. Aim to demonstrate how you understand the challenges of today’s complex supply chains, especially theirs. This should lead the interviewers to outline their current problem areas. 

What competencies are employers looking for?  

Problem-Solving

Day-to-day supply chain management involves facing unexpected problems, failures and disruptions. Interviewers need to find out if candidates can identify issues and establish root causes. You may be asked to explain how you resolved types of situations or if you did not, what lessons you learned.

Analytical Skills

To stay competitive companies have to find ways to reduce costs, move goods more quickly and manage supporting operations. You will need to demonstrate your ability to find solutions and implement process improvements using available data.

Communication

Interviewers want to know how you can manage difficult situations such as an angry customer or unhappy service provider.  They will try and establish whether there is likely to be a communication barrier between you and others, both internally and externally.

Global Perspective

Businesses are becoming increasingly global; online connectivity is available 24/7. Interviewers are likely to try to establish your grasp of economics, cultural differences and current world events that may impact their business. 

Five favourite supply chain interview questions

Q1. What is supply chain management? or  What are the key elements of supply chain management?

A. There is no one correct answer. Basically, the purpose of SCM is to make goods or services readily available to fulfil customer demand. One possible answer is “supply chain management encompasses the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing and procurement, conversion, and all logistics management activities.” (CSCMP’s definition). 

Consider adapting your answer to suit the employer; its business may be more involved in services than goods.   

Q2. What experience can you bring this role?

A. This is where you can shine. Using what you know from the job specification, be prepared to explain what you have achieved in similar circumstances.  .The key is to be specific and factual when describing projects. Include actual values such as savings achieved, processes improved and size of teams. Go on to describe how these projects benefitted your employer. 

Interviewers use the STAR technique:

  • SITUATION  you were in
  • TASK performed
  • ACTION you took
  • RESULT of this activity.

Important: do not overstate your level of experience. It is possible that the interview will dig deep. 

Q3. How can you add value to our business?

A. Your research into the current financial and operational status of the company and its place in the market is useful here. Listen carefully to any additional information the interviewer gives you on what’s important to them so that you can respond directly to their problem areas in the supply chain. 

Explain about your ability to use the new tools and technologies available, how you would improve supplier relationships and what you would do to save them money, (e.g. reduce inventory, eliminate wastage, procure better).  The aim is to demonstrate your understanding of the role on offer and how you are a perfect fit for their needs.

Q4. How much do you know about our company and our supply chain?

A.  Organisations expect you to know what they do, where they fit into their industry hierarchy and who their main competitors are. You have to demonstrate that you have done the required homework. They may ask for example: “what do you know about our products and services” or “what is our approach to sustainability?”

Fast-moving consumer goods manufacturers and retailers are particularly expert at this. Interviewees at L’Oréal and Diageo have been asked for detail about product ranges, customer bases and global sales figures.

Q5. How are you keeping up with the new developments in supply chain management?

A. Explain what you are actively doing to understand the new developments in processes and technology, especially as it affects their operations. However, be honest and realistic when you express how you will use this new knowledge to further their goals.

The interviewer is trying to assess your future potential. Consider your answer to an imaginary question such “ what do you think we can do to improve our supply chain agility?”

A hot tip

Many inexperienced interviewers ask silly and irrelevant questions. Some questions are just pointless such as “what is your greatest weakness?” or “how would you describe yourself in three words?”  

Read up on these inane questions beforehand and be prepared to address them with stock answers.

At the end of the interview

Ask questions about any areas that you feel have not been adequately covered to your satisfaction. Remember, they may be interviewing you but you are also considering whether you want to work for them. After thanking the interviewer, ask about the next steps in the process and a possible time frame for an offer. This is the point at which you have the opportunity to close the deal. 

10 Phrases You Should Never Say at Work – Best of the Blog 2019

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…

never say these phrases
Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

This article was originally published in June.

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.

Could RPA Make Procurement Jobs More Human? – Best of the Blog 2019

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

RPA - procurement
Photo by Matan Segev from Pexels

This article was written by Bertrand Maltaverne, and first published in February.

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. They prevent them from focusing on relationships that could generate more value and better outcomes.  

This problem isn’t new. It’s 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 steroids…

“[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

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.

Typical Benefits

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 normalising data (typos, formatting, etc.) and by ensuring that naming/typing conventions are respected.
  • Support to gain better insights
    • Supplier score-carding: 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, combined with other technologies, is an efficient way to connect data silos to win back valuable time. It can 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.

Half of us Lie to Get a Job – Can You Get Away with It – Best of the Blog 2019

Dying to move on? Then try lying. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone if you lie to get a job

tell a lie
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

This article was originally published in April.

More than half of us confess to not telling the whole truth on our CVs and one in ten people have even managed to land a new role as a result. However, there are certain do’s and don’ts to take into consideration.

Embellishing experience

This is the most common untruth according to research from The University of Law, with nearly one in three confessing to lying about past experience on their CV – and that’s because it is easy to get away with a few exaggerations, provided what you are saying is based on facts.

Careful wording is key. So, “experience of leading a team” is fine even if you have only done this once or twice. “Experienced team leader”, however, is probably a step too far.

Avoid any claims that are easy to check. You can be vague on dates (for example, 2015 to 2016 – is a way to get around a very short time in a job that lasted just a few months from November to January), but listing your title as “Operations Director” when your LinkedIn profile/the company website clearly states “Manager” is asking to get caught out.

Giving your skills a boost

This is another aspect of our CVs where we are more likely to lie. Skills are easier to exaggerate than qualifications (which are easy to check) and as such you are more likely to get away with a few embellishments.

With many CVs now scanned electronically make sure you include the exact words listed in the job spec to ensure you get through to the interview stage. Most of us can give examples of when we have been “target driven” or have shown “great attention to detail” so think of how you have shown these skills (just in case you are asked to prove your claims).

Hyping your hobbies

This is often the most difficult part of a CV to write. If you own up about spending your free time in the pub playing pool and drinking pints, it doesn’t do you any favours. No wonder one in five say they would be most comfortable lying about their interests (but don’t forget to do your research – interviewers often ask about hobbies to break the ice).

Keeping quiet about things you want to hide

This is not exactly lying. Around one in ten of us feel pressure to lie about our age. Why bother? The Equalities Act makes age discrimination illegal. As such you are not required to put your date of birth on your CV and should not even be asked about your age. The same applies to marital status, religion, gender and sexuality. In fact, if you feel uncomfortable lying follow the “if in doubt, leave it out” approach.

If all else fails…own your failings

If you don’t quite meet the job spec, don’t worry. Talent shortages mean that many employers are now looking for someone with potential rather than holding out of a candidate that can tick all the boxes. The world of work is changing so quickly, that the job you are doing today will inevitably change over the next five to ten years.

As such adaptability and reliance along with soft skills such as relationship building, communication and organisation skills are more important than experience for many hirers. So, don’t forget to add these to your CV.

But when it comes to tech…don’t blag it

You may be able to demonstrate your soft skills by giving a few examples, but one area you are likely to get caught is with tech. Some employers may even give you a skills test or ask you to give examples of how you have used a particular piece of software.

James, 35, a Project Manager from London, and one of those surveyed by the University of Law, shares this cautionary tale: “Earlier on in my career I applied for a job that was out of my reach in terms of experience, but the money was good, and the company was one I’d always wanted to work for, I thought, why not try my luck? To help me secure the role, I exaggerated on my previous roles and claimed to be able to use a software I hadn’t even heard of (how hard could it be to learn on the job, right?).

I landed an interview but didn’t expect them to go into a detailed discussion about the software, asking me how I’ve used it to help run my projects and report effectively. I tried to guess my way through it, but they definitely knew I had no idea what they were talking about. Safe to say they didn’t call me in for the second round.”

So better to be safe than sorry…and if you are going to lie, don’t lie about being able to do things you can’t.

5 Reasons Why Santa is the Ultimate Procurement Professional

Think you’re at the peak of the procurement and supply chain profession? Think again – Santa is the ultimate procurement professional (festively speaking…).

santa
Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

We’re fast approaching the end of 2019. It’s a time to reflect on the past year and consider what we have all achieved. We can look at all our successes, the lessons we have learned and everything that we will do in 2020. Perhaps there’s even a plan for how to take the next big step to that coveted leadership role in the profession.

But at this time of year, we all need to remember that our efforts pale in comparison to one individual. As we start thinking about the office party season, holidays and general festivities, this individual is only just revving up into top gear. Their whole year is driving towards this moment, but they are as prepared as they ever are.

And, while displaying all the skills we seek as a top procurement professional, they’ll deliver on all the wishes and promises that have been made. We are, of course, talking about…Santa. Father Christmas. Pére Noël. Svaty Mikolas. Kris Kringle.

Of course, there are other brilliant procurement professionals out there. But, at least in a festive setting, there’s none like Santa Claus for getting the job done. Here are my 5 reasons why:

1. Santa always has the right specification

Working tirelessly with his external (children, parents) and internal (elves, Mrs. Claus) stakeholders, he makes sure the specification is right. It can’t be a coincidence that children get exactly what they ask for, year after year. It all comes down to knowing your customers and then passing on the full specification to your manufacturing department/elves.

2. His Logistics operation is second to none

The global population is currently 7.7 billion people. Of this, an estimated 1.9 billion are children. Let’s assume then that the average household contains 4 people – this means Santa will visit 1.9 billion homes.

If there are 2 presents per child, this is a whopping 3.8 billion presents, delivered at a rate of 158.3 million per hour, 2.6 million present per minute. All of this with a team of 9 reindeer and one sleigh. Without the best logistics division and the latest technology, there’s no way all the presents are delivered to the correct child!

3. Belief, Influence, Leadership

Santa wields influence that most procurement leaders can only dream of. A following of magical, semi-magical and mortal people and creatures all follow him willingly. They work for the entire year to prepare for one day, then start again for the following year almost immediately.

Forming part of this leadership is belief. As we all know well (or at least we should) Santa’s sleigh and reindeer don’t fly without the belief in him and the Christmas spirit. And given he’s not missing deliveries to your house, it’s safe to assume this belief is still going strong!

4. Santa can always get the right price

Short of being some form of crazy, benevolent trillionaire (with superlative investments), Santa needs to be a dynamite negotiator or run the best RFQs. How else could he source all the toys or raw materials without bankrupting himself each year?

And like the best procurement professional, he doesn’t pass any cost increases on to his customers but works out the best deals to keep costs down so his end customers (the parents, of course!) don’t have to foot the bill.

5. He’s got the Nice-Naughty List on blockchain

How else do you create a fully traceable, immutable record of who has been naughty and nice in any given year? Santa needs to be able to trust the information he has on all behaviours, without the possibility that it has been compromised. Plus, it’s also handy for making sure that all the sourcing he does is ethical and sustainable…

So, if you have ambitions for a higher office in 2020, you’d do worse than looking at Santa as a good example to follow. And if all else fails, at least you’ll have a sunnier outlook on life! Ho, ho, ho!

How to Manage Unwanted Supplier Gifts

In days gone by, Christmas gifts from suppliers were the norm. Now it’s no longer the case. But how do you turn them down without offending anyone?

unwanted gifts
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

Way back, towards the end of the last century, year-end gifts from suppliers were not only abundant but also expected. It was common practice for suppliers to spend serious money on lavish trips, dining out and sports tickets for their procurement friends.

Sometimes they would send you a fridge or a TV to your home address. In return, it was expected that they would receive preferential treatment.  Gift policies, if they existed, were generally ignored.

Fast Forward to Today 

Most companies have a gift policy or at least a code of conduct which provides guidance on the acceptance of gifts from suppliers. Amazingly, these vary widely from zero tolerance to those which are too loose and therefore left open to interpretation. 

Some companies allow staff to accept nothing, not even pens and calendars.  Some are more realistic where luxury food items, flowers and low-value branded gifts are acceptable, usually up to a fixed value.

Julian Friedland, a US ethics professor and philosopher, believes that ethical businesses tend to succeed better over the long term. He says, “If you don’t have one [a gift policy], then you open yourself up to a credibility, liability problem. Whatever product you happen to be selling, whether it’s a service or actual object of any kind, can be compromised by the appearance of some conflict of interest.”

“A good policy will preclude employees from accepting anything that increases their self-worth—such as cash, stocks and shares, or expensive presents.”

Communicate the Gift Policy

Ideally, every organisation should clearly communicate its gift policy to any external party that could influence procurement behaviour. This includes not only current suppliers but aspiring suppliers, potential employees, consultants, business advisors and other associates.

A firm communication should have the effect of at least limiting the problem. However, it may be too late for the upcoming silly season.      

Managing Unacceptable Gifts

Despite the above, unacceptable gifts will arrive.  There are quite a few options here, each has its problems:

  • Return the gift to the supplier

Emphasise that, regretfully,  your policy precludes you from accepting this wonderful gift. (Did they know about the policy?). This action may run the risk of souring the future relationship a little, but too bad.

  • Share the spoils between members of the procurement team

This should have the effect of ensuring that no-one is influenced to act in favour of the supplier. The risk here is that end-users and any subject matter experts (SME) could be aggrieved and upset at being excluded. It becomes even more complicated when the procurement team is decentralised.  

  • Raffle the gifts internally and donate the proceeds to a chosen charity

Ideally, the charity or NGO should be one that is already supported by the organisation.  It is best not to choose the CEO’s favourite animal shelter or any unregistered charity or one with only minority support.

  • Donate the actual goods to a charity that would directly benefit and advise the supplier of your actions

This may conflict with your corporate social responsibility policy so check first.  This action could even have some upside for the supplier who could claim this as a form of sideways philanthropy.      

Review your Gifts Policy

It may be too late for this round but let’s do it. The gift policy should state whether employees are allowed to accept gifts both within and outside of the work premises.

If a gift is allowed, the policy should define the acceptable top value and type of gift permissible. It should also note any exceptions that need the approval of a more senior-level employee. 

“A good policy will preclude employees from accepting anything that increases their self-worth – such as cash, stocks and shares, or expensive presents.”

Top Tip: Keep a centralised record with details of all gifts accepted and make it open for reference. This keeps everyone honest. 

“It’s Not About Me” and Other Myths About Becoming an Influencer

Want to be an influencer in your space? And still think it’s not about you? Then think again – because it really is.

being an influencer
Photo from Tookapic on Pexels

“It’s not about me”.

That’s one of the sentences I hear most when working with people who want to become an influencer in their space.

It usually comes hand in hand with, “I know I need to stand out more. I know that the best way to a seat at the table is to focus on contributing as an authority. I know that I need to step out from behind my role and own my space as a thought leader.”

Then I usually hold my breath and wait for the next line.

“I just…don’t want it to be all about me”

Unfortunately, influence, like leadership, comes with one golden rule. It’s always about you. Now, I’m not talking about narcissism or arrogance, or stealing the spotlight or conversation away from other people who deserve the recognition. I simply mean it comes with responsibility. The willingness to stand behind your words and ideas, to take full ownership of the vision as well as the possible consequences.

Basically to step in the arena without the safety of the crowd.

However, just as important as that is another golden rule. For any idea, company or movement to be its most compelling, it needs a human face. Think about where Tesla or SpaceX might be now if Elon Musk, who is basically an introverted engineer, didn’t take the stage at any point to talk about his vision? Or the impact of the recent climate change protests without the courage of Greta Thunberg?

Here’s a simple framework for stepping out into the arena and building influence as a procurement professional without gambling with your integrity:

Accept That It Is About You

Here’s the rub. If you want to be a thought leader in your space, it is going to be about you. You are going to need to stand up and own a unique point of view and take responsibility and drive a conversation.

And that, at its very essence, is going to be about you – your ideas, your DNA, your unique standpoint.

Try this for a useful reframe: “What is the highest contribution I can make here?” By asking that question it becomes less about your identity – and more about your experiences, everything you’ve learned and what you can see that others might miss. It also gives you permission to speak from a place of high integrity – focusing on contributing something useful – rather than simply seeking attention.

So, what’s the highest contribution that you could make right now inside your organisation? To your stakeholders, or to potential talent that might be looking to join your team? It’s by answering those questions that we begin to build trust as an authority.

Remember It’s About Us Too

Now that you’ve thought of the highest contribution you can make as an expert. How can you then pull in members of your team – or other talented people in your organisation or network? Shining a light on their ideas and combining your voices and make an even bigger impact?

Your voice alone might be compelling enough – but combine that with other experts, other perspectives from other fields. Not only will the volume of your voices be louder, but the combined network (and collective influence) you bring to the table will be exponentially larger than going it alone. Not to mention the amount you will learn on the journey.

So, who can you collaborate with either internally or outside your organisation in order to drive a more powerful conversation? What credible perspectives would you need to get the right people’s attention? Who already has a network you need to tap into?

In this day and age the people we look to most as an influencer are the ones who can pull together the best information and sources – and then convert that knowledge into clarity.

Let It Be All About Them

When you start thinking about contributing to a conversation in your industry, first think about the questions your target market are currently asking. What pain is your organisation currently experiencing? What opportunities are out there that aren’t being capitalised on?

Take these and compile a list of the top five questions important to your target audience about the space in which you operate.

Now here is the most important part of this approach – avoid using jargon. Often the moment we feel people’s eyes glaze over when we present new ideas. It has nothing to do with the content and 100 per cent to do with the language we’re using.

Every target market has what we would call ‘charismatic language’ – which is basically the words and phrases they use in relation to this topic. Figure these out and you’re well on your way to cut through.

Influencer: Contribution Not Attention

So – the bottom line. It is about you. However it’s also about us – and about them.

The most compelling influencer isn’t in the business of seeking attention. Instead their focus is on contributing to the highest level, driving forward important conversations and collecting a variety of points of view to shed new light on the space they own. Focus on that – and whether it’s about you or not will no longer feel important.

Julie Masters is a globally recognised expert in influence, authority and thought leadership. She is the CEO and Founder of Influence Nation and Founder of ODE Management – responsible for launching and managing the careers of some of the worlds most respected thought leaders. Julie is also the host of the weekly podcast Inside Influence – an exploration into what it takes to find and own your voice – and then use it to drive a conversation, an idea, an industry or a Nation. To subscribe check out iTunes or via Juliemasters.com.

5 Ways to Thank a Supplier this Holiday Season

Gifts are fairly common this time of year. But are you doing anything to recognise and thank your suppliers for their hard work this year?

thank you
Photo from Gratisography on Pexels

Let the gift basket parade begin!

It is the holiday season. The cheese trays, cards, fruit towers, yeti coffee cups pour in from suppliers at this time of year. Savvy sales teams and account managers might even take the time to hand write a card thanking you for the business relationship and surprise you with a very thoughtful gift. 

Of course, these gifts are then shared, according to the policies and practices of ethical receipt of gifts, around the office, increasing the festive mood for everyone. 

As in any great, or even good, relationship, the gifts are exchanged – both ways.  Therefore, I am perplexed by the one-way exchange of gifts between suppliers and their customers.  Maybe that is because traditionally the gift from the customer was their business? 

However, what if we changed that this year and offered the gift of recognition and appreciation to our high performing and high potential suppliers?  Just like anyone else, a simple gift of appreciation motivates, builds trust, and breaks down barriers in the relationship. 

Here are 5 simple ways to do just that.

1. Write a thank you note

What if each year in October you performed a quick review of suppliers, noting the ones who performed exceptionally well this year?  Then, the category teams would acquire some thank you cards and write notes of gratitude to those suppliers. 

This simple act would be something that the suppliers would find as extraordinary. And therefore, would be motivated to give their best to you in the new year. 

2. Ask them how you could help them and then do it

Great suppliers love to help you. Often sharing expertise, insights into the marketplace, and solutions to complex business problems. 

At the same time, suppliers could also benefit from the same from their clients.  What if we asked our high performing and high potential suppliers how we can help them?  First of all, the supplier will not be accustomed to this. 

Once they realise the sincerity of the question and the help is received, there will be a bond formed with that supplier, open lines of honest communication are achieved, and more innovative solutions offered. 

3. Pay on time

Seems simple enough, right? (This made me laugh.) 

After working on these processes for most of my career within Procurement, this is a constant struggle for most. Then, you layer in some of the cash flow practices around the end of the year that some do, and the late payments escalate. 

How impressive would it be if, for your best suppliers, there was a proactive review of the accounts every autumn to ensure the accounts were paid up current by the end of the year. Wow! 

Not only would that make the suppliers extremely happy, but it would get Procurement and Accounts Payable resources out of the woods on those accounts for a while heading into the new year.

4. Facilitate an introduction

Suppliers always want to meet people who you know. These people could be within your company, or external within your networks.  Facilitating the introduction would be a great way to recognise a job well done. 

It shows you trust the supplier to perform well and that you are willing to share the success with others.

5. Give them a social media shout out

Of course, you will have to check on your internal policies on this one, but there is a large trend on social media platforms like LinkedIn to recognise suppliers for outstanding performance. 

This trend creates a perfect win-win scenario – often showing off some project that the buy side organisation is implementing, the supplier who helped them achieve success, and how they partnered together to get it done.  Sometimes these are large achievements, and sometimes they are small day to day ones like providing outstanding safety to employees. 

Suppliers love this type of shout out, as it gives them instant access to your network of contacts and a vote of confidence from you at the same time.

As Procurement organisations are looking to add value well beyond cost, your ability to create trusted, value adding, innovative relationships with your suppliers takes centre stage. Often big changes like the shift Procurement is going through, start with simple steps forward. 

So, this holiday season, let’s be grateful to those suppliers who achieved excellence this year by saying thank you.