Procurement: The Startup’s New Best Friend?

We looked in an earlier blog at the benefits for large businesses of working with start-ups and SMEs and how procurement could make a successful connection. Here we investigate why procurement often has difficulties with small businesses and examine SME-friendly procurement practices already in use in pioneering organisations.

Procurement doesn’t engage well with start-ups – why?

Procurement often gets in the way of establishing good relationships with innovative start-ups.

Major corporations seeking the next start-up to rejuvenate their business models are running innovation labs and incubators. Often, suppliers participate in the incubators. But the initiatives are rarely owned by procurement.

In fact, procurement often plays the bad-cop role, creating barriers to the onboarding of new and innovative suppliers, asking for endless compliance documents, ending the magic of the incubation.

Why does this happen? Procurement has expertise in the supplier market. Isn’t it the team best-placed in an organisation to unearth innovative gems?

One difficulty is that not all partnerships with start-ups go through the typical customer-supplier relationship. They might come in other forms like a joint venture, an equity investment or a licensing agreement. And these are traditionally not procurement’s area of expertise. They typically involve other teams from finance.

According to a survey by KPMG, collaborations involving equity (joint ventures, equity investments, acquisitions, etc.) comprise 40% of total collaborations. Customer-supplier relationships comprise only 24% and licensing 19% of the total. Therefore, it’s understandable that procurement does not take the lead in all cases.

But procurement remains an asset. It has a key role in identifying potential targets. What’s more, in those 24% of cases procurement should be on top of the customer-supplier partnerships with start-ups. That is largely not the case.

I can think of at least 3 reasons why.

3 reasons why procurement does not approach startup collaboration well

For one thing, procurement is often not sufficiently aligned with its company’s business. It lacks the understanding to find the next start-up or innovation to accelerate business.

To build relevant partnerships, procurement must grasp its company’s challenges and its future areas of development. It needs to get a broader view. It needs to see beyond the often narrow procurement lens.

This kind of mindset must be instilled by the Chief Procurement Officers themselves – even though business curiosity remains everyone’s duty. This is actually one of the main recommendations produced by Forrester in its Q1 2019 survey about the keys to a successful procurement transformation.

Second, procurement often lacks the time and resources to perform these tasks.

Its resources are too often consumed in labour-intensive activity that has lower added value – like gathering data from scattered legacy systems.

This is where having a powerful digital procurement platform that automates processes and enables actionable analytics is key. You free resources for new value-added tasks.

With such a tool, you could even afford to have somebody specifically in charge of supplier-enabled innovation.

A third and more general problem is that procurement processes are not designed to work effectively with new start-ups.

They tend to favour larger companies, especially under the dependency criteria or volume concentration strategies.

Let’s dig into this aspect of things.

Time frame. To start with, procurement and start-ups work within different time frames.

For start-ups, typical procurement qualification processes take too long. They often require browsing many documents, answering hundreds of questions and attaching several justification documents.

And start-ups often face these obligations before they know about the type of partnership and the benefits that are expected.

On the other hand, decision-making about a qualification process or a purchase order is too slow. Start-ups expect answers in days, not weeks.

Resources. Resources are scarce in start-ups.

Start-up employees often have many functions. They find it very time-consuming to deal with complex organisations with numerous specialised points of contact – one for bidding, one for contracting, one for ordering, one for invoicing, etc.

They want access to the real decision-maker.

Procurement cannot change a company’s complex organisation. However, it can define a single point of entry for start-ups: a person with a strong internal network in the organisation, a deep understanding of the organisational maze and the ability to grasp the particular challenges start-ups face – and how to solve them.

Checks and declarations. A supplier wanting to work with a large company typically has to pass several checks and tests.

This process is designed with bigger organisations in mind. The process includes checking dependency criteria, environmental charters, ethical declaration, quality labels and so on.

The solution here is: start simple. Use a non-disclosure agreement to ensure confidentiality, a letter of intent to ensure motivation and some intellectual property (IP) general rules in case any IP is built jointly.

Invoices. The main concern for start-ups about procurement processes is invoice payment.

Big corporations are often slow at paying supplier invoices. But cash is a matter of survival for start-ups.

This is a critical point in collaboration. Start-ups would rather get less money but get it faster.

This means that a company with an efficient source-to-pay process will definitely have a competitive advantage over its peers when it comes to working with innovative start-ups.

Good procurement practices already in use that are helping start-ups.

Here are good practices already implemented by some best-in-class procurement departments.

First, they have opened a gate for start-ups. Several procurement departments have created a dedicated start-up portal based on the Source-to-Pay solution they use. Some have even interfaced it with public start-up portals.

Second, they have adapted the contracting process to focus only on the essentials of a start-up collaboration. They avoid sending a hundred pages of standard contractual documents at an early stage.

For example, the process could evolve along with the incubation stages of the target that have been defined – for instance a non-disclosure agreement for ‘discovery’, data protection clauses for ‘incubating’ and proof of concept with formal description for ‘pilot’.

Third, they have speeded up decision-making. They have implemented shorter approval workflows for interactions with start-ups: contracts, orders, invoice and payment processing.

Next, they have set up accelerated payment terms. Making these the default for start-ups is a major part of speeding up the payment process.

Finally, they have appointed a dedicated contact person. She or he facilitates start-ups’ interactions with the organisation.  

So it’s well worth considering why your procurement department may be struggling to interact well with SMEs and start-ups. And looking at the SME-friendly practices already in use in some organisations can provide key inspiration for changes you can make.

For this reason we will take a more detailed look in part 2 of this blog at use cases from pioneering large companies.

For more information on how Ivalua can help you work better with SMEs, go to ivalua.com

In Need Of Some Fun At Work? Try These 5 Things.

Tomorrow happens to be ‘Fun at work’ day, so get in the mood with these 5 tips…

Work struggles can be real. Whether it’s a toxic work environment, a terrible boss, an annoying colleague or menial, soul-destroying tasks, there are times when we find our vibe is far from flying high. 

How can you begin to turn the tables and take control back?

Following these 5 tips will help you live your best (work) life.

1. Ask what drives you

Understanding your career drivers can help to work out what you can change in your current position. Or to unlock what you could be doing instead.

If you want to change your current situation or outlook, then first you need to understand yourself. 

Use the free resource Career Drivers Assessment by Crowe Associates.

The exercise helps to figure out your motivations in life. What drives you? Is it material reward? Power and influence? Creativity?

The resource then asks you what you can do to amplify your drivers. And to minimise anything that blocks your drivers. 

From here you can brainstorm tasks within your current job that align to your drivers. Or have fun mapping out new career options.

2. Know your values

Your career drivers should align with your personal values. Take the free assessment at the VIA Institute of Character to see what your values are. 

Many studies have shown that playing to your strengths in the workplace lays the groundwork for achieving success. 

It is better to build on your strengths than work on your weaknesses. 

Choosing a career or opportunities at your current workplace that align with your values – aka your superpowers – will set the scene for you to thrive. 

Use your values and career drivers as a checklist to assess any opportunities.

3. Stick to what you can control

Stephen R Covey’s 1989 classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People outlines a tool that helps you figure out what is within your control and what isn’t – and therefore should be dropped.

To understand how to use it and its application to the workplace, visit habits for wellbeing

In the exercise you brainstorm things that are out of your control. For example, worrying about the next election. And you think about what is in your control. For example, who you can vote for. 

4. Nurture a growth mindset

Over 30 years ago Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck took an interest in students’ perception of their failure. 

She developed the concept of a growth or fixed mindset. This has been making a comeback as one of the basics of positive thinking. 

Dweck encourages us to remember that the human brain is plastic. It has the capacity to learn new behaviours or rewire old patterns. 

In the workplace it is important to use the circle of control above combined with the growth mindset outlined below. 

It doesn’t mean there will be no rainy days at work but it could eliminate a large amount of noise. 

5. Follow productivity 2.0

In 2019 I wrote an article on productivity hacks

These are tools that can help with streamlining tasks. They are about taking a step back and looking at time management. 

How can you be effective with your time?

Nutshell. Look at your job in a nutshell. Break down the core components of your role. What are the key tasks that make up your day? 

Many job descriptions are different to what we actually do day to day. But don’t forget to check the job description.

You could be spending your time doing additional work that is not within your core role.

Batching. Group your key tasks into categories. For example, customer relations, data input, report writing, phoning suppliers, strategic planning or updating systems. 

Now think about the pomodoro approach and undertake all tasks within a category in one go. Each batch should last 20–60 minutes. I find it useful to spread these out over a week.

3 things. Prioritise the tasks above and take the 3 most important things that need to be done that day. 

Think carefully about what needs to be done versus what you want to do or what you are trying to avoid.

Focus. Make time for these 3 things, even if you have to block out time in your calendar or work away from your desk.

The hardest thing of all? Work until they are completed!

Connect. With all this newfound knowledge of your skills make sure you don’t forget the number 1 way to increase fun in the workplace. Connect with people! 

Find a work wife/husband/partner. Hang out with inspiring people. Find a mentor. Mentor someone yourself.

Join a network or club. It’s more than just having a chinwag, it’s about building a lifeline. You never know when you’re going to need it. 

So if work is sometimes a drag, try these 5 tips to take back control and build a better future.

How Uber, Airbnb and Amazon Can Help Combat Climate Change

Can we use the disruptive model pioneered by Amazon, Uber and Airbnb in the struggle against climate change?

Uber is the world’s biggest taxi company, but doesn’t own a single taxi cab. Airbnb and Booking.com are the world’s largest hoteliers, but don’t possess any hotels. 

And after being in business for a quarter of a century, Amazon – the world’s biggest bookseller – is only now experimenting with physical bookshops.

There are many lessons to be learnt from such examples. Chief among them, perhaps, is that being disruptive does work. 

These days, businesses and consumers are far more receptive to ‘early-stage’ disruptive ideas. They have seen for themselves how easy it is to be overtaken and left behind by clever ideas whose time has come.

I’ve been thinking a lot about disruptive ideas in recent weeks. And in particular, I’ve been thinking about disruptive ideas in the context of sustainability.

And the conclusion I’ve come to? 

We may need some fresh disruptive ideas and business models if the sustainability agenda is to make much more progress.

Report card

That may sound mad. Since – say – the 1970s and 1980s, the world’s environmental protection initiatives have made huge progress.

Sustainability is high on both corporate and government agendas. Cars are far more fuel-efficient. Houses, offices and factories are far more energy-efficient.

Skies are clearer, water cleaner – especially in the developed world, although progress is being made elsewhere, too.

And yet, and yet. Waters are clearer, yes. But visible pollution has been replaced with microplastic fibres.

Smoke from coal-burning has gone from our skies. Yet CO2 emissions are at record levels. The Amazon’s rainforests are vanishing. Sea levels are rising. And average temperatures are increasing.

Is it any wonder that groups such as Extinction Rebellion are protesting so vociferously? Or that the activism of teenage protesters is so widely applauded?

Lip service

For me, personally, one of the most persuasive signs that current approaches to sustainability aren’t delivering fast enough has come from the Harvard Business Review

Late last year, influential management thinker John Elkington took to its pages to officially ‘recall’ – that is, take back – a concept he first launched 25 years ago: the Triple Bottom Line.

Simply put, he argued, the Triple Bottom Line was no longer enough. Something else was needed. Something bolder.

The idea behind the Triple Bottom Line was simple. Instead of focusing on just profit, the Triple Bottom Line sought to get businesses to view their performance in a broader context.

They should examine their social, environmental and economic impact.

The idea has had a powerful effect. Twenty-five years on, it’s made a big difference. 

But it isn’t enough, acknowledged Elkington. Too many businesses see it as a trade-off mechanism, rather than as an absolute test.

Something else is required if we are to really ‘shift the needle’.

As he eloquently put it: ‘We have a hard‑wired cultural problem in business, finance and markets. Whereas CEOs, CFOs and other corporate leaders move heaven and earth to ensure that they hit their profit targets, the same is very rarely true of their people and planet targets.’

The ugly side of fashion

Which is why I’ve been thinking about disruptive ideas, and alternative business models.

Could they do enough to ‘shift the needle’?

I’m excited about their potential, to be sure.

Take the fashion industry. It’s been described as the second-most polluting industry in the world.

In water-scarce countries, water goes to produce cotton, not food. Microplastics from synthetic textiles fill our rivers and oceans.

According to the United Nations, the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined. It is responsible for up to 20% of global wastewater, and 10% of global carbon emissions. 

Container ships full of cheap clothes ply the world’s shipping lanes. They belch out vast amounts of the sulphur-laden black smoke that comes from burning bunker oil, the world’s dirtiest fuel.

And yet, at the end of it all, a lot of ‘fast fashion’ simply gets thrown away. The UK sent around 300,000 tons of clothing to landfill in 2016, for instance.

What can be done? 

Instinctively, most people think about some form of clothes recycling. But they are forced to conclude that the technology to cost-effectively turn unwanted clothing into useable yarn doesn’t yet exist.

But there’s another form of clothes recycling that doesn’t need technology. Or rather, the technology that it needs is already developed and with us.

The sharing economy

I’m talking about clothing rental, which is catching on fast.

Names such as Girl Meets Dress, My Wardrobe HQ, By Rotation, Rent the Runway.

These and others are offering affordable clothing rental services, either on their own account (they own the clothes), or as intermediaries (other people own the clothes).

At the moment, a lot of the activity is at the high end, in designerwear. Fast fashion it isn’t – yet.

That said, there are experiments underway. H&M, for instance, is trialling a rental scheme at its flagship store in Stockholm. In the United States, Banana Republic has recently launched a rental service.

Even so, it’s clear that what’s going on has the potential to evolve and grow.

As a business model, it’s different and disruptive. And it addresses many of the sustainability issues of the traditional ownership model. 

Instead of being hung up in a wardrobe, clothes are worn again and again – just by different people.

So could such a model ‘shift the needle’ in terms of fashion’s impact on the environment?

No one, including me, yet knows: it’s far too soon. Right now, fashion rental is far from becoming mainstream.

But don’t forget: so too, once, were Uber, Amazon and Airbnb.

Disrupting accepted business models in fashion – and other areas – could really help in the struggle to combat climate change.

This article was written by London Roundtable attendee, Omera Khan. If you are also interested in attending our next Roundtable in London, you can contact [email protected]

How To Work With A Broken Heart

When your heart is broken, how hard is it to turn up to work every day and perform?

Very.

But so many of us have to do it every day. Our worlds may have fallen apart – the loss of a loved one, a falling out with a friend or colleague, the loss of money or an important opportunity – yet each day we drag ourselves to the front door, put on a mask and carry on doing our jobs with a smiley face, but a broken heart.

And that’s kind of what I’ve been doing every day since my mother passed away eight weeks ago.

Don’t worry, I’m fine, and I’ll explain, but I’m just saying – I understand. 

I feel your pain.

When I found out the clock was ticking

For me, bad news often seems to arrive at the most inconvenient time for my professional life. We knew that Mum was gravely ill, but the final news that Mum only had months to live arrived at the start of a one-month business trip I had in the US last September.

I had just arrived in San Francisco.  The news came in the middle of the night (the joy of timezones) and I just cried and cried.

As one of my favourite speakers (and human beings on the planet), Nicky Abdinor says, always be grateful. Even if you have the worst day ever, you can go to bed and be grateful that the horrible day is over.  You can click ‘control, alt, delete’ and re-boot for tomorrow.

I had a lot of days like that during those four long weeks on the road in the US.  When I got home, I was fortunately able to spend two months by Mum’s side.

How much should we talk about our broken hearts?

We are human, and that means we are emotional.  But our modern workplaces and our community expects (and rightly so) that we will conduct ourselves with a certain level of decorum, and if we want to keep our jobs and our places in the community we have to play by the rules.

Sometimes I worry that companies almost expect us to behave like robots (as I have said previously in my “Beat the Bots” speeches). They expect us to do things such as re-enter the workforce after having a child or losing a loved one and act like it never happened.

But that’s not really what being a human is about.

Not only are we required by our companies to behave in a certain way, but we also need to keep participating in work, as well as in life. This isn’t only because we’ve got bills to pay and we need to eat; it’s more than that – participation and doing ‘normal’ things are an important part of overcoming grief.

But still, it’s hard. Sometimes, so very hard. But how do we get through these times of grief and trauma without totally embarrassing ourselves, tainting our hard-earned reputations and maybe even losing our jobs and family?

Juggling through work and life

As I’ve written previously, we have to somehow find a way to keep all the juggling balls in the air, with the balls being work, family, health etc. But the important thing to know is that some balls are made of rubber, whereas others are glass. Work is a rubber ball, so if you drop it, it will bounce back, but others, like your health and family, are glass. If you drop them, they are difficult to recover.

In raising my family and supporting my mother’s health, I have had to drop the work ball many times – and believe me, it has always bounced back.

How to keep juggling after a glass ball drops to the floor

I am so fortunate to work with such an amazing group of colleagues, many of whom have been working with me throughout Mum’s illness.  They are all superstars and many stepped in to take accountability when I had to focus on family.

While I’m so grateful I have my team, this experience has reinforced what I knew all along: if we are going to be successful leaders, we need to be resilient and work our way through grief and disruption. This is for ourselves personally but also for our team – if my team is distressed because I’m distressed, then not only does my personal life fall apart, but so does my professional life.

If you find yourself in a distressing situation, my advice would be to share with your team (but not too much). They need to understand what you’re going through; they need to see that you’re human and vulnerable. Yet at the same time, you’re probably best placed to save them the intimate details. At the end of the day, it is your family and friends whom you need to lean on in personal times of crisis.

In tough situations, remember to take it one step at a time and draw energy and support from those closest to you.

Understanding what is really happening under your peers’ mask

My mother had dementia, as I’m sure many of you know. As such, there were lots of things she couldn’t remember, like most people’s names, what year it was, and even how old she was.

But surprisingly, she could still remember her feelings at different points in her life.

She may not remember someone’s name, but she can definitively (and accurately) describe the emotions she associates with that person.

The situation with Mum reminds me of the age-old leadership lesson:

People may not remember what you said, but they will also remember how you made them feel.

Given we are all wearing our masks, we need to make an effort to understand our peers, bosses and direct reports, and whether or not they may have some trauma going on in their lives.  Behaviour we observe that might seem unusual, a lack of performance or a change in attitude may be related to some grief they are experiencing, not just a competency issue and their ability to do the job.

In these situations, we need to use our super human ability to empathise.  I know every time I experience a painful event, it has made me more and more understanding of what others may be experiencing and challenged with.

Working through a broken heart

Mum was always a huge supporter of my professional development.  When I travelled or had a critical meeting I was nervous about, she would always say ‘Remember, I’m on your shoulder.’ And for the last few weeks, that’s where I feel she’s been – right with me, all the way.

Not having Mum may have broken my heart, but it hasn’t broken my spirit. Late last year, we worked hard across the US to garner support for Procurious’ 2020 program, and this year, I’m excited to say that our efforts were rewarded – we’re on track for one of the biggest and most exciting years yet. Stopping now to reflect on that, I know Mum would have been immensely proud.

Yet now certainly isn’t the time to stop in any way, shape or form. To prosper in this next Industrial Revolution, we need to play to our human strengths: collaboration, connection, innovation and influence.

We need to embrace our human-ness, and we need to get connected – to our team, to our stakeholders, to our suppliers and to our community. The robots may be coming, but the thing we have that they don’t is connection. Speaking of, get onto Procurious now, and start making the connections you’ll need to make your 2020 as successful as we hope ours will be.

We’d love to hear your stories of career resilience – please share in the comments below.

4 Ways Procurement Can Work With Start-Ups and SMEs

Size isn’t everything when choosing suppliers.

There’s a poignant scene in The Lord of the Rings in which the Elven Queen Galadriel turns to Frodo Baggins, a frightened young hobbit, and gently reminds him that ‘even the smallest person can change the course of the future’. 

Against all odds, and to the dismay of many powerful leaders in Middle-earth, Frodo is entrusted with the monumental task of destroying the One Ring within the fires of Mount Doom. His relentless determination, unorthodox methods and the faith of his closest friends all contribute to his ultimate success. 

What can procurement take away from this? Most importantly, when it comes to selecting suppliers, size isn’t everything – something any one of the 30.2 million small businesses operating in the United States could tell you. 

Traditionally, big works with big. But companies today are recognizing that they are selling themselves short by restricting their supply base to large organisations. 

Benefits of working with SMEs and start-ups include: 

  • Small businesses are more agile and innovative because they are less confined by rigid or bureaucratic processes.
  • Improved sustainability and added social value, which benefits the local economy. This is because SMEs are likely to have a good understanding of the community in which they operate.
  • Better value for money as a result of lower admin costs and increased flexibility.
  • Capacity to deliver highly specialised solutions.
  • Closer buyer-supplier relationships.
  • Increased efficiency in terms of product cycles and the provision of services.
  • Improved supplier diversity: 45% of US-based SMEs are minority-owned businesses.

Despite the many advantages, some procurement leaders remain wary of partnering with smaller businesses due to increased risks. Others simply struggle to effectively build and nurture these partnerships.

Here are my 4 tips for procurement to build successful relationships with SMEs and start-ups. 

1. Build close relationships with your suppliers

One of the many benefits of working with smaller vendors is that it’s easier to build meaningful, lasting relationships – often directly with the CEO. These drive innovation, reduce cost and mitigate risk. 

Procurement professionals should take advantage of this through regular communication and collaboration with suppliers, particularly in the pursuit of innovation.

Negotiations, contracting and pricing are a necessary (and important) part of any buyer-supplier relationship. But meeting your suppliers in person to seek innovations will drive value for your organisation. 

In reality, you might be surprised at how much additional value a supplier can contribute when you abandon standard approaches to SRM and commit to listening and learning.

2. Pay your suppliers on time 

According to a recent study, 11% of all invoices sent by SMEs are not paid on time, which comes at a cost of over $1 trillion each year. On top of this, the research found that 7.5% of all SME invoices are written off as bad debt. 

SMEs are dependent on good cash flow. Many fail as a direct result of clients delaying payments. So paying your suppliers on time should be an absolute priority for procurement professionals.  

Similarly, procurement should be cautious about driving harsh payment and contractual terms with small businesses that may be unequipped to negotiate with large corporations. Remember SMEs are likely to deliver long-term value in other ways. 

3. Be flexible 

In order to prioritise innovation and other benefits associated with SME partnerships, procurement teams must be willing to adapt their processes to be more accommodating. 

Many corporations are accustomed to only dealing with other big companies. This leads to the assumption that only large suppliers are capable of meeting demands and managing risk.

In reality, as long as suppliers are financially secure and can deliver your requirements, your flexibility in accommodating them is the more important factor. 

Procurement teams can do this by:

  • reducing contract complexity 
  • limiting turnover thresholds and removing high insurance and health and safety requirements
  • sharing risk appropriately between buyer and supplier
  • keeping KPIs simple, concise and supportive. 

4. Mitigate potential risks fairly 

There’s no question that there are risks associated with working alongside SMEs and start-ups. But with careful consideration and forward planning, these can be mitigated. And without negative impacting prospective suppliers to a point where they are compelled to walk away.

For example, an SME might present a higher financial risk than a big supplier. These concerns can be alleviated by requiring financial due diligence and detailed discussions surrounding the company’s finances to ensure complete transparency. 

Similarly, it’s worth asking for an overview of the supplier’s recent and ongoing projects, including a first right of refusal to buy the company should it go bankrupt. Commit to regular meetings and use incentives instead of penalties. 

So, the next time you’re approached by an SME or start-up, don’t reject them on the assumption that they will be too small to meet the needs of your organisation.

Just like Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring, an SME just might turn out to be the most valuable partnership you ever create. 

Learn about the cost savings and other benefits involved in joining a Group Purchasing Organisation (GPO) at www.una.com

Taking Culture to a New Dimension at Work

Now we have the tools to help us understand culture, how are we going to apply this learning? Are you ready to take cultural learning into your workplace?

taking culture to work
Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash

Over the last 12 months we’ve been looking at an in-depth discussion of Culture, Cultural Intelligence (CQ), what it is, and the impact it can have when working across cultures. Given this is the last post in this series, I thought it would be a great chance to review some of the key areas we have covered.

Over the series we have explored the 4 components of CQ – Drive, Knowledge, Strategy and Action. We have explored the implications of using these components to work more effectively across culture, distance and time.

We have also looked at the attributes and behaviours that accompany each of the components to give further insight into the specific ways we can address and increase our CQ.

Here is a summary of the components and their attributes.

  1. CQ Drive – The interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic (i.e. meaningful work) and extrinsic interests (ie financial rewards) and the drive to learn and understand cultures, their norms and behaviours.
  2. CQ Knowledge – Understanding cultural similarities and differences. This includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultural settings.
  3. CQ Strategy – Awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions. It incorporates how we apply our CQ Knowledge insights.
  4. CQ Action – The ability to appropriately adapt verbal and non-verbal communication in cross cultural situations, including how well we can adapt when things don’t go according to plan.

Looking into the Cultural Mirror

Another aspect that we have delved into is the 9 dimensions of culture which were discussed in relation to the cultural mirror below.

By investing time to understand some of the key characteristics and notice similarities and differences within cultures, it is possible to identify areas that we need to be aware of. Having that awareness can assist us in navigating relationships across culture and help us avoid tensions and misunderstandings which can undermine success.

So where does all this leave us??

Applying Culture in the Workplace

Here are some thoughts and suggestions on how we can best incorporate the learning topics and apply it in the workplace.

First, have some self-awareness and be mindful of our own preferences and behaviours and how this impacts our world view. Second, be open to receiving and giving feedback on our interactions so as to improve effectiveness.

Third, be willing to experiment, possibly fail,  learn from our experiences and try again thus fostering resilience. Fourth, trust your intuition to gauge a situation and have that guide your responses and actions.

Fifth, have a sense of humour and be able to laugh at yourself, this is an important aspect of developing maturity. Sixth, cultivate the mindset of a student so that you are constantly learning and re-learning lessons.

Seventh, be grateful for all the gifts and rich interactions you have in your life.

It is my hope that in sharing this information and some practical strategies, that you are able to glean some insight into ways you can maximise your effectiveness and engage in meaningful and fulfilling relationships with people coming from a different view points.

Go forth!

A Decade In Review: Procurement In 2020

Is procurement less, just as, or more important this decade than the last? Find out as we take a walk down memory lane…

It’s the dawn of a new decade in procurement, and goodness me, how things have changed. From the digitisation of just about everything, to the introduction of big data, 2020 looks vastly different than 2010 did. 

As a former CPO and now Principal Advisor at Procurious, I’ve been at the coalface at what I can only describe as seismic changes to our profession. 

But have all the changes we’ve seen been good changes? Are we now poised to deliver more value, or will we struggle to do more with less? And are we more relevant than ever, or is technology replacing us? Here are my key observations from the last decade – and what we need to do to stay valuable going forward:

We became captivated with compliance

The last decade started for me with a bang – I was promoted to a procurement leadership role and I was, for the first time in my career, excited to be able to effect real, lasting and meaningful change. I felt that procurement could achieve much more than pumping out stock-standard contracts and controlling third-party spend. 

Yet my excitement was short-lived. As I looked around me, I found that, as a function, the procurement community just didn’t seem interested in broader, value-adding gains. Their focus was still quite shortsighted; they seemed captivated by processes and fixated on compliance. Cost-savings, contracts and the financial bottom line seemed to be the only thing on their mind.

Data made us better advisors (but some of us are still catching up)

‘Don’t ever do a job a machine can do,’ said our grandparents, as they rejoiced at the invention of the calculator. Suddenly, this advice was ringing true in our profession – we had eProcurement, cloud computing, and AI to take away a lot of our administrative work. What came in its place was the ability to deliver new and intriguing insights to our stakeholders quickly, without having to spend hours on Excel.  

As emails replaced purchase order pads, eCatalogues replaced supplier brochures and the data started to flow through, we had the information to inform our strategies and priorities. As a result, our advice and cost savings rapidly improved. 

Not everyone was a fan, though. Many of us became concerned with job stability, and some believed that technology had created more issues than it solved.

From cost reduction to value creation

As the decade progressed, our relentless focus on cost reduction started to feel like a grind, not least for suppliers who, feeling bullied by our negotiation techniques, began to speak out and cry ‘no more.’ These changes meant that the expectations of our stakeholders started to move away from a focus purely on cost.

The good news was that our newly automated processes helped us to shift our attention from cost-savings to value creation. Before we knew it, we’d automated our entire P2P process, freeing us up to build strategic partnerships with both our suppliers and stakeholders. 

In uncertain business and economic times, the focus on value creation was exactly what our profession needed. It lifted us from a ‘necessary evil’ in some people’s eyes to a strategic partner. On the whole, though, that transformation is far from complete, and many of us still have some work to do in this regard.

It’s more about the people than ever

Behind the analysis, behind the processes, and behind the cost-savings, procurement has always been a people profession. And perhaps the best news of the decade is that with all the change, with all the uncertainty and with the new and heightened expectations, procurement professionals have shown themselves to be resilient, optimistic and future-focused. 

We’ve embraced digital disruption. We’ve welcomed, with open arms, technology that makes us more efficient, and we’ve also onboarded stakeholders and suppliers to use that technology, meaning we’re adding even more value. 

But we’ve also realised where technology stops and that is, sometimes, with communication. We now understand how critical our ‘soft skills’ are at work, and that technology can’t replace the influential conversations we need to have to convince an operational manager to change suppliers, or make a case to buy more sustainably. Technology is transformative, but then again, so is our ability to negotiate.

As for 2020 and beyond?

With digitisation and automation now happening at breakneck speed, many of us have embraced the change but fear what’s coming next. Soon, virtual assistants will abound, collaborative marketplaces will proliferate. What value will we add, then? 

The answer is plenty. One thing we’ve learnt from the last decade is that in uncertain times, human relationships prevail, and that’s where our strength and expertise shine through. Armed with our best people skills, the sky is really the limit for procurement. As a function, 2020 and beyond could see us having more strategic influence than ever before. 

What other changes have you seen in the last decade? Do you think that procurement is less, just as, or more important this decade than last? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Helen Mackenzie is a Principal Advisor at Procurious and a former senior leader in UK public procurement. Connect with her on LinkedIn and join Procurious to hear more of her unique insights.

New Year, New Fear – The Dreaded Annual Pay Review

If you’re facing an annual pay review this month, follow these key Dos and Don’ts to boost your prospects

For many of us, our annual ‘appraisal’ when we discuss pay and performance is one of the few opportunities to talk really frankly and one-to-one with our line manager.

However, there is a tendency for pent-up frustrations to spill out.

All those extra hours you’ve put in for no extra pay. The fact that you suspect your colleagues are paid more than you.

The lack of training and development. Being overlooked for promotions. Doing the job of three people with no support.

This is your time to get everything off your chest, isn’t it?

Well, no. It is important to treat this like any other business negotiation.

So, keep it professional. Don’t get emotional. Prepare your pitch. Present your case. And have a back-up plan if you don’t get what you want.

First, some Don’ts. Avoid these common mistakes.

Don’t beg for more

Adopting the Oliver Twist approach (‘Please sir! Can I have some more?’) is just going to make your employer feel uncomfortable. 

Saying you need a rise to cover the increase cost of fares or childcare or rent may gain you some sympathy. But it won’t get you a rise.

This is a negotiation about your value to the organisation – not the cost of living.

Don’t threaten to quit

Threaten to take a job elsewhere and you run the risk of your employer calling your bluff – so you better have a job lined up.

You will also come across as disloyal. And when there’s a promotion or new opportunity, your employer might overlook you for fear you are going to leave anyway.  

However, you can point out that other employers are paying more as part of your pitch (see below). But stress you are really happy in your job and have no plans to move. 

Don’t go compare – even if it’s not fair

Some firms actively discourage staff from discussing their pay with their colleagues. So if you ask around to check if your salary is on a par with everyone else’s or to find out what pay rise they received, you could be in for a disciplinary chat, rather than a talk about your prospects.

There are many reasons why people doing the same/similar jobs are paid differently – from performance to length of service.

Most people are not happy divulging what they earn, let alone revealing the details of why they are paid what they are paid. 

Don’t lose your temper – it will make things worse

If you don’t get the answer you want, try to be understanding rather than angry. Your line manager may hate having to tell every member of the team that they won’t be getting much of a pay rise and it won’t help your case to make the process even more difficult.

Also, there may be a reason – poor performance, persistent lateness, or rudeness, perhaps – for a bad appraisal. 

You need to address these issues, not antagonise your employer.

Now some Dos. Follow these tips to make things go well.

Do prepare a business case

Many employers fear that if they give one person an inflation-busting rise ‘everyone else will want one’. So give some compelling reasons why you, as an individual, deserve more by offering something in return.

Don’t just focus your past performance (what you’ve already contributed). You should also demonstrate how you can save/make your organisation money in the year ahead and bring more to the table. 

For example, offer to take on a new project – saving your firm the cost of employing someone new or a reducing the need for hiring a contractor. 

Do your research

As part of your pitch, you can (and should) use data to support your case. In turn, this can help your line manager to justify a pay rise with higher levels of management or HR.

However, instead of saying X earns more than me or Y had a bigger bonus, use the information that’s available publicly (if you can). 

Medium and large employers must carry out an equal pay audit on a regular basis to ensure that they are complying with the law. If your salary seems out of line with what’s been published, you can use this information to present a case for better pay. 

If your organisation does not have to publish pay data, then go online to salary comparison sites such as glassdoor.co.uk or indeed.co.uk to benchmark your pay.

Also, check job adverts for similar roles in similar organisations and print out the data to support your case. Once again, be professional. Say something like: ‘The going rate for my role is £X. I feel that bringing my pay in line will not only help me but also help attract other talented people to our organisation.’ 

Do make your firm an offer they can’t refuse

Most employees have a good idea about where there are skills gaps within their organisation. Offer to solve these.

You could say something along the lines of: ‘If I undertake this development programme/do this course I could take on the responsibility for X.’ You can then justify more pay through a promotion.

Do be prepared to listen

Your line manager will probably justify why you are only getting X% as a rise. Listen carefully. 

It might be because the firm is going through a difficult time (perhaps it’s time to jump ship). Or perhaps your performance is not good enough – in which, case find out what you need to do to improve. 

Do have a plan B for tomorrow

The bad news is that your line manager has probably already decided the size of your pay rise – or been given the figure by HR. 

So whatever you say will not make a difference to your salary in the short term. However, you can use the review to ensure better pay and prospects in the future.

Think of all the things your employer can offer you that will boost your ‘value’ in the workplace and your long-term earning potential. These could include investment in your skills, the opportunity to work in a different office (or even a different country) and the chance to join a new team. 

If none of the above are on the table, look at alternative ways to be rewarded such as more flexibility – for example, working from home one day a week.

Try to leave the meeting with something – even if it is an agreement to meet again in three months’ time to discuss your progress. If you feel more positive, so will your line manager who will probably be as relieved as you are that the chat went well. This will make your next meeting much easier (and hopefully more productive).

So if you have a pay review on the horizon bear these keys Dos and Don’ts in minds as you prepare for the meeting. You’ll give yourself the best chance of getting what you want.

And in case you need a little more advice on getting to the top in your career, don’t forget to tune in tomorrow to our free webinar – Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Register here.

Will 2020 Be Our 50-50 Year? How To Help More Women Into Leadership In Procurement

The business case for diversity is clear – diverse teams and leaders are more innovative, collaborative, successful and profitable. But when it comes to diversity in leadership, we’re not where we need to be. How do we get there?

Procurement as a profession has proven our ability to change, to adapt and to thrive. From order takers, to expediters, to deal and market makers, we have proven we know how to make the most of an opportunity to create value, and we’ve been able to do so in ways never done before. 

Yet to realise the true potential of our profession, there’s one thing I know we need to achieve that we haven’t as yet, and that is: gender equality in leadership. 

Across the board, procurement performs above average from a gender perspective. A recent survey from our recruitment partners, The Source, revealed that 38% of leaders and managers in procurement are female (compared to the 30% average across all professions). This is a great start, but we’re still losing too many women along the way – when you look at entry statistics, 48% of procurement graduates are female. 

If we’re doing well, then, why do better? Better diversity can help us better manage complexity and enhance profitability, as I’ll explain below. And in good news, there are (at least) five things you can do right now to help your team get there. 

Why is increased diversity particularly important for procurement? 

As Deloitte pointed out in their 2019 Chief Procurement Officer report, CPOs (and increasingly, all of us in procurement) have to be “complexity masters” to excel at work. As we know all too well, complexity is now coming in all shapes and sizes, including trade wars, climate change and new regulations (external complexities), stakeholder alignment (internal complexity), people, organisational models and business plans (talent complexity) and finally, digital disruption. Managing one aspect of this is challenging enough; managing all can feel overwhelming. 

But greater diversity can help us do it all. Firstly, with diversity comes multiple perspectives and enhanced innovation, which will help us identify multiple solutions to solve the complex problems we face.

Diversity also helps us with everything inside our own four walls. The more diverse we are, the more likely we’ll represent the interests of those we serve, including our organisation’s customers – who are ultimately our customers. And not only do we represent our customers and stakeholders, we also better represent our own staff when we’re diverse, as we’re better able to understand them and make decisions that enhance their wellbeing. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, given the expectation of strategic business partnering from procurement, diverse teams have been shown to be up to 35% more profitable. With procurement functions now often required to do more with less, diversity can be a key driver in increasing our value-add and securing resources to innovate and grow. 

How to increase diversity in leadership in procurement

The challenges faced in retaining women in leadership in procurement echo those of wider society: inequality with paternity leave, unconscious bias and a lack of flexibility. But there’s so much we can do to counteract these, even on an individual level, and you don’t need to wait for society or even your organisation to catch up. If you want to reap the benefits of greater diversity in your team, try the following:

1. Give (public) praise 

In order to reach a position of influence, you have to be noticed. And unfortunately, sometimes being noticed can be as much about announcing what you’re done as it can be about the actual achievement in the first place. 

This can be particularly problematic for women, whom research shows can be punished for advocating for themselves. To counteract this, try giving public praise to women you believe deserve to get noticed. Whether it be on Procurious, LinkedIn, in a meeting or in front of an influential executive, giving praise can help someone be recognised and hopefully promoted. 

2. Encourage others to have a go

Across the board, there’s a big difference in how women and men apply for roles. Men will apply for a job when they have 60% of the required skills and experience, whereas women apply when they’ve got closer to 100%.

Although this is a stereotype, there’s never any harm doing what you can to prevent it. So if you know a talented female and there’s a role going, why not encourage her to have a go? 

3. Mentor and sponsor 

Whether or not you’ve got diversity as an official target or KPI in your team, as a leader, you’re no doubt responsible for performance. Knowing that, it’s important that you mentor and sponsor other more junior procurement professionals – especially females. 

Your mentoring can be any arrangement that suits you and the mentoree – you may want to meet regularly but informally or alternatively, you might put a more formal development plan in place. If you choose to be a ‘sponsor,’ though, you should be more active – as a sponsor, your responsibility is to specifically advocate for the person you’re working with in the hope of securing them a promotion (like giving public praise, but with a very specific end goal in mind!). 

If you want to increase your impact, you could even mentor someone outside of your organisation. Procurious and The Faculty run mentoring programs in both the UK and Australia, get in touch if you’re interested.

4. Role model flexibility – regardless of your situation

If you’ve ever been in any type of leadership role, you’ll know that you can influence your people as much (or more) with your actions than with your words. One of the most important ways to influence your people is to show you trust them through giving them flexibility. 

Flexibility is fast becoming the norm these days and for good reason – employees offered flexible work are more than 20% happier and more productive, and flexibility is the number one benefit sought by all employees, across the board. Yet still, there can be a ‘stigma’ around flexibility and when it is offered, it’s offered mostly to working mothers, which further entrenches (unhelpful) stereotypes. 

But if you’re in a position of influence, you can change this. No matter what your situation – mother, father, or non-parent, if you lead by example by both working flexibly and allowing it, you’ll help remove the stigma and as a result, help create better diversity.

5. Campaign for equal rights and equal opportunities 

Although unconscious bias is still an issue, one of the biggest reasons that there are less women in leadership roles in organisations is that they have career breaks that their male counterparts may not have, by way of maternity leave(s). 

But if you’re in a position of influence, you can change this by giving fathers a much sought-after opportunity to be at home. Numerous big companies have all recently removed the terms ‘primary and secondary carer’ and instead offered equal leave to all new parents. Why not advocate for this at your organisation? 

In our profession, a lot can change in a year. So why not make this year the year we all rally together and create a change we can be proud of? Our profession is complex, but helping more women into leadership doesn’t need to be. Diversity benefits us all, so let’s all do what we can to help propel more women into leadership. 

Tania Seary is the founder of Procurious and a passionate advocate for gender equality. If you’re interested to learn more about how to help women in leadership, tune in to our podcast ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job – Your Path to the Top’ webinar on January 23rd, 2:30pm BST. Register for it here.

20 Ways To Get Job-Ready for 2020

This is the most popular month to make a career change, which means there’s even more competition – if you want to stand out from the crowd, it pays to be prepared.

Job-seeking is not a numbers game – all you need is one great job offer.

So, get yourself ready to be open to the right opportunities. Follow my list of 20 ways to get job-ready.

1. Don’t set goals – you will be setting yourself up to fail or to make a bad choice

If you set yourself a target of finding a new job by March, say, or earning a particular salary, you will be putting pressure on yourself to accept a job offer even if it is not the best career move for you. 

2. Think about why you’re leaving – just to be sure

Moving jobs takes time and is risky – you have little job security for the first 2 years. 

So work out why you are dissatisfied with your current role.

Need more flexibility? Ask to work a day a week at home.

Want to learn a new skill? Then put in a request. 

You’ve nothing to lose if you are planning to leave anyway. 

3. Make it a positive choice – desperation is not a good look 

Not only will you be in danger of accepting any job rather than the right one, hiring managers want to recruit someone who is positive and passionate about the job, not someone who is disgruntled and oozes negativity.

4. Focus on what you’ll gain – it will energise you

Change your mindset by focusing on what you want to gain, not what you want to leave behind. 

Make a list of all the positives you want from your new role.

For example, if you are stuck in a rut with no prospect of promotion, then training and development and opportunities to progress should be a priority in your job search. If you hate your commute, the location will be key. 

This list will help narrow your search – and help motivate you to make a change.

5. Be patient – it might take time 

Remember, it will probably take until Easter (at the earliest) before you start a new role, so don’t rush into the wrong decision.

6. Remain loyal – it will pay off 

Yes, it’s hard to give your best when all you can think about is leaving – however, don’t relax just yet because you will want a good reference and you might be working in your current role for some time. 

Never badmouth your employer. It could get back to the boss (awkward) or make future employers wary of hiring someone who is obviously so discontented.

7. Identify your strengths – and weaknesses 

You need to be clear about what you can offer future employers. 

To discover what your ‘brand’ is, ask trusted friends and colleagues to list the 5 or 10 things they think you do well – perhaps you have good technical skills or are good at being collaborative?

Then ask if there are any aspects of your personality or performance that they think need work – maybe you are not so good at organisation?

8. Search online for keywords that will sell you 

Next, match what you have to offer with the jobs you are interested in. A quick scan of job boards to see what recruiters are looking for will identify the keywords you need to include in your job applications – from ‘collaborative’ to ‘commercial’. 

Make a list. Then rephrase your skills so they fit these descriptions – for example, ‘ambitious’ could be ‘target-driven’. 

9. While you are looking, is there anything you are missing? 

If nearly every job spec is asking for a particular skill, then perhaps it’s time to get a qualification. 

For example, if the spec says ‘must be proficient in data analytics, including Excel’ and you use Excel but don’t have a certificate, go online and do a quick course. If there are any glaring gaps in your skills, perhaps you need to invest in a professional qualification. 

Also, check out the Procurious Training & Learning section.

10. Update your CV – only a generic one at this stage

Pay attention to the style: No more than two sides of A4.

Start with a personal statement. List jobs with the most recent first and avoid giving your entire life history. Focus on what you can do rather than what you have done. 

Include some examples of where you have met/exceeded expectations using the STAR (situation, task, activity, result) approach. This will clearly demonstrate you are up to the job without appearing arrogant. 

Don’t be tempted to invent hobbies and interests to make yourself appear more interesting or to lie (dates, job titles etc. are easy to check). 

And don’t forget to double-check grammar and spelling.

11. Remember to tailor your application/CV to each role 

When you get to the stage of applying, carefully read the job specification and include all of the keywords listed – using the exact same wording. 

Look through your list of skills and keywords that sell your brand and include those that are required or you think will add value to the job. Remember, at this stage, you need to show that you are an obvious fit for the job.

12. Have a professional photo taken

While many recruiters hate photos on CVs, they do like to see them online – either on your own website (if you have one) or your online profiles. 

A really good photo (remember to smile or at least look approachable) is, therefore, a must. At the very least, avoid holiday or party selfies.

13. Get your online presence ready – LinkedIn in particular

Think of this as your shop window – a potential employer or recruitment consultant might come across your profile and at the very least will check it. 

Ask a few key contacts if they will provide you with a recommendation and add a bit of personality by posting a few blogs or sharing some newsworthy links. Also, boost your network by requesting others to join it – the more senior the better.

14. Use Procurious as a resource

Make sure your Procurious profile is more than just a bland description of your current job. 

Use phrases like ‘passionate about’, ‘driven’ and/or ‘highly experienced’ and really sell yourself – don’t forget a photo. 

Also, click on ‘Build your network’ and start to reach out to professionals in key positions – someone might even approach you to offer you a job. 

15. Don’t forget to clean up your social media 

An inappropriate image or even just liking a less-than-tasteful joke can rule you out of a job.

16. Get signed up to job boards 

Get the apps (you can search on your daily commute) and sign up for job alerts (so you don’t miss an opportunity).

17. Identify your ideal employers 

Make a list of the firms you would like to work for and start researching them – you will want to talk their language in your job applications and be prepared for interviews. 

Also, check out glassdoor.co.uk to see how existing employees rate them – to avoid making a bad move.

18. Engage in strategic networking 

Find ways to network with staff who work for your ideal employers to find out what it is like to work there. 

You can then ask them if they have a referral scheme (existing employees are often given a bonus for recommending a new employee) or to let you know if there are any opportunities. 

19. Encourage approaches – a bit like putting up a ‘For Sale’ sign

Many job movers don’t ever apply for a new role. Instead, they are approached. 

Go to LinkedIn and click on ‘Show recruiters you are open to job opportunities’. (Don’t worry – you can control who sees this, so the boss won’t necessarily find out.) 

Also, get on the books of recruitment consultants specialising in your area so they can put your name forward for any relevant jobs.

20. Practise your pitch – it will keep you positive

Some people find it awkward to self-promote while others just come across as arrogant.

So practise telling stories that showcase how you have met a challenge, achieved a target or developed a skill – you can use these on application letters, when networking and in interviews.

It’s also a very self-affirming – and will help you deal with the disappointment when employers don’t even bother to acknowledge your application or reject you. 

So keep these 20 tips in mind to boost your spirits while job-hunting – and increase your chances of success. Good luck!

And if you want to move up in your career, change industries, or even need some extra motivation for the new year (and new decade!), start 2020 off with a bang in our upcoming webinar – Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Register here for free.