All posts by chris cliffe

Real Relationships Really Matter

It doesn’t matter what technology your organisation adopts, or what digital transformation you endure; procurement relationships will always be essential for success. 

At the Big Ideas Summit 2017, we once again challenged our thought leaders to share their Big Ideas for the future of procurement. Chris Cliffe discussed why relationships really matter.

The world around us is changing. You can’t turn anywhere these days without hearing the phrase ‘Digital Transformation’. Everyone’s writing about technology and the race to automate and use augmented intelligence in business.  IBM’s ‘Watson’ is soon expected to be in regular use within procurement teams across the globe. But, the reality is that the vast majority of organisations, be they Private, Public or Not-for-Profit Sectors, are only at the start of this adventure.

Of course, it is crucial that our organisations do focus on adopting technology. The role of the CIO, for example, is at least equally important to that of the CPO. Yet the technology focus cannot be at the expense of the human focus.

Relationships really matter.

In fact, in the next decade or so, relationships will increasingly be the differentiator as ‘process’ and ‘transactions’ become automated and ‘value adding’ activities become the sole human focus.

Buyer Supplier Relationships

It might seem an obvious place to start but buyer supplier relationships are so often overlooked.  I think we can, in the main, agree that a ‘tender’ process in itself delivers zero value. Value for Money can only be obtained from good performance of the resulting contract. If we put ‘procurement’ theory to one side for a moment and look at ITIL Service Management, it clearly states that “good people can make a bad contract work, equally, bad people can make a great contract fail”.

Having the right relationships, between the right people, on both sides of a contract is how you get best value. Investing time and effort into building, nurturing and maintaining good relationships between buyer and supplier teams will facilitate far more value from contracts. It doesn’t pay to   let and forget!

Let’s assume a big problem happened last week.

Scenario 1: You call your account manager to complain, having not spoken to them in months, because ‘someone’ messed up.

Scenario 2: You call your account manager that you spoke to recently. You know they’ve just returned from their first family holiday in five years. They’ve had an awful couple of years for various personal reasons and, in fact, they’d even booked a restaurant you recommended. Whilst they were away, a junior member of their team was covering and they may have dropped the ball.

In both scenarios, the same issue has arisen and it needs fixing.  But I suspect the majority of us will approach those two calls differently and outcomes from these calls may also be different. Think about whether you could start both calls with the phrase, “How can I help you fix this problem?”

Stakeholders

Stakeholders: An increasingly over used, catch-all term to dehumanise people who we go to work with day in, day out. Investing time and effort into establishing relationships with the key individuals within our businesses will pay you back in spades. Ask questions. Be interested. Get under the skin of the challenges your colleagues face. Don’t be constrained by the perception of silo’s.

We must always remember why we do what we do. The purpose of Procurement is not to further the cause of procurement. Of course, a very happy side effect of an effective, modern, highly engaged and enabling procurement team is that the reputation of the profession will increase to everyone’s benefit, but that cannot be the motivation. The role of Procurement is simple. It exists to facilitate and enable the organisation(s) it supports in achieving its vision, mission and goals.

In human terms, we are there to help our colleagues enjoy work through enabling their success and in achieving their objectives. This is a differentiator between good and bad procurement in my mind. Establishing relationships with stakeholders based on a genuine interest in understanding their challenges and seeking to support them overcome obstacles proactively, will lead to game-changing relationships rather than relationships based on reactively promoting procurement process, policy and procedures.

Career Development and Credibility

Relationships really matter for professional development, career development and credibility. Take a look at the Deloitte CPO Survey 2017, or any recent recruitment agency survey. There will always be analysis pointing out how the procurement profession is dogged by a lack of soft skills and how there’s a real talent shortage with regards to interpersonal capabilities. I believe we all need to take  responsibility for learning and development; it is up to individuals to own the preparation for longer term career aspirations.

Relationships really matter with those in your network. The aim isn’t to collect as many LinkedIn connections as you can, but it is to connect to as many people as you can. Connect in this sense means to talk, ask, listen, learn, impart knowledge and most importantly follow up on conversations. Being market aware and having your finger on the pulse is an incredibly important part of being a credible professional in terms of managing contracts and suppliers and with developing productive relationships with colleagues.

Investing time and effort into building, nurturing and maintaining productive relationships really matters.

Do You Belong to a Procurement Dream Team?

The age of workforce 4.0 is fast-approaching. Have you ensured you’ve got a dream team in place to help you navigate your way through the rapid changes ?

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

So. Here’s the scenario. After years of effort, elevating the role of procurement and complaining that Procurement doesn’t have a seat at the table in sectors where procurement is yet to tread (yes, in 2017 there are still organisations and sectors that do not have procurement teams or resources), your phone rings. It’s a CEO. And you’re invited to their office.

Now, this is the age of Workforce 4.0, so as we know, the CEO is agile and their office is the coffee shop near the school where their young children are running the lunchtime class teaching the adults how to tweet on facetube and grow vines on instachat.

Procurement is Awesome

As you sit down and your coffees arrive, the CEO looks you in the eye and says “Enough already. I get it. Procurement is awesome. Right. I want you to set up a dream team. Hire any five people you want. I’ve followed you on Twitter, read all your @Procurious_ and LinkedIn blogs, I’ve listened to the @aopshow and I get that there are some serious issues to deal with. I need you to do it and I want you to pick your team. Facetime or Skype me when you’ve done it.” And off you go…

How many of us are ready for that call? Whether it’s for a greenfield procurement team, or for a transformation programme or business critical project, do you have a list of five people in your head that without hesitation, you would call and bring on board to work with you to get it done? We can ignore minor administrative issues like availability, notice periods, or people processes for the purposes of this, but are there five people that you would hire, brief and set loose on the task without a second thought, safe in the knowledge that “it’ll be fine, [insert names] are on it and success is safe in their hands”.

What does the procurement dream team of the future look like?

I can’t quite remember where I was first posed this question. It was more than likely in a pub in the dim and distant past, but I remember first applying it when I worked in recruitment. If I was sifting CVs for a client, I tried to put myself in their shoes and ask, “If I was them, would I hire this candidate and put my success in their hands”. If I couldn’t say “yes”, or at least “maybe”, then I wouldn’t waste the client, or the candidate’s time.  That was a long time ago and before I’d even heard of Procurement!

Are you ready for “The Call” is a question I’ve asked colleagues over the years too, usually on car journeys, and it keeps them awake and puts them on the spot.

Anyway, where am I going with this?  Here are three things to consider about the future of procurement teams.

Procurement-as-a-service could be a big deal

Not my concept and not new, yet is a concept which has been increasingly discussed and heralded as the future of the function. It may well be that the future of working in procurement begins to sound a little more like this. Organisations will access resources to deliver specific outcomes rather than hiring employees and then wondering what to do with them.

Seriously, who is in your dream team?

You never know when that call might come, or when that platform starts to burn and you have that project you need to deliver. Can you pick your ‘dream team’ from current or former colleagues, or from all the people you’ve met and developed relationships with through all the networking you do?

Where’s your name?

Is your name on the team sheet of others? You may not be the one that gets the call. Your colleague or your peers may be the one having to decide who to bring in. Are you doing the best job you can, delivering results and developing the soft skills needed for tomorrow as well as networking, sharing your stories and taking ownership of your personal professional brand?

The dream team

Now, I might be about to do some oversharing here, but I personally have a ‘Dream Team’ WhatsApp group. A bit of fun to start with, especially as the joke was that ‘Group Admin’ does not count as a demonstration of leadership qualities! But over time, it has kept me connected to those people. We use it most days to share news, keep up to date (it’s all 100% professional of course). However, if I received the call, these are the people that have earned my respect and trust. I wouldn’t hesitate to contact them.

I am fortunate that my team currently has more than 5 people in it. When I get the call tomorrow I’ll be ready. But what if we were asked for a team of 10, or 20? My mindset is that I’m still hiring, and still looking to be hired by others too. I wonder if this mindset might prove useful in future?

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017 now!

Supplier Engagement – The Advent Calendar Challenge

This Christmas, why not turn your advent calendar into a supplier engagement challenge? Sorry, there’s no chocolate involved…

advent calendar challenge

An idea came to me during a recent commute. With the shopping days to Christmas rapidly counting down and as we start to look forward to the season’s festivities, I thought about my son’s advent calendar and the treats he’ll find behind each door.

Then I thought about a way to turn this into a powerful and productive challenge to build, reinforce and develop relationships with suppliers.

Here’s my idea. There are 17 working days this December – 17 doors. Behind each day’s door could be opportunity, problem resolution and innovation!

The challenge is simple – to call a different supplier each day and have a conversation. Simple. Too simple perhaps. So there’s a Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced challenge depending on how comfortable with supplier engagement you are.

Beginner Level

The easiest suppliers to speak to ‘should’ be the ones you currently do business with.

Call one of your current suppliers each day during December. Thank them for their help this year. Tell them what they’ve done well, how they’ve helped you and your business. Also, tell them what you’re looking forward to improving on with them in 2017.

Practically too, this is a great opportunity to find out what the supplier’s business hours will be over the festive period to ensure that contact arrangements and any contingency plans are in place if required.

Be interested in their plans for the festive break. Finally, make sure there’s something in the diary for 2017 to continue the conversation.

Intermediate Level

The intermediate level is to call a supplier you’ve never spoken to before (but which might be relevant to your business of course).

Find out what they do and how they do it. What have been their biggest achievements this year and what have they got planned for next year.  By this stage you are likely to have either ruled them in, or out, as interesting for the future.

If of no interest, that’s fine – but maybe they’ve got something very relevant to offer you in 2017 and they could help you. If that’s the case, book a follow up meeting for January! And yes, Public Sector friends, this is ok!

Advanced Level

The hardest group of suppliers to pick the phone up to might be those that have responded to your RFx and Tender processes this year, but which have not secured any of your business. Or suppliers whose contracts have expired and you’ve gone your separate ways.

Call one of these suppliers each day during December to thank them once more for their participation in your process or previous contracts. Find out how business has been for them this year, and whether the feedback you gave them has been useful to them and how they have developed or improved.

Ask them what they are looking forwards to next year and think about whether there might be an opportunity to re-engage in future.

Reward

Whilst an advent calendar themed challenge is a bit of fun, the benefits of this challenge I hope are obvious.

From practical information like opening hours over Christmas through to discussing, and potentially solving, real business problems. From identifying potential innovation opportunities to just finding out what your account manager is doing for Christmas, these conversations could add real value to you and your organisation.

Remember, as you walk past shop windows at this time of year, that you are your own personal shop window. And you are your company’s shop window to its suppliers, past present and future.

These conversations will build your personal brand and your company’s brand too. You might even have a list of ideas and opportunities to look forward to on that difficult first working morning after New Year too!

Share your Stories!

As it is the season for sharing. Please comment or reply and share your feedback on this challenge and on some of the conversations you’ve had. No one is going to check you’ve made 17 calls, but if everyone makes some calls, I’m sure there will be some direct value from it.

Enjoy connecting, and Season’s Greetings to you all!

Brexit: Reflections of a Procurement Professional

In the cold light of day, and after a weekend’s reflection, a procurement professional reflects on the implications of the Brexit.

Procurement & Brexit

Following my pre-referendum thoughts on supply chain trade and the EU, I was looking forward to the event itself.

A severe weather occurrence, disrupted travel during a six hour journey from Guildford to Norwich, and with the Mission Impossible theme tune on repeat in my head – this was my voting experience on the 23rd June.  I made it to Norwich to vote #Remain just in time before the polling station closed.

Storm on the Horizon

The real storm was not the weather. it was the result to come in the dawn with the UK #Brexit result.

My initial, personal, reactions on June 24th were of shock, anger and fear.  The value of the £ tumbled and the FTSE100 index crashed.  The ‘Leave’ campaign ideas, clearly taken by some as Brexit ‘pledges’, are already confirmed as “mistakes” or not “realistic”.

But time, even a few short hours, is a great healer. The £ and the FTSE both recovered a little on the 24th after their initial crashes.  My optimism and positivity is also slowly returning. The UK now has a fantastic opportunity.

Staying United

The first opportunity is to stay united. “IndyRef2” is already on the table, and the Northern Irish might follow suit. I doubt if many voting to leave the EU anticipated the potential break-up of the UK. Is this really an ‘unthinkable’ now?

The focus is now on what happens next. If there’s one thing I’ve heard through all of the interviews and opinions in the past few days, is that no one really knows what the future looks like now.

No state has left the EU before. The process is set out, yet it’s not tried or tested.  We have to find a new Prime Minister, and possibly face a General Election, to appoint the team to lead the UK through this.

Procurement & Strategic Relationships

There are uncharted and uncertain waters ahead. Procurement and Procurement Professionals can shine through and add the value we’ve all talked about for years and now have the opportunity to deliver.

Keeping in close contact with strategic suppliers and working together to build certainty in existing trading relationships might be a crucial first step to steady the ship.

Businesses need to keep focus on their mission, vision and values, and make sure they are still relevant in a post EU, UK. Most will need to adapt, and Procurement needs to ideally provide, or at least proactively source, the help and guidance to do that.

Procurement must not sit back and wait any longer for the invite to the table it has been waiting decades for. At the Big Ideas Summit in April, we heard lots about Procurement being the source of talent within organisations – it’s time to step up.

I expect we’ll all be revisiting our segmentation matrices and risk maps this week for starters! We should rapidly review processes and procedures ready to make ourselves, our teams and our businesses as agile as we can, ready to adapt to the changes as they unfold.

A wiser man than me said “agility is core”.  Let’s make this work team UK.