All posts by Jon W. Hansen

3 Career Questions to ask your boss . . . NOW!

Has your career lived up to your expectations? If not, It’s not too late to make a change. You just need to be asking the right questions.

jon-hansen questions

Last year Kelly Barner and I spoke at a public sector conference regarding the key findings from our book ‘Procurement At A Crossroads: Career-Impacting Insights Into A Rapidly Changing Industry‘.

In the two sessions we gave, we posed the following two questions to the audience.

With the first we asked, how many of you chose procurement as a profession?

For those of you who have been in the industry for some time, you will appreciate the thought process behind our query, as historically very few people actually chose purchasing as a career. Most sort of fell into the role.

Based on the response, it is clear that times have obviously changed. The majority of people raised their hands indicating that procurement was indeed, their profession of choice.

If You Could Turn Back Time?

We then asked the second question. Knowing what you know now, and if you could do it all over again, how many would still select procurement as a career?

In both sessions, regardless of age or length of time on the job, the response was the same. Approximately 50 per cent of those in the audience indicated that if they could go back in time, they would have made a different career choice.

The reasons they gave were varied, and are in and of themselves, worthy of a separate article. However, and corresponding with the focus of this post, there was a central or common theme. During the hiring process it appeared that very few asked their prospective bosses the right questions.

In short, they were more focused on being hired, without really understanding what the actual position entailed beyond a perfunctory role and responsibility job description. This I believe, is a common scenario that is played out across all professions in all industries.

Based on the above responses, it is imperative that job candidates ask the right questions.

So what are the right questions?

As a procurement professional, these are the three I would ask:

  1. What is your view of technology, especially in relation to its role in the procurement process?
  2. What is your approach or process for engaging key stakeholders, both within and external to the enterprise?
  3. What, if any, changes will we see in procurement in the next 2 to 5 years, from both an individual professional standpoint, as well as collectively?

By the way, it is never too late to ask the above questions, even if you are already nestled into a procurement career. The responses you receive could surprise you and, perhaps, give you a renewed enthusiasm for your chosen profession.

Now you may be asking yourself, why these three questions?

Because the answers you receive will reveal the true attitudes and values of your boss and the organisation as a whole.

The Technology Question

For example, take the technology question.

jon-hansen-1

If your prospective boss (and company) are heavily invested in making technology the primary focus of their efforts, then you will be in trouble.

While technology can obviously play an important role in automating the procurement process, thus freeing up valuable time for you to focus on more strategic endeavours within the enterprise, in and of itself, it will not get the job done.

As a supporting resource, technology requires people with an ability and desire to openly collaborate with key stakeholders which, not surprisingly, serves as a lead-in to the second question.

So if your prospective boss places a great deal of emphasis on technology as being critical to procurement’s success, that is a red flag. It means that you will likely find yourself relegated to a supporting role, as opposed to having a leading role, in the organisation’s procurement strategy.

Engaging Stakeholders

In terms of the remaining two questions, let’s start with the approach and process for engaging stakeholders.

For far too long our profession has operated in what I will call the zero sum game vacuum. Specifically, the belief that in order to win, someone else has to lose.

For example, during a lecture Kate Vitasek gave a couple of years ago, she talked about her time in purchasing with Microsoft. The co-author of ‘Getting To We’, who now champions the principles of being relational, recounted how she would be rewarded financially for driving down a supplier’s cost, even if doing so had negative consequences for said supplier.

IACCM’s CEO Tim Cummins also talked about how senior executive stakeholders at the negotiating table would routinely lie to one another about what they could do, by when they could do it, and for how much.

So when you sit across the table from your prospective boss, you need to determine if win-win is a vague sentiment without any real substance, or if they really understand the new dynamics associated with building relationships based on collaboration and transparency.

Change and the Future

Finally, let’s talk about question 3.

Asking your prospective boss to provide you with their take on how the industry and profession will change, may seem like a catch-all, pie in the sky question that is more likely to produce a perfunctory response, as opposed to eliciting meaningful insight.

However, if the answer you receive stands out from the same old generalisations one usually hears, you will know it. This is because it will reflect an attitude of new possibilities. An attitude no longer held captive to the traditional views of what our profession and industry is about.

In essence, this last question walks the talk of the first two. The answer you receive will legitimise the response for the first two questions. Because without change – or an understanding of what needs to change – improved stakeholder engagement and the proper assignment of technology is not possible.

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What are the innovations transforming supply chains & biggest trends right now?

Technology is not the be-all and end-all, so says Jon Hansen

Jon Hansen looks into his crystal ball

For me, my discussions and corresponding interviews with Karen Evans, the former CIO for the U.S. Federal Government was powerful, in that it confirmed a position I have held since the late 90s . . . that technology in and of itself is largely irrelevant and ineffectual – at least in the traditional sense.

In fact in a July 13th, 2010 post titled “Calculating Digital Capital and what it Means to Traditional ERP Vendors”, I wrote the following:

In the just released white paper titled “Transparency in Government Procurement” Karen Evans the former CIO for the U.S. Federal Government under the Bush Administration hit the proverbial nail on the head when she made the statement that “products” (re technology), does “not replace skill sets,” and that “vendors have to change their business models” focusing on the critical areas of “quality of service and reliability of data.”

Evans went on to suggest that this “change” is “different from selling an Oracle data base,” even if it is within the realms of a virtualized or “cloud computing” architecture, and that computing in the clouds is really just “optimizing the use of infrastructure” and is therefore a commodity versus being an actual service.

This entire post is quite revealing and worth reading today, especially given that it was at a very interesting point in time when the wave of change we are now experiencing was just beginning to create notable ripples.

It was a time when the industry first started to acknowledge that the 2000 SIIA white paper “Strategic Backgrounder: Software As A Service” actually existed, let alone that “packaged desktop and enterprise applications will soon be swept away by the tide of Web-based, outsourced products and services.”

Think of it in this context . . . the changes we are seeing today were identified in the late 90s, acknowledged in 2010, and acted upon in 2014.

In the end, what Evans did in the 2010 interview, was confirm that my advice prior to that time was on the mark, while creating a contextual tipping point for industry acceptance of what the handful of one time industry rebels had been advocating all along . . . that technology while important, is not by itself or mere implementation, the sole determining factor in enabling an organization to build a successful procurement practice.

Given the above, the greatest innovation that is transforming the supply chain has less to do with technology, and more to do with our way of thinking both within and outside of the procurement profession.

This last point regarding the transformative mindset referenced above was best captured by two-time Loeb Award finalist and Forbes contributor Francine McKenna who’s Twitter tagline reads “Using tools instead of tools using me.” @retheauditors

What’s your Big Idea? On 30 April, Procurious will host a world-first cost leadership think-tank at The Soho Hotel in London that will be amplified to our 4500 members across 100 countries through a mixture of videos, interviews, social media and feature-writing. Discover more at www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your Big Idea using #BigIdeas2015

Read more: 4 technology trends we’ll tackle at Big Ideas 2015 

Jon Hansen on building your procurement social media footprint

Your social media footprint. Image Pixabay

Last week I received the following Tweet:

@piblogger1 Lots of #Procurement pros keen to build #socialmedia profile but not sure where to start. Any tips for #Twitter success?

The timing for the above query was notable because on the same day, I received a message in LinkedIn from an industry sales representative asking a similar question.  The sales rep – who works for one of the industry’s more dominant P2P providers – wanted to find a way to better expand her footprint in the world of social media.

Besides pointing out the obvious, such as using a proper photograph for your profile pic, at the end of the day I wrote back, you need to follow the 3Cs model.

Centered around the Know, Like and Trust edict for doing business, I directed her to read my post titled The 3Cs of Social Media Success.

For those unfamiliar with the Know, Like and Trust reference, it is based on the fact that people will ultimately work with or do business with someone they well . . . Know, Like and Trust.  In fact, in the purchasing world, the more complex or significant the expenditure, the more of a factor this becomes.  You simply have to listen to my interview with a former aide of Governor Cuomo’s , in which he states that more than 90 percent of all contract winners in the state are selected before the actual RFP is issued, to understand its actual importance.

The question is how do you get to this point in a relationship.  Especially given that fact that despite being more connected today through social media and the myriad of electronic devices, we actually seem to be communicating less?

This is where the 3Cs come into play.

We are all familiar with the three R’s associated with learning (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic).  Think of the 3Cs of social media in the same way.

In a world of increasing noise levels where it is becoming difficult to establish a distinguishable presence and brand, the three Cs are the foundation upon which to build a meaningful rapport within the virtual realms of the Internet.

So What Are The 3Cs?

Content: Your content is relevant with what is happening in the world right now

Context: You have something meaningful to share with the world

Contact: Your content is shared or cross-pollinated across traditional and electronic print mediums, radio and Internet TV, social networks and social network groups

There it is, I can stop writing this post now and wait to hear about your success.

Much to the chagrin of every Internet huckster peddling a service or product that proclaims to know the secret of your success (i.e. SEO), the formula for connecting with an audience or market is quite simple.  You have to take an interest in the world around you!

This is the inescapable starting point.  There are no techniques per say, nor hidden paths to establishing the kind of meaningful rapport that is necessary for you to increase your virtual presence.  We are not talking about the recipe for Coca Cola here, or the secret herbs and spices that go into making the Colonel’s world famous chicken.

To be part of the conversation, you have to join the conversation, and in the process add value that is unique to your view of the world.  It is the only way for people to really get to know you, like you, and trust you to the point of actually wanting to make a meaningful connection with you.

To get to that stage however, you have to say something worth hearing before people will listen to you. And if they listen to you, they will get to know you and, as is often times the case, to know you is to like you.  From there, trusting you is just a short walk down the street.

Now for those out there who simply cannot believe or accept that building a strong social media presence is this simple, it is.

To start, ask yourself these three basic questions; 1. what is it I have to say that is meaningful to the world, 2. how does it relate to what is both interesting and important to the world and, 3. what are the venues through which I can best connect with the world around me?

While there are certainly demographic considerations with each venue – LinkedIn is more business oriented catering to the 35 to 55 age group, while Facebook is more personal focusing on the younger generation – the answers to the above questions are applicable across the board.

In short, what value are you bringing to the relationship?  Are you providing real knowledge and useful insight, or are you just trying to reach as many people as possible in an effort to make a sale.  There is a world of difference between the two.

In a future post I will talk about social media in terms of the procurement process itself, and how you can use the various platforms to become more strategic.  In the meantime, start building your personal footprint using the 3Cs and watch both your presence and influence grow.

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Procurement Virtualization

Jon Hansen is a guest blogger –  if you want to contribute to the Procurious blog please drop us a line – here.

I have been writing the Procurement Insights blog since 2007.  It currently has more than 21,500 followers.  (Note: the European Union Edition of the blog – which was launched in May 2013 – has just over 16,000 followers.)

Around the same time I joined LinkedIn ( 30,000 connections), followed by Facebook (5,000 connections), and finally Twitter  (17,000 connections) in 2008.

In 2009 I launched the PI Window radio show on Blog Talk Radio – which will soon air its 900th episode in which featured segments are downloaded between 25,000 and 30,000 times within the 24 to 48 hours immediately following the live broadcast.

Over time I have also expanded my virtual presence through various other platforms including YouTube, Sprout Social, Pinterest and on and on and on.

So one might reasonably conclude that as a procurement professional, I am deeply immersed in the virtual realms of the Internet.  While I would not disagree with this last point, if I were reading as opposed to writing this article, the first question I would ask is what does it all really mean?  More specifically,

what are the tangible benefits that a procurement professional can derive from being “connected” in the virtual world?

My response . . . it depends on how long you have been in the profession.

Jon Hansen on Procurious

For those of us who have been around for 15 or more years, the answer is not as clear as it is with the newer generation of procurement professionals.  I am talking about the ones 30 years or younger.

For this newer group the thought of utilizing a dog-eared catalog with stick-it notes of varying colors to source products from suppliers via telephone is unfathomable.  I would imagine that theirs would be a similar reaction to that of my young nephew, who upon viewing the black and white images projected through the old rabbit-eared television at his grandmother’s house, declared that the “TV was broken”.

In this generational context, the virtual  world is a comfortable given for the younger set, while an revolutionary development for the veterans.  This factor will to a large extent influence  our respective perceptions and considered benefits.

Rather than continue to focus on the obvious disparity in understanding, the purpose of this article is to identify the points of commonality.  Specifically, how can the web-based platforms  or elements of the virtual world that is the Internet, be best leveraged regardless of age or experience.

The Operational Element (Action)

I have no doubt that I could, with little effort, turn this into a long dissertation on the various technical aspects of the myriad of platforms that make up the networked world in which we do business.  From cloud-based B2B to P2P and B2C and everything in between, including big data and The Internet of Things, there is no shortage of material.

The irony of course is that in terms of impact, these present day technological advancements are no different than those from earlier eras such as the telephone and fax machine – both of which were quite revolutionary in their own time.  Quite simply, the only real difference from an operational standpoint, are the actual tools of the trade themselves.  The core principle upon which they are based is still centered on increasing capabilities and improving outcomes.

Therefore, what is really needed to understand how this transformation unifies generational  perspective and perception, is to find a common point of reference.  For me this would be ThomasNet.com.

ThomasNet.com is the current version of the Thomas Register.  First published in 1898, the Thomas Register was a simple yet powerfully useful buying guide which listed industrial products and services from an expansive list of potential vendors.

It was an indispensible tool for buyers who through one convenient catalog, could source needed products from reliable suppliers who had been researched and screened by the publication.

Fast forward more than 100 years to the here and now, and this core benefit is still the same, which is the ability to source products and services from a reliable pool of vendors.  The only difference is that instead of looking up a product in a hard copy catalog and then contacting the applicable supplier by the available means of bygone days,

the Internet has made it possible to locate, source and procure electronically by way of a few simple keystrokes.

Granted this is an oversimplification  of how a ThomasNet.com works in comparison to its earlier versions, but you get the idea.

The Socialized Element (Knowledge)

Where it once did, the value gained from the traditional Association model can no longer compete for my attention.  I need to collaborate bigger, faster, stronger – and at my convenience.

Associations could better leverage Web 2.0 to deliver a greater level of service to me as a supply chain professional by more actively, rapidly and efficiently aligning with the pace at which new, useful industry information becomes available – then delivering this information in an effective way, so as to keep me abreast of trends, best-practices and exchange ideas with fellow members; thereby making me a more valuable professional.

The above referenced text was a comment I had received from a listener who tuned into a April 2009 segment of the PI Window titled Is The Traditional Association Model Dead.

From my standpoint, the sentiments expressed by this individual explains perfectly the impetus behind the socialization of the procurement professional within the virtual realms.  It is also the reason why, when I was originally introduced to Procurious I took notice.

From “connecting to correcting to listening to learning” etc.,  platforms such as Procurious are as indispensible a tool as the operational platforms or technologies  we use to procure goods and services.

Ultimately, it is the socialized aspect of virtualization that ensures access to the needed insight and information that enables the procurement professional to maintain relevancy in an increasingly complex global marketplace.  In fact, the underlying value of these communities of shared interest is that they serve as a filter through which the information overload of the World Wide Web can be circumvented to ensure that you get the intelligence you need quickly and reliably.

The key point to remember is that these are truly “get out what you put in” virtual communities, in which the tangible benefits can only be measured by the quality of the relationships that help you to add greater value to your own career and organization.  This means that you have to get involved.  Whether it be in the form of a question posed within a group, or commenting on an article.  When you insert yourself into the conversation you gain knowledge well beyond your own experiences.  Or to put it another way, and regardless of your age, the old axiom that knowledge is power is as true today as it was when Francis Bacon originally coined the phrase back in the 16th century.

In the end, when you hear terms such as procurement virtualization or socializing procurement, what it really means is that the main objectives of the procurement profession are still somewhat the same…

– with some notable extensions.  The only difference is in the tools that are available to achieve the desired outcomes.