All posts by Pauline King

The Art of Self-Mastery In Indirect Procurement

Self-mastery is a critical skill in indirect procurement but you might have to endure a few steep learning curves before you nail it. 

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Indirect procurement is a function with high requirements for stakeholder management.  Cultivating excellent stakeholder management skills means developing self-mastery – a key part of authentic leadership.

In the workplace, ‘Just being yourself’ doesn’t  mean  letting it all hang out, unfiltered. It requires a self-mastery founded in self-awareness. It means building on this to calibrate ones own reaction to and interaction with colleagues. I’ve had experiences from good and bad bosses along the way and I’ve made mistakes that have helped me learn to be a more authentic leader.

The blind spot of conviction

Early on in my career I was lucky to be part of a small, young team developing the, then new, idea of strategic sourcing in indirect procurement for a large bank.

We had an innovative boss, Harry, who inspired us with his passion for the new concept. And, with just 10 of us, and a supportive CPO, we were starting to make a big impact.

However, there was a new CFO who  didn’t understand what we were doing. He simply didn’t care about the hundreds of millions of savings the team was generating.  As you can probably guess, this was before the banking crisis!

Harry had a choice to make. He could have decided to keep a low profile and deliver value in other ways. After all, there were plenty of projects to work on that didn’t require massive change management and senior sponsorship.

Instead, he made an ultimatum to the new CFO, so convinced that he was right and that his arguments would be compelling.

It didn’t turn out the way he had planned. The team closed and disbanded one month later. Unfortunately, Harry’s lack of self-awareness made him naively unaware of the politics of the business and the consequences he might face.

Leading a team through change

The procurement management team I was working on at a large Swiss company was about to go through a major transition with the retirement of our charismatic CPO. He  had many great qualities but led by command and control.

His manager, Peter, knew we needed to evolve to be capable of running the business independently. The stakes were high for him due to a high level of outsourcing in direct procurement and high savings commitments in indirect procurement.

The first shake-up was a reduction of the team. Peter joined the meeting with the new smaller group. I didn’t know him well, and was nervous about what his expectations were.

He told us that we had to be ready to lead procurement differently as our new boss was not a procurement person. He admitted that our new team wasn’t yet ready for the challenges ahead but that we would be supported to grow and develop.

Over the next year, Peter joined our meetings regularly to give us input and encouragement. He didn’t discuss the pressure for us to become an independent team. He backed up the risks we were taking with new high change projects. He also gave his personal support with one to one time.

Much later, I asked him about that time and how much pressure there had really been. He told me he hadn’t been sure the team would make it and that the pressure from the CEO had been intense.

His self-mastery at that moment allowed us to have space to grow and successfully step up to the plate.

Not filtering and scaring my team

It was the end of summer and we were in the second year of our indirect transformation. The team had delivered the first year, but our credibility was far from cemented.

One of my team leads, Mary, revealed that her team’s numbers were not sure for the year. Worse still, we had recently submitted an updated forecast to senior management.

Mary and I reviewed her project details. She couldn’t answer all of the questions to the level I needed in order to be able to revise the numbers.

I was surprised at this; she was highly capable, but she hadn’t yet fully learned how to measure savings in financial terms or to appreciate the importance of forecast accuracy.

We were under a lot of pressure and I panicked.  Having scrutinised the details with Mary I understood the situation,  but the cost was high and I was unsuccessful in shielding my stress from the team.

Fortunately Mary followed up with me. She explained what the effect of my unfiltered actions had on her and the team. She felt undermined and made to feel foolish in front of her team and her team members themselves were frightened.

I had failed my team by allowing high pressure from upwards to go unfiltered downwards.

After apologising to Mary, we talked frankly about what had happened. She got more insight into what she needed to do and I agreed to never behave in that way again.

It was a deep learning experience in the importance of maintaining self-mastery, especially in high-stress moments.

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Indirect Procurement: Leading By Taking Responsibiity

Authentic leadership is especially important in indirect procurement. Pauline King discusses why taking responsibility is a key aspect of this.

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I was recently at a lunch with a former member of our indirect transformation program. I wanted her view was on how we achieved so much and so quickly. Her answer surprised me.

She made no mention of classic procurement methods; it was all about authentic leadership. Indirect procurement, with its high change impact, power struggles and need for excellent business partnering, is especially in need of this kind of leadership.

But what does this mean in the day to day? Thinking back over authentic and inauthentic bosses and my own mistakes in aiming to be an authentic leader, one theme is about taking responsibility. Here are three examples from my past experiences that demonstrate this.

  1. Be confident to make tough decisions 

I’ll never forget the first leadership team meeting with the best boss I ever had.

Bruce told us that each of us should be doing our own job and not the job of our direct reports. This was a powerful message for me because I realised that I had been covering and doing damage control for one of my team leads, Dirk.

Dirk had many talents, but he was not comfortable challenging the business. In indirect procurement, this is fatal.

It was September and we were setting up for the following year’s project pipeline and savings commitments. The numbers were not on track.

We were reviewing his numbers when I realised he hadn’t completed the final, and crucial, step of getting the senior business managers’ sign-off.  With a sinking feeling, I saw I would have to step in and ‘do his job for him’.  It was time for a hard decision.

In this case, it was especially difficult because I had worked closely with Dirk and appreciated his knowledge and skills in many ways.

But, he deserved to hear it straight that he hadn’t stepped up despite many feedback sessions. I didn’t see him being able to develop this particular skill. We instead focused on his considerable strengths and worked successfully to find him a new role. He went on to have great impact.

  1. Manage Relationships Effectively 

During a particularly difficult phase of a worldwide P2P rollout, my responsibility was to lead the global indirect implementation. This was in coordination with my teammates, the regional heads.

One of the most complex regions was in Europe with its many countries and languages. There were endless calls between global and region Europe to hammer out the operational details. One particular teammate, John, the head of Europe seemed to be putting roadblocks in place that didn’t make sense.

I made an error in blaming John and, worse still, being vocal about it. I didn’t take the time to understand his reality on the ground.

Luckily for me, our boss was very blunt and told me:

  • Work with your colleague to fix the disagreement
  • Never complain in public about a team member

I apologised to John and spent time with him discussing how we both thought we could bridge our differences.

Ultimately, he became one of my closest colleagues and together we led the rollout in Europe to success.

  1. Train your team to be independent 

The best way to coach people to take responsibility is by giving them the space to act alone.

I was once working on a series of difficult projects, one of which was reducing travel cost by implementing high-end video conferencing. In order for it to be impactful, a fast worldwide rollout was needed.

Serge was the procurement lead and had never done such a project before.  He had, however, developed a great relationship with his business client. I was convinced, with some support, that he could do the job.

One of the first tasks was in finding a clear way to measure the savings and bring that to the P&L. Together with the travel manager, we did some brainstorming on how to get the data and make the case, reviewed what external case studies we could use from providers and what the storyline could be for senior management. Serge went away with the task to put together a first draft with his colleague.

What he came back with was terrible: no clear story line and fuzzy numbers.

We did another brainstorming session and gathered some more data. At the end of this round, I thought Serge had enough to bring everything together. But, once again, he again came back with meandering slides and no clear way to measure the savings.

I knew he could do better.  I looked him in the eye and told him he had what he needed to pull the deck together and that I was convinced he could do it. And sent him away.

Several days later, Serge came back with the frame that we then polished and successfully got approved. With this success behind him, he stepped up and drove the project through, not only deepening his relationship with his business client, but also increasing his visibility in the company.

Believing and then saying, ‘I have full confidence’ to an employee is a powerful message.

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Women and Indirect Procurement – A Perfect Fit!

Indirect procurement is a perfect fit for women. And women in indirect procurement are a perfect fit for a company.

women indirect procurement

At a recent fantastic CIPS CH event on ‘Women in Procurement’, it got me thinking about why indirect procurement is a great function for women.

My path to leadership in procurement happened by accident. In the late 90s, when indirect procurement was emerging as a strategic sourcing function, I joined the corporate sourcing team at a large Swiss bank.

The team had been formed specifically to implement ‘strategic sourcing’. I got my first taste of the three things that make women in indirect procurement such a great combination.

  1. Indirect procurement is results oriented

One of the realities of being a businesswoman is that the range of acceptable behaviour can be pretty narrow. Being clear about your opinion in a meeting easily becomes being ‘too direct’.

But the great equaliser is delivering financial results. Everyone wants to hear more, especially senior executives.

But not just any numbers will do…

  • Clear financials – Focus on savings that bring the cost base down and have P&L impact via a tight link to the budget process (see my previous article on this topic).
  • Long-term savings commitment – The first time we committed as a team, I was nervous presenting it to the executive committee. But after we delivered the first year, my nervousness was gone.

Women who advance into leadership roles in corporations are all results oriented and tend to be super exact because the winnowing out process is earlier and harsher.

Mary, the leader of the US professional services category was exactly this kind of woman, delivering business innovation and significant numbers every year.

As part of our strategy for breaking through on more difficult categories, she led a new approach by working across regions. I also gave her a leadership challenge to think bigger on the numbers. She did. And the team delivered some great innovation to the business and tripled the savings delivery.

  1. Indirect procurement is flexible

One of the greatest aspects of being measured on results is that it makes space for flexibility between work and home time.

After some years in consulting, I was back in industry with a full-time role, and two small children, leading a big team for the first time. There were several other women with children in the team trying to manage work and home time. We needed to do something.

There were two things going for us.

  • A results oriented CPO even though he was an old style German man!
  • Procurement is in the ‘client’ role so sales people try to match your schedule.

This combination equals control of your agenda and gave us a chance to organise time differently.

  • No meetings after 5pm, but with the expectation of being online post bedtime.
  • Working fewer hours than the men just by being more focused. There’s nothing like needing to be home to get focus.

There’s no pretending that this was easy to do. But in addition to being able to balance work and home time, there were two side affects of this way of organising things.

  • The leadership team was young. And the men also started to organise themselves this way after they had children.
  • Talent retention and growth of women rising on the organisation.

Isabelle, a young woman in my former team recently had her second child and had the chance to take over a regional head role. We met for coffee and discussed her fear of taking the role with young children.

She made a clear plan on how she would manage her work and home time, including how many late evening conference calls she was willing to make, and went for it.

Great for her and great for keeping and developing talent in the company.

  1. Indirect procurement has P&L impact

Women continue to be underrepresented in senior management, and the ones there, are often in non-powerful functions like HR.

One of the key ticks in the box for advancing is P&L responsibility. Indirect procurement can have high impact on the P&L and therefore crucial ‘visibility’ to senior management. Keep in mind:

  • Senior management cares about the P&L. You need to not only deliver the numbers, but make sure you are up there presenting to them. And it’s a chance to show you can handle the pressure of executive level presentations and questions sessions.
  • Know your numbers inside and out. This means being aware of the status of all material projects driving delivery on a monthly basis.
  • Can you measure and track it – proof! Have a clear report that is linked to the budget cycle

The more visibility women have, the better their chances to advance. This naturally adds to the pipeline of women for a company – the lack of which is the eternal topic in every article about why there aren’t more women in senior positions.

The bottom line is empowered women deliver.

Pauline King is the CEO of Heykins GmbH, Rapid Results Procurement, focused on working with clients’ existing teams to deliver tangible financial results.

She is a recognised expert in indirect procurement with deep operational experience in procurement transformation. Pauline also works closely with The Beyond Group AG where she heads up the Indirect Procurement Practice.

Power Dynamics: Emotional Conflict in Indirect Procurement

Indirect procurement implementations are tricky. Take into account power dynamics, and there’s an emotional conflict that needs to be overcome too.

Power Dynamics

At a recent CIPS event in Zurich, the topic was disruption in indirect procurement. There were some excellent presentations and lively discussions afterwards on working with business functions.

But when I raised the fact that, in fact, successful indirect procurement implementations take away power from functional heads, the reaction was raised eyebrows.

While leading the build up of a global indirect procurement business partner organisation, I was sure that the hardest part would be getting the right talent to face off to the business. And if this match up were done correctly, all would take care of itself.

This formula worked well at first, and the team was making inroads with the business and delivering real savings.

But as we got into more controversial categories, the team started talking more and more about how difficult some business people were, especially senior ones.

Targets pressure was high, and the tension mounted both from the team and from executive management. My thinking that things would smooth out on their own over time was dead wrong!

Addressing Power Dynamics

Then I realised we were actually in the midst of three power dynamics that were holding us back. These had to be addressed.

Buyer & Supplier

The first power dynamic is the obvious one that happens when you cut across existing relationships between the business and the suppliers. It’s not just about interrupting nice lunches, but also touching the egos of the functional colleagues because procurement was:

  • Saying the business were not expert negotiators, which some colleagues took very personally.
  • Interfering with relationships where the business colleague had been the centre of attention and they now had to share airspace.

We were still at the beginning, so some good stakeholder management allowed us to work through this power dynamic by:

  • Putting in highly qualified and business knowledgeable procurement managers with great business partnering skills.
  • ‘Love and Care’ – taking time to listen and understand their concerns, which lead to better understanding but also assuaged egos.
Loss of Power

The second power dynamic was harder. The reality was that as spend came under control and savings were embedded in budgets up front:

  • Budget holders were losing decision making power over ‘their’ savings that could no longer be used to fill gaps.
  • There was more scrutiny, and decisions on re-investment were being taken at a more senior and cross-functional level.

Needless to say, they didn’t like it!

At this point, even the most fearless and confident team members were getting stressed. We needed to find a way to reduce the tension. We did it with:

  • ‘Tough Love’ management engagement – being very transparent that, yes, it was a shift of decision making, and not pretending that it wasn’t (supported by ‘Love and Care’).
  • Support and coaching of the procurement teams, so they could talk openly about difficult clients, and then work up solutions to solve it.
Senior Management Power

The third power dynamic is the trickiest. This was about very senior management and their personal skin in the game for the indirect procurement program:

  • The easy blanket ‘we support you’ was not giving enough air cover for the complex and more controversial projects.
  • We had specific blockers in the system at very senior levels that needed to be overcome to move forward.

The indirect procurement leadership discussed the issue intensely and decided to try a new direction:

  • For each of the controversial projects we presented to the senior committee, we asked for an individual sponsor from them
  • We also asked each sponsor to not only enable cut through with their own organisations, but also those of their peers

They said yes and volunteered specific sponsors right then and there.

This created space for the team and also created a peer pressure dynamic among the executives. We reported regularly, and no one wanted to be behind.

The team then took forward a series of projects closely aligned with the business functions, including transforming legal services, establishing consulting preferred suppliers, and changing the business model with marketing agencies.

Changing Relationships

In addition to delivering significant savings, there was a deep change in the relationship between indirect procurement, their functional colleagues, and the senior management, as a climate of respect and common purpose took shape.

I knew things had moved on, when at a regular update, the CFO made a classic comment that ‘his wife found a cheaper plane ticket on the internet’, and his peers looked at him and we moved on as if it hadn’t been said.

Implementing indirect programs involves strong emotions and power dynamics which need both active upward selling and strong change management. This might involve simply getting the right people together to make a fit for purpose plan for formal executive presentations and stakeholder management.

Solving the underlying emotional conflicts creates trust and delivers results.

Pauline King is the CEO of Heykins GmbH, Rapid Results Procurement, focused on working with clients’ existing teams to deliver tangible financial results.

She is a recognised expert in indirect procurement with deep operational experience in procurement transformation. Pauline also works closely with The Beyond Group AG where she heads up the Indirect Procurement Practice.

Why Indirect Procurement Fails to Deliver Savings to the Bottom Line: Fear

Fear of numbers, and using the language of finance is holding back indirect procurement teams from delivering real value and bottom line savings.

Fear

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

One thing you hear at every procurement event is how hard it is to really achieve indirect savings and bring them to the bottom line. Then the discussion inevitably moves to how finance and business heads just don’t understand the real value impact of the procurement team.

If you could fix this, all would be solved. However, this completely misses changes that procurement itself needs to address first.

While leading a major transformation of a large global indirect team, I was completely surprised by two blockers of a talented and motivated team. While they loved tough, numbers-focused supplier negotiations, there were two hidden fears about numbers that jeopardised their capturing savings.

1. Fear of Using the Language of Finance

The team’s comfort zone for numbers was in spend analysis, supplier pricing, total cost of ownership and benefits from a given negotiation. However, many had bad experiences with finance and business heads who were not interested in cost avoidance and best-negotiated prices, making the procurement group feel unappreciated, misunderstood and not part of the team.

There was immense cost pressure, and through the CFO and other senior leaders, this translated into a drive for year-over-year savings that could be translated into budget reductions. As the leader, I thought this was reasonable and went back to the team explaining that the measure of our performance from now on would be hard savings.

But two issues became clear immediately:

  • The team’s lack of basic financial acumen and the ability to understand and speak about numbers in the same way as the finance colleagues.
  • Their resulting discomfort and fear of not looking knowledgeable.

The journey to addressing this gap started with working together with finance to define the company’s accepted savings definitions. This handbook became the bible for all of the savings and budget reductions. It was also:

  • A training tool for procurement, finance and the business clients.
  • A way to take out the emotion and bad feelings via clear rules and definitions.

Learning by doing was a key part of the change process for the team. With regular and granular numbers reviews, the team had day-to-day opportunities to become familiar with the calculations and fluent in financial language and concepts.

This led to greater confidence in speaking with colleagues and became the new common language of how procurement contributed to the bottom line.

2. Fear of Committing to Accurate Numbers

Although procurement people will tell you that they like being measured on the numbers, what they also often say is ‘it’s better to under commit and over-deliver’. Unfortunately, what this really means is, ‘I can’t predict my performance so I will low-ball my guesstimate’.

This fear of not meeting targets was going to be even more problematic with the sharper focus on year-over-year targets. But it had to be urgently addressed:

  • As savings were being directly linked to and partly taken out of budget up front, being very accurate was an imperative.
  • While it is less bad than under-delivering, over-delivering in November usually means the money has already been spent on something else.

Over optimistically, I thought it was just a matter of explaining why accuracy was so important, and using a sales pipeline approach to enable it all. But as we got into the details, a few things became clear:

  • There was a lack of understanding (back to the topic of financial language) of how to organise projects at a ‘material’ level.
  • The team wasn’t used to thinking about their projects in terms of a pipeline over a longer horizon.
Addressing the Gap

The key to addressing the gap was again to improve the collaboration with finance as well as commit to senior management to deliver against the planned pipeline of projects. In turn, team and individual targets were set accordingly and we got two benefits from this effort.

  • Creating the pipeline got procurement involved in the business discussions much earlier than previously
  • The team learned how to set up a clear and material set of projects which reinforced their new financial knowledge

At the end of the first year, and for the very first time, the team got recognition from all sides. They felt new confidence in speaking about numbers and the increase in visibility from ‘real’ savings based on the clear pipeline. They couldn’t conceive of going back to the days of estimated benefits, fuzzy savings calculations and unclear targets.

Implementing both the formal processes between procurement and finance as well as the needed change management for the procurement team need to be fit for purpose to how the company really works. It might be as simple as agreeing the basic savings definitions or as complex as introducing a full workflow supported process.

Conquering these fears is worth the financial results!

Pauline King is the founder of Rapid Results Procurement focused on working with a company’s existing team to deliver tangible financial results. She is a recognised expert in indirect procurement with deep operational experience in procurement transformation. Pauline also works closely with The Beyond Group AG where she heads up the Indirect Procurement Practice.