All posts by Hugo Britt

How The Space Elevator Could Open Up Interplanetary Supply Chains

The prohibitive cost of lifting payloads out of the Earth’s atmosphere is hamstringing humanity’s conquest of the solar system. The space elevator may soon make chemical rockets a thing of the past.  

space elevator

At the Coupa Inspire conference in May this year, keynote speaker Richard Branson announced plans to have Virgin Hotels orbiting the planet within 40 years.

Branson’s famous “anything is possible” attitude was on display, as he breezily talked of shuttle trips between his space hotels and the surface of the moon, and observatory domes where guests can marvel at the Earth from above.

Branson’s audience predominantly consisted of procurement professionals, many of whom were turning their minds to the challenge of maintaining a supply chain in space.

Considering the vast amount of goods and services that flow through any mere terrestrial hotel, the prospect of supplying a space hotel, or any other off-planet settlement, is daunting.

The Payload Challenge

It’s unbelievably expensive to send cargo into space. These days, all eyes are on SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company is leading the way in reducing the cost of payload delivery through lean operations, integrated engine production and reusable spacecraft.

At full capacity, the Falcon 9 rocket can lift cargo to low-earth orbit at US$1233 per pound ($2719 per kg). NASA is paying SpaceX $133 million per mission to resupply the International Space Station. This equates to $27,000 per pound ($59,500 per kg) of cargo delivered.

Reducing the cost of payload delivery is one of the highest priorities for Musk, who has stated that $500 per pound ($1100 per kg) or less is an achievable goal.

Even with payload cost being driven ever-lower, the expense still makes the prospect of a regular delivery service (such as a space hotel supply chain) prohibitively expensive.

Tech Insider recently published a playful article working out the hair-raising costs of some of the unnecessary items NASA has launched into space. They calculated that astronaut Kjell Lindgren’s bagpipes, for example, would have cost anywhere from $54,600 to $259,000 to deliver.

The International Space Station’s espresso machine weighs 44 pounds (20kg), and would have cost between $400,400 and $1.9 million to deliver.

The Space Elevator – A Better Way to Lift Cargo into Space

Arthur C. Clarke predicted that the space elevator would be built “about 10 years after everyone stops laughing”. That’s because at first glance, it seems like pure science-fiction. The thing to understand about how the space elevator would work is that it isn’t a tower or ladder to space, but rather a tether.

Space elevator structural diagram

The Earth-end of the tether would be attached to the surface near the equator, while the other end would be anchored to an object in space (most likely a space-station) beyond geostationary orbit, or 35,800km in altitude. The tether would therefore be held stationary under tension as the space station tried to “pull away” from the planet.

At present, no material exists with the tensile properties required to construct the tether, but teams all over the world are working on the challenge.

Recently, carbon nanotubes, boron nitride nanotubes, and diamond nanothreads have all been considered viable new materials, enabling scientists to inch ever closer to the required tensile strength.

There are many other challenges involved, but commentators agree that once the tether question has been solved, the other components of the elevator will be relatively simple to design and construct.  

A Freight Train to Space

Once constructed, laser or solar-powered ‘climbers’ would ascend and descend the tether, taking materials and passengers to geostationary orbit. Payload prices could be as low as $100 per pound ($220 per kg), with two added advantages.

Firstly, proponents predict a working elevator would be significantly safer than chemical rocket technology. And secondly, the climbers would operate continuously.

Journalists often write about the space elevator in the singular, but there is no reason why the planet would only have one. In fact, it’s likely that multiple competitive nations (and private enterprises) would insist on having their own.

Opening Up Space

With working space elevators, the enormous expenditure of fuel used in boosting chemical step-rockets up through our atmosphere will become a thing of the past.

Spacecraft will no longer be needed for surface-to-space lifts or descents. Instead they will only be needed to move from point to point in space. After an initial boost, a craft in space simply falls freely along its trajectory, with only short-term adjustments and deceleration required.

Space elevators need not be limited to Earth. Within the next century, we may “drop” shorter tethers to the surface of the moon and Mars, with regular cargo and passenger services plying their way between the space stations at the top of the elevators. The complex task of keeping a Moon or Mars colony supplied would become much more feasible.

But that’s thinking a long way ahead. In the medium-term future, Branson’s luxury space hotel may well sit atop a space elevator, supplying its every need.

In the short-term, any day now we may read that scientists have discovered materials strong enough to construct the tether. At which point – as Arthur C. Clarke predicted – everyone will stop laughing.

Can We Agree to Stop Calling Them “Soft Skills”?

How did soft skills become to be known as this? And does calling them this underplay their importance in the modern procurement world?

House - Soft Skills

The English language is full of misnomers. Just ask the killer whale (actually a dolphin), or the horny toad (actually a lizard). Once a word or phrase has entered common usage, it’s near-impossible to change it, even if the population generally understands that the term is misleading.

Which brings me to “soft skills”. I work for an organisation that provides training for procurement and supply chain professionals. As such this is one of the terms that I hear bandied about many times a week.

My argument is that defining this skill-set as “soft” actually devalues an essential part of every procurement professional’s toolkit.

To quickly summarise, soft skills are those used in dealing with other people. These include skills such as communication abilities, language skills, influencing skills, emotional empathy, and leadership traits. In contrast, “hard” skills – such as tendering or IT competencies – are readily measurable and (importantly) easier to train.

How Did They Come to be Called Soft Skills?

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been able to pinpoint the first usage of this term.

The concept has been applied to business environments since at least 1936, when Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People was published. Carnegie’s work, which has sold a phenomenal 30 million copies to date, is essentially the definitive guide to soft skills. However, it stops short of actually using these words.

Recently, there seems to have been an explosion of articles and training courses focusing on soft skills, particularly in procurement. My theory is that procurement – having moved from back-office to business-partnership status only a decade or so ago – is, in effect, late to the soft skills party, and is currently playing catch-up.

It’s possible that the term “soft skills” simply came about as an antonym to hard skills. Perhaps it reflects the “softly-softly” approach, where managers choose to influence, rather than confront, and to make suggestions, rather than issuing orders. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s a misleading term due to the other connotations of “soft”.

These Skills are Anything But Soft

To my ear, “soft” means easy, pliable, or yielding readily to pressure. Yet a procurement professional with excellent communication abilities, who is adept at reading people, will be a “harder” opponent in negotiations, than a colleague lacking these skills.

Similarly, the connotation with “ease” is deceptive when it comes to trying to train for skills like change management or leadership. And quantifying the results of that training is more difficult still. Hence we’re hearing more and more that employers are hiring people based on their attributes (cultural fit, communication skills, willingness to change), recognising that hard skills can be easily picked up later on.

This has changed the approach recruiters are taking in job interviews. There is now less emphasis on hard skills, and more behavioural questions about how you would react in certain situations.

It’s worth considering whether, in the future, soft skills will become so vital, they’ll become a requirement for procurement roles. That situation already exists in some professions. Look at Medicine, where aspiring doctors are interviewed for qualities including maturity, communication, the ability to empathise and collaborate. Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, with his acerbic bed-side manner, would in reality never have gained entry into medical school, no matter how brilliant he was.

There’s a school of thought that when it comes to soft skills, you’ve either got it, or you don’t. Soft-skills training, therefore, is ineffective because you can’t change someone’s personality. Personally, I disagree because I’ve witnessed colleagues who have worked hard to develop skills like effective listening. There’ll always be hard cases, but the days of people dismissing these skills as “fluffy” or otherwise useless are over.

Three Alternative Names for Soft Skills

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, it’s nigh-impossible to change a term once it’s in common usage. However, if professional organisations, training providers, and the like, were to phase out the words “soft skills”, and call them something more accurate instead, we might see this phrase begin to disappear.

Here are three suggestions for a more accurate description of “soft” skills.

1. Essential skills: I’ve borrowed this one from ISM CEO Tom Derry, who also isn’t a fan of the term “soft skills”. Tom used the term “essential skills” when launching ISM’s Mastery Model to describe the many interpersonal attributes required on the journey to achieving accreditation.

2. EQ: “Emotional intelligence quotient” is the technical term for soft skills. I like this term simply because it contains the word “emotional”, which pretty much sums up what soft skills entail. Calling it a “quotient”, however, raises the argument that EQ, like IQ, is something you’re born with, and can’t be improved upon.

3. People skills: The simplest, and possibly the most accurate alternative for soft skills is “people skills”. After all, every one of these skills involves dealing with people, while hard skills can generally be put to use sitting alone at your computer.

If you have other suggestions, or already use a different terminology in your workplace, please add a comment below!

Need help with your people skills or EQ? Want to get your procurement career in shape? Stay tuned on Procurious in September for our Career Bootcamp. More information coming soon!

Loud and Proud: Displaying Accreditations on Social Media

Displaying your accreditations on social media? It’s a tribal thing.

Tribes and Accreditations

I’ve noticed recently that more people are displaying professional accreditation after their names on social media.

At first, I was confused by those jumbles of letters that mean so much to people in the procurement world, but so little to anyone else. On Procurious alone we have hundreds of MCIPS, FCIPS, CPSMs and CPPOs. But why do people put their credentials up in lights?

Pack as Much Information Into Your Name as Possible

There’s a lot of information available about optimising social media profiles to make them attractive to potential business partners, recruiters, corporate headhunters and so on.

LinkedIn has a pretty sophisticated profile builder that guides you through the steps to raise your profile to “superstar” status. This includes adding all sorts of detail, ranging from experience and education, to recommendations, skills and even influencers.

The reality is, however, that unless there’s a good reason to do so, people aren’t actually going to click on your profile very often. In fact, you can ‘connect’ with people on LinkedIn, and here on Procurious, without even visiting their profile. Simply clicking on their face does the trick.

This means there’s not much value in diligently adding your accreditations to your profile page if you don’t also display it next to your name.

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

So, if people aren’t going to see your profile, what do they see?

Well, first (and arguably foremost), they’ll see your profile picture. It’s important to have one, and it needs to look professional.

Secondly, they’ll see your name. On Procurious that’s all, though LinkedIn shows a very brief job and company description. It’s not much – and you’d really be flattering yourself if you think people will want to view your profile just for your good looks or interesting-sounding name.

You need to pack more into the limited space available, and an accreditation does the trick.

Why? Because, for those who understand what accreditations actually entail, it says so much about you.

It signals that you’re backed and accredited by a respected professional organisation. It means that you’ve got industry experience, up-to-date qualifications, and are engaged with peers in your profession. It’s like a shorthand version of a CV, which you can expand into more detail in your profile itself.

Professional Accreditations Trump Academic Qualifications

As any frustrated job-seeker knows, experience is everything when it comes to getting hired.

You might be academically qualified up to the eyeballs, but your average recruiter is more likely to be interested in the practical skills you learned as Junior Shift Manager at McDonald’s. And this (sadly) is what the interview will focus upon.

This experience ‘Catch-22′ has led to the situation where unpaid internships have become almost mandatory in many professions, in order to get some experience under your belt and improve job prospects.

That’s where professional accreditations come in. As a general rule, they can’t be gained without having spent at least three years in the industry. They therefore flag to colleagues (and potential recruiters) that you do at least have a few years’ experience.

Some accreditations require both experience and tertiary qualifications. ISM’s CPSM, for example, requires three years “full-time, professional supply management experience, with a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree,” or 5 years’ experience without a degree.

This seems fair to me, as it gives some level of recognition to the bachelor degree (not a completely worthless piece of paper after all!), while still leaving the door open to those who choose not to attend tertiary education.

That being said, there’s a fair share of Bachelors, Diplomas and especially MBAs on display after people’s names on social media.

You’ve Earned It, So Why Not Flaunt It?

Why not? It’s good to be proud of your achievement and important to visibly support your professional association.

Jim Barnes, Managing Director for ISM Services, agrees that displaying your accreditation sends a signal to your peers. “ISM’s CPSM certification helps others identify that the person displaying the credential has deep knowledge, and can apply it.”

There’s also the tribal factor. People love to identify with different ‘tribes’ or groups. Having your professional membership or accreditation on display helps others identify you as “one of us” – a group of professionals who have all been through the same accreditation process, and therefore have the same knowledge and experience to draw upon when dealing with shared challenges.

Procurious itself is one such large ‘tribe’ of connected procurement professionals, further broken down by the members themselves into groups and sub-groups.

On a side note, accreditations have been proven to translate into real-world rewards. ISM produces a salary survey that consistently shows CPSM-accredited professionals earn salaries approximately 7 per cent higher than non-CPSM’s.

“The higher salary demonstrates that having an accreditation carries practical benefits, as well as credibility”, says Barnes.

Show Your Currency

Imagine you’re a recruiter. You’ve been trawling social media for the ideal candidate, and you hit on what looks like a perfect fit. They’re in the right industry, their experience looks good, and they have a postgraduate degree in supply chain management…completed in 1989.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who will agree that procurement is the same now as in 1989. And if you can’t find any evidence of more up-to-date education, you click on the next candidate.

Accreditations highlighted on social media profiles (and indeed on CVs) would have reassured the recruiter, because most credentials require recertification. This means that you’re forced to stay up-to-date and valid.

The CPSM, for example, has to be maintained. It automatically expires every three years unless holders complete 60 continuing education hours, which may include sitting exams, conference attendance, corporate training or contributions to the profession.

Do you think a comment posted on social media by a professional with their credentials on display has more “weight” than other comments? Share your thoughts below.

The Pareto Principle Has An Expiry Date

Has the Pareto Principle finally reached its expiration date after 110 years? Why the tail wagging the dog heralds the end of the 80-20 rule in procurement.

Pareto Expiry Date

This article was first published on EBN Online.

When Vilfredo Pareto observed in 1906 that 80 per cent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 per cent of the population, little did he know that this 80-20 rule (or Pareto Principle) would be enthusiastically embraced by the procurement profession and still be applicable 110 years later.

The term was popularised in the 1940s by the engineer Joseph M. Juran, who famously wrote of “the vital few and the trivial many”.

In procurement terms, the Pareto Principle means that 20 per cent of the average organisation’s suppliers account for 80 per cent of spend, and vice-versa. I’m a big fan of explaining procurement concepts with relatable imagery, so let’s picture your supplier base as something that we’re all familiar with – a dog.

The Tail Will Soon Be Wagging The Dog

Picture a Labrador. Or an Alsatian, or a Sheep Dog if you prefer – whatever takes your fancy. The head of the dog could be said to represent your top 1 per cent strategic suppliers. This is where you commit most of your time and energy.

Your procurement systems are optimised to work with the head of the dog. You make a significant effort to communicate face-to-face, and you spend a large amount of time worrying about what’s going on inside that head.

Let’s move down the neck to the dog’s body. Think of this as the next 19 per cent of your strategic suppliers. While the body isn’t nearly so important as the head, you recognise that this group accounts for the majority of your spend and deserves almost as much attention. As such, you dedicate time and resources to ensuring the body is in optimal health, and these “vital few” are being properly looked after.

Finally, the tail. Depending on the amount of suppliers you have, this could be a short stubby tail, or an extremely long one that tapers to a tip. Into this tail you’ve crammed 80 per cent of your suppliers – Juran’s “trivial many” who represent only 20 per cent of your spend.

You’re so busy looking after the dog’s body (and especially its head), that you’ve adopted a set-and-forget approach to the spend tail. You automate what you can, and call upon the smallest suppliers only when you need them.

And that’s a mistake, because in terms of innovation potential and risk profiles, the tail will soon be wagging the dog.

Procurement Systems Optimised For Large Suppliers

At ProcuriousBig Ideas Summit in May this year, Coupa Software’s Gabe Perez told the assembled group of Procurement thought-leaders that there are untold millions of suppliers in the world.

And yet most of our systems, or proprietary networks, only give us visibility of a few hundred thousand. We need to develop open networks to give unhindered access to all these suppliers who could potentially be the source of game-changing innovation.

The problem is that our processes and systems are set up to work with the big players at the expense of SMEs. “We can’t have our bureaucracy, our complexity, our layers of organisation impact suppliers’ businesses,” says Perez. “The cost of business goes up”.

Yet, that’s classic procurement, and it takes a culture shift to change the way we do business and encourage a truly open network. Think about the hurdles your organisation is putting in place for SMEs; whether they’re prohibitive insurance requirements, or crippling contractual terms that could bankrupt a small player.

Are they really necessary? Are you closing the door on opportunity because you see yourself as too big to play in the small supplier space?

Building Culture Of Agility And Innovation

Have you ever requested a last-minute change from a large supplier and watched in frustration as the creaky wheels slowly begin to turn? By the time the suppliers’ emails have bounced around to tick all the bureaucratic boxes, a smaller supplier may have found and implemented a solution.

What you want is agility. And small suppliers will expect you to be agile in return.

In her workshop on innovation in procurement, former Deutsche Telekom CPO, Eva Wimmers, stressed the need for nimbleness when working with SMEs. She discovered that the existing processes at her organisation were skewed towards the largest suppliers. 

Processes were changed to encourage innovation through diversifying the supply base to include more SMEs and start-ups, cutting new contracts down to a maximum of five pages, and holding supplier meetings exclusively around innovation.

Eva also implemented what she called “dialogue-rich procurement”. This encouraged her team to greatly increase their communication with both internal stakeholders and with suppliers. Her team discovered that SMEs, in particular, were very eager to share their ideas when they found that procurement was willing to listen and learn.

In Eva’s words, “We do not care how big an organisation is, as long as both the solution and the organisation are scalable and financially solid.”

She used Dropbox.com as an example of a small organisation with fewer than 50 staff that wouldn’t even have shown up on many organisations’ radar. And yet now it has world-wide take-up.

Compression Of The Supply Chain

Paul Markillie, Innovation Editor at The Economist, talked at the Big Ideas Summit about the compression of the supply chain driven by recent technological megatrends.

Robotics, 3D printing and computer-aided design are demolishing the old economies of scale, and separating a big supplier from an SME. This is ushering in no less than a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. What this means for procurement is that third or fourth-tier suppliers can find themselves rapidly rising to first-tier producers of end-products.

“There will be huge opportunities for companies further down the supply chain to innovate,” Markillie said. “Second-generation robots are more affordable for medium and small companies; 3D printing processes are less wasteful of raw materials and allow greater production flexibility at lower volumes.

“I think we will see some companies grasp these opportunities, which could re-order supply chains, and lead to some companies that were previously suppliers of components making the leap to become producers of final products.”

Lots Of Risk In That Spend Tail

The dilemma many procurement professionals face is that although you can’t afford to spend much time with suppliers beyond your top 20 per cent, every single vendor in your supply chain presents a significant risk to your brand, reputation and bottom line.

Think about a small supplier that you only use sporadically. Have you investigated their suppliers to ensure compliance to standards? What are their second-tier suppliers up to? What about the third, fourth and fifth tier?

Even though your spend with this supplier may be minimal, it can cause just as much damage to your organisation as the top 20 per cent. Child labor, slavery, cyber security, unsafe practices – the list is endless, and frightening.

My point – apart from trying to scare you – is that your risk mitigation and audit processes that are in place for the top 20 per cent, should be extended to the remaining 80 per cent.

End Of The Pareto Principle?

So, does this mean that the Pareto Principle has finally reached its expiration date after 110 years? In my opinion, yes it does.

If you measure the importance of suppliers purely by spend (and that’s very old-fashioned thinking), then you should indeed spend the majority of your time with the 20 per cent.

But modern CPOs know how badly a bottom line can be hurt by a risk event, and the huge potential of disruptive innovation to grow a business. And both of these factors reside in suppliers of every size, including those in the tip of the tail.

Why Wait? Come to Training in Your Pyjamas

Have you ever had that nightmare where you’re wearing your pyjamas in class? With new training from ISM, your nightmare can be a reality (in a good way!).

Training in Pyjamas

I’m in training. I’ve got my laptop open on the table in front of me, a nice warm drink, and I’m waiting for the trainer to appear. A striking-looking instructor comes into view, walking slowly and deliberately in heels.

She’s wearing her ginger-coloured hair pulled back in a ponytail, quite a lot of blue eyeshadow and vivid red lipstick. She appears to have had eyelash extensions.

I sit up a bit straighter in my chair, before glancing down and realising with a shock that I’m wearing my pyjamas.

What is Micro-Learning?

But that’s okay, because it’s 9pm and I’m comfortably ensconced in a warm study in my own home. The kids have finally gone to bed and the dishes are done, so I’ve taken the opportunity to squeeze in one of ISM’s Just-in-Time Learning sessions, led by a flame-haired, animated instructor.

I’ve chosen a session called “Sourcing Strategy based on Forecasted Data”. At 8 minutes and 30 seconds, it removes my usual excuse about being too time-poor to invest in training. According to ISM’s Senior VP of Programs and Product Development M.L. Peck, this is what micro-learning is all about.

“People are craving content that address specific needs at specific times”, says Peck. “Micro-learning takes a ‘just-for-me, just-in-time, and just-enough’ approach”.

Training Essentials

This works for me, as my attention span seems to be diminishing rapidly as I grow older. The animated instructor’s voice has a slightly robotic quality, but she’s convincing enough.

She moves around the screen, gesticulating with one hands with the other resting on her hip. She (I’m not sure if the instructor has a name) even blinks and waggles her eyebrows as she drives each point home.

The instructor rapidly takes me through the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of sourcing – spot buying, buying to requirements, forward buying and speculative buying. As she talks, animated graphics appear and disappear next to her.

The content itself is drawn from ISM’s impressive global network of subject matter experts, who have created a remarkable library of digital knowledge.

The animation is interspersed with a video of Kevin from ISM, a (human) instructor who gives a real-world example of a restaurant owner who uses each of the four buying types as circumstances demand.

Sharing Essential Skills & Knowledge

Each Just-in-Time learning video has a different style. Some feature animated characters such as this, while others are led entirely by real instructors.

There are whiteboard animations, live interviews with executives and leaders in the profession, short lectures from industry experts, fun activities, games and flashcards.

This style of learning isn’t designed to be a deep-dive, but is a fast and effective overview of essential procurement skills and knowledge. Viewers can choose to explore further through eISM’s Guided Learning and Self-Paced learning options.

This particular video, however, is packed with fast facts, statistics, definitions from the ISM Glossary. It also includes real-world examples about sourcing strategies. By the end of the eight-and-a-half minute video, I have three pages of notes.

And what’s more, I even have time to sneak in another training video before my drink goes cold!

Learn More (in Pyjamas if you Want!)

Procurious now hosts three of the eISM Just-in-Time learning videos here on the website. Simply click on the “Learning” tab, or follow the links below to view:

For the full suite of eISM learning options, visit the ISM website.

A Seat at the Table, or Procurement to Go?

‘Procurement to Go’ is about building a fast, reliable and flexible function that’s always one step ahead of changing business needs.

Procurement to go

In her recent article, PASA’s Jeni Christensen shared her concern about the region’s “shocking” lack of Professional Procurement. The target, Christensen writes, is to have a CPO at every boardroom table, and she shares a series of very valid steps about how to get there. New-York based Justin Hughes (PA Consulting Group) has also recently written an article about how a seat at the top table is “something procurement has to earn”.

But is board membership really the answer? I’d like to present an alternative view.

You don’t need a seat at the table if you have the right level of influence

Let’s face it – getting a seat at the boardroom table has been a recurring theme amongst procurement professionals for nearly a decade now. It’s a consequence of procurement’s historical back-room role, and a perceived fix for a host of procurement frustrations, including organisational compliance.

Chris Lynch, Global CFO of Rio Tinto, told delegates at the 2015 Asia-Pacific CPO Forum that the focus on board representation wasn’t the answer: “Forget reporting lines – just put procurement in the ‘winners’ circle’”.

Getting into the winners’ circle is all about influence. According to The Faculty Roundtable member, and leading CPO, David Henchliffe, “Business leaders need to get the value good procurement practises can deliver, and be strong advocates for the function. It’s our job to make sure they get it.”

In Henchliffe’s opinion, the preoccupation with board or senior leadership team membership is misguided. Deliver value to the business and CPOs will be invited to join in broader business-level planning and decision making.

The situation may not be as dire as PASA and Christensen suggest. Procurement has made enormous progress from its formerly transactional, back-office position, to become strategic partners in the business, predominantly through strong performance and better communication of the value it brings to organisations.

According to The Faculty’s recent Benchmarking Review, procurement’s influence continues to grow, with managed spend at an average of 72 per cent this year, up from 68 per cent in the previous review. CPOs are regarded as “highly influential” by surveyed procurement teams, stakeholders and suppliers, again pointing to improved communication and articulation of value to the C-Level.

How to ensure board members and senior leadership team members “get” procurement

Relevance through flexibility and agility is key. Henchliffe has seen his own organisation shift dramatically from an emphasis on growth and delivery to a critical focus on reducing the total cost of the business.  Procurement’s role, therefore, is to always be in step with the business’s requirements and to make sure the function can rapidly respond to the constantly changing business environment.

To flesh out the “table” metaphor, the boardroom/senior leadership team menu itself never remains static. Procurement needs to position itself as an ultra-flexible function that’s always ready to deliver – at top speed – anything that is required. Think of it as ‘Procurement to Go’ – fast, reliable, flexible, and a world away from the old, glacial speed of delivery.

Ron Brown, a highly experienced CPO across the Resource and FMCG sectors, says that the importance of nurturing capability cannot be underestimated if you want to stay relevant. “Hiring for and building capability around flexibility, driving value and managing risks is now integral”, Brown says. “If you want procurement to remain relevant, focus on capability and relationship building to ensure you’re a key part of the business strategy and performance”.

In summary, CPOs should focus on staying relevant by offering the business ‘Procurement to Go’ through flexibility, adaptability and concentrating on ensuring board members “get” procurement. Once this is achieved, CPOs can use this influence to achieve their goals and enable the profession as a whole to move on from the unhelpful fixation on boardroom representation.

The Faculty Roundtable is an influential group of Australian procurement leaders, who gather to share their experiences and insights. In May, The Faculty will be hosting their ninth Asia-Pacific CPO Forum, the region’s premier procurement event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership at the highest level.

For more information on The Faculty Roundtable or CPO Forum, contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey.

Best Procurement Books – Explaining Procurement with Apple Pie

The Faculty’s Hugo Britt shares one of the best procurement books he has found. Did we mention it happens to be for pre-schoolers?!

chook1

“But mum/dad, what is procurement?” How many times have your kids asked you this question, and how often have you struggled to explain your complex role in simple language understandable by a child? The best response to this question that I’ve ever heard is “I do the shopping” – which paints a relatable picture of mum or dad pushing a giant supermarket trolley around all day at work.

The best procurement books should be able to answer that question, and I’ve found a picture book that answers it much better than I can. One of the many books my three-year-old enjoys reading with me at bedtime (hundreds and hundreds of times over) is Marjorie Priceman’s whimsical “How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World”.

Best Procurement Books - Cover
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World – All Images are copyright to Dragonfly Books

The book is delightfully illustrated, about a little girl in Edwardian times who wants to make an apple pie. The premise is summed up in the first few lines:

“Making an apple pie is really very easy. First, get all the ingredients at the market. Mix them well, bake, and serve … Unless, of course, the market is closed.”

list

The Apple Pie Supply Chain

And this is where this great little book becomes a textbook on Procurement. The little girl packs a suitcase, puts on her walking shoes and takes a steamship bound for Europe and beyond. Along the way, she sources a number of ingredients which will help to make the apple pie:

  • Semolina wheat from Italy
  • Elegant eggs from a French chicken
  • Cinnamon from the bark of a Sri Lankan kurundu tree

kurundu

  • Milk from a good-mannered English cow
  • Seawater and sugarcane from Jamaica
  • And, of course, apples from a Vermont orchard

orchard

She appears to be a master negotiator (or perhaps just very charming), as there’s no mention of money changing hands for any ingredient. Along the way she has to overcome many of the challenges faced in Procurement, such as language barriers and creative means of transport.

The little girl then goes through the exhaustive process of turning the raw materials into the ingredients she needs, milling the wheat into flour, grinding the kurundu bark into cinnamon, evaporating the seawater from the salt, boiling the sugarcane, persuading the chicken to lay an egg, milking the cow, churning the milk into butter, slicing the apples, and finally mixing the ingredients and baking the pie.

process 1

Her reward is to share the delicious pie with all the new friends she made on her journey, including the chicken and cow.

Before my son demolishes a piece of cake or pie, we sometimes pause to talk about this book. It’s fantastic to see him wonder about all the work and ingredients that went into his slice of cake, and he’s even starting to think the same way about everyday objects all over the house, including clothes he wears and toys he plays with.

I give this book 5 out of 5. Do you have any children’s books to recommend that touch on Procurement? What are the best procurement books you have found answering that all important question? Share your thoughts below!

All images above are the property of Marjorie Priceman (and publisher Dragonfly Books). You can purchase How to Make an Apple Pie here: http://www.amazon.com/Make-Apple-World-Dragonfly-Books/dp/0679880836

Hugo Britt is a Research Consultant at The Faculty, helping to support The Faculty Roundtable, an influential group of Australian procurement leaders who gather to share their experiences and insights. 

For more information on The Faculty Roundtable contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey.

Risk Mitigation – Hope Like Hell It Doesn’t Happen to You

Organisations can plan and strategise for risk mitigation in their supply chain, but ultimately a lot of it comes down to luck.

Risk mitigation

In the words of one member of The Faculty’s Melbourne Roundtable, “There’s a lot of risk out there – you can mitigate all you like but in the end, you just hope like hell it doesn’t happen to you.”

Risk-experts Aaron Cleavely-Millwood (Market Development Manager – Regulatory, Market and Operational Risk) and Nathan Lynch (Head Regulatory Analyst) of Thomson Reuters, visited the Melbourne and Perth Roundtables to take members through their organisation’s global research findings on risk and disruption.

While the Thomson Reuters research focused on disruption to financial services, Roundtable CPOs drew some key learnings from shared challenges around governance, risk, compliance and regulatory drivers.

The Faculty ran its own snapshot survey among its Roundtable members, providing some interesting comparisons between Thomson Reuters’ global, cross-industry study and our local, procurement-focused findings.

Supply Chain Risks

Thomson Reuters’ top four disruption risks revolved predominantly around price:

  1. Raw material price fluctuation
  2. Currency fluctuation
  3. Market changes
  4. Energy fuel price volatility

The Faculty’s findings revealed that CPOs have a slightly different set of concerns:

  1. Supplier monopolies
  2. Market changes
  3. Climatic or natural disasters
  4. Emerging technologies

Risks and Impacts

Price risk is an obvious and ever-present danger and a key part of strategic planning. Cleavely-Millwood gave the example of the 2015 drought in Russia, which saw the price of wheat rise by 41 per cent, and create a huge impact throughout Europe. Spikes such as this (and of course the drop in oil price) cannot necessarily be forecast, but it is possible to plan for and hedge against these events.

Interestingly, social activism was placed at the bottom of both lists. This is surprising given some of the recent disruptions driven by environmental activism in the Australian coal and coal seam gas industries.

The Thomson Reuters presentation focused on fraud risk. This has been identified as a high area of concern for Australian organisations despite increasing regulation. CPOs have to be continually aware of the risks around supplier, contractor and employee fraud, and have plans in place to minimise the damage when fraud takes place.

Increased regulation is a double-edged sword. It will effectively lower the chance of fraud risk and other potentially damaging issues, but will mean CPOs need to spend more time and resources ensuring compliance.

Roundtable delegates were taken through various major pieces of regulation including the UK Bribery Act, the Australian Senate Review of Bribery Laws, the Dodd-Frank Act, and the upcoming Unfair Contracts Act.

The key takeaway – communicate regularly with your internal legal counsel to ensure you keep track of regulatory change.

Effective Risk Mitigation

Our snapshot survey asked members to nominate the most effective risk mitigation measures, with the following results (1 being the most effective):

  1. Building strong supplier relationships
  2. Creating a risk-aware culture
  3. Improving market intelligence
  4. Improving IT and data analytics
  5. Increased sharing of information

The Faculty’s advice for managing risk:

Due diligence can take place through three levels of risk assessment:

  • Ensure you thoroughly investigate new vendors.
  • Regularly perform risk assessments of existing vendors to check if anything has changed.
  • Ensure you have visibility of your suppliers’ suppliers, and their suppliers, and so on, until you’re confident that there are no major risks several layers down the supply chain.

Inspirational Words from Women in Procurement 2016

The Faculty’s Hugo Britt shares some inspirational words and thought-provoking ideas from the 2nd Annual Women in Procurement conference. 

Women in Procurement 2016 Inspirational Words

Back in March, I attended Quest Event’s 2nd Annual Women in Procurement conference in Melbourne, representing Procurious as the event’s media partner.

Literally within minutes of the conference being opened by NBN Co’s Chief Procurement Officer Coretta Bessi, I was scrambling to keep up my note taking as a flood of ideas, inspirational words and thought leadership came from the podium. And this pace didn’t let up over the two days of the conference.

Why run a conference exclusively for women in Procurement in Australia? Because the numbers are dire.

According to Jigsaw Talent Management’s Trends in Gender Diversity, the average split in the Australian national workforce is 54 per cent to 46 per cent in favour of men. But in the Procurement profession specifically the numbers are much worse – 63 per cent to 36 per cent in favour of men. Let’s not also forget the widening gender pay gap – currently averaging 17.1 per cent.

All of these figures point to an urgent need to drive change through a gathering of minds such as that seen at Women in Procurement.

Rather than try to summarise the content of the key speakers’ presentations, I’d like to share what I took as the most inspirational words and thought-provoking quotes from the conference.

Coretta Bessi, CPO, NBN Co.

“Ask yourself every day: ‘What am I doing today that will make me better tomorrow than I was yesterday?’”

Kelly Irwin, Head of Procurement Australia and NZ, Holcim

“Have the courage to leap out of your comfort zone.”

“A boss depends on authority, but a leader depends on goodwill.”

Jonathan Dutton, Director, JD Consultancy

“The secret to success in procurement is staying relevant to the vision.”

“Corporate Social Responsibility has the potential to change the fabric of our decision-making in procurement.”

Dutton’s four big critiques of modern procurement:

  1. An unproductive focus on cost
  2. Organisational isolation with no customer focus
  3. Glacial pace of procurement processes
  4. Acting without enquiry and not asking WHY.

Margaret Ruwoldt, University of Melbourne, speaking on the “Working out Loud” movement

“Hierarchical boundaries are much more permeable in a networked world. You have personal development opportunities that didn’t exist five years ago.”

“’Working out Loud’ is ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’ meets the internet”

“Don’t wait to be plucked from the crowd – make yourself stand out.”

Jackie Aggett, Head of Procurement, Laing O’Rourke and The Faculty Roundtable member

“Courage, for me, means believing in myself, and believing my ideas are worth sharing.”

Sharon Hoysted, Procurement Manager, Supplier Management, Boeing Aerostructures Australia

“Diversity and inclusion are key to fostering a culture of innovation in your business.”

Nelli Kim, Senior Supplier Management Specialist, Telstra International Group

“If you can get through the self-doubt and give something a try, it’s a win.”

“What are YOU doing to personally manage your development?”

Professor Margaret Alston, Monash University

“Australia’s gender pay gap has grown to 17.1 per cent differential. This is simply not equitable. To achieve the same wage in Australia, women would have to work 64 days extra per year.”

Jennie Vickers, Director Australia and NZ, IACCM

“Don’t be defined by your job title or you’ll find yourself disappearing.”

“Make the case and articulate the benefits of supplier relationship management.”

Honey Meares, Procurement Manager, Supply Strategy, Genesis Energy

On clarity of purpose: “It’s important to know what you are trying to achieve.” 

Sarah Collins, Chief Procurement Officer, NSW Roads and Maritime Services

“Don’t try to change everything at once – rather, concentrate on starting the momentum.”

You can check out the full programme for the event here.

Hugo Britt is a Research Consultant at The Faculty, helping to support The Faculty Roundtable, an influential group of Australian procurement leaders, who gather to share their experiences and insights. The Faculty will be hosting their ninth Asia-Pacific CPO Forum, the region’s premier procurement event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership at the highest level.

For more information on The Faculty Roundtable or CPO Forum, contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey.

Can Introverts Really Thrive in Procurement?

While many aspects of modern business, including key skills, seem to favour extroverts, Susan Cain argues that introverts have as much to add and value to give.

Value of Introverts

 “There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

Don’t miss Quiet Revolutionary”, Susan Cain’s keynote speech at ISM2016.

There are almost certainly introverts in your procurement team – whether it be yourself, your boss, or your colleagues, a third to half of the population are introverts. Susan Cain’s game-changing book The Quiet Revolution champions the introvert cause and goes into detail about how workplaces are designed to benefit extroverts – but what about introverts in Procurement?

What is an introvert?

First up, it’s important not to confuse introversion with shyness. Shyness is about fear of social judgement, while introversion is about how you respond to stimulation. In Cain’s words, “Extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation, while introverts feel at their most alive, most switched on, and at their most capable, when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.”

We all fall at different points on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, but 21st-century workplaces are predominantly designed for extroverts and their love of stimulation. A culture that celebrates action over contemplation, open-plan offices, constant noise, and (worst of all) endless group-work, means introverts are often forced to pass as extroverts in the workplace rather than be themselves.

Groupthink versus creative solitude

“Groupthink” means that we can’t be in a group of people without unwittingly aping their belief. Groups follow the opinion of the most dominant or charismatic person in the room, even though, as Cain emphatically states, there is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. This reveals a serious flaw in the way workplaces, schools and even the legal system (think about what happens in the jury room) see group-work as the best way to get positive results.

Solitude is essential to creativity and productivity. Team members should be able to generate their own ideas by themselves, free from groupthink, then come together as a team to talk them through, while ensuring no single person dominates the discussion. Cain points out that collaboration is important, but we need to recognise that freedom, privacy and autonomy matters.

Rather than constant group-work, workplaces should encourage casual, chatty, café-style interaction where people can share their creative ideas. In Cain’s words, “we need to work together, but the more freedom we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely they are to come up with solutions to unique problems”.

Introverts make better leaders

In a culture that prizes extroversion, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, despite the fact that they make the best leaders. Here’s why they’re a better choice for leadership roles:

  • introverted leaders are generally more careful and are less likely to take outsize risks
  • introverts are much more likely to let employees run with their ideas, whereas extroverts can’t help but put their own stamp on things
  • people recognise that introverts step up because they are driven to do what’s right, rather than because they enjoy directing others or being in the public eye.

What does this mean for Procurement?

As most CPOs would agree, Procurement is a “people skills” job. This means that alongside core skills such as supply market research, analysis, category and contract management, introverted Procurement professionals must be comfortable with networking, influencing, stakeholder engagement, supplier relationship management and negotiation. The best advice is to play to your strengths rather than try to be something you are not.

Extroverts love negotiating, – the thrill of the contest, thinking on their feet and coming out on top – but having to negotiate can make introverts very uncomfortable. Again, it’s not about shyness, but rather about finding yourself in a high-stimulus environment, with pressure, fast decisions, and no time to reflect in solitude to come up with creative solutions. Here are some suggestions for introverts to overcome their fear of negotiation by playing to their strengths:

1. Does the negotiation really have to be live? Carrying out a negotiation by email may be slower, but will allow you to make considered decisions rather than blurting out a rash offer in a moment of high pressure.

2. In a live negotiation, use the power of silence. A meaningful pause can make the person across the table so uncomfortable that they start to gabble to fill the silence.

3. Plan ahead. Use your solitary time to do your research and plan so thoroughly for the negotiation that you will be prepared for anything.

4. Listen. Have you ever had one of those conversations where the other party knows what they want to say and doesn’t appear to listen to you at all? Introverts make much better listeners because they don’t feel the need to dominate the discussion. Active listening makes people feel valued and will enable both parties to find common ground.

Susan Cain has a powerful message that resonates not only with introverts, but will be enormously valuable to extroverts who want to understand how to help their introverted colleagues thrive. Attendees at ISM2016 will learn how to create a better workplace Yin and Yang between introversion and extroversion, and join Cain’s Quiet Revolution.

Susan Cain

Time is running out to register for the biggest and best supply management conference on earth – ISM2016 – from May 15 to 18 at the Indianapolis Convention Center. More than 100 breakout sessions will feature some of the BIGGEST names in supply management, including Apple, Google and Coca-Cola. Get all the information you need to register on the ISM website.