All posts by Tania Seary

4 Reasons Social Media Is A Gamechanger For Supply Chain & Procurement

Thanks to the power of online collaboration, social media has played an essential role in helping supply chain and procurement professionals manage COVID-19.


Where would we be without social media? Imagine trying to navigate through this crisis without the support of your social networks. At Procurious, we have provided a safe space for our almost 40,000 (we’re at 39,964 as I write!) supply chain and procurement leaders all over the world.  We’ve played our small part in helping our members step up to the plate, curveball after curveball.

In honor of World Social Media Day, it’s only right that we tip our hats off to how far we’ve come as a community. We’ve helped our members find jobs, advance in their careers, make critical connections across the world and collaborate to tackle some truly complex and exciting challenges. We’re extremely proud.

Today, we’re reflecting on a few of the many reasons social media has become a professional powerhouse:

1. It can help anyone, anywhere in the world

Think of how big your network would be without the virtual groups, forums, discussions and networks you’re a part of today. The best part is the skies the limit —and communities like ours are growing every day.

But even beyond individualized benefits, influencers like Professor Karsten Machholz, from the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (or FHWS) in Germany, demonstrated the impact users can make when they use their platform for the greater good. Amidst the crisis, 65% of businesses were required to quickly source alternative suppliers for affected categories. And while procurement’s response was mostly impressive, some organisations are still struggling. Social media has allowed Karsten to play a huge role in recovery. “With the use of my procurement and supply chain networks like Procurious, I am trying to help companies find alternative suppliers in order to make their supply chains run again.”

Joanna Martinez, founder of Supply Chain Advisors LLC is another example of influencers leveraging social media to make an impact and help others. “Watching all the people being furloughed or laid off, I started ‘Pay it Forward Fridays’, where I use my connections and expertise to help people begin the journey back to employment. I’ve been a practice interviewer, a speaker to Zoom groups focused on the job search, have proofread resumes, made connections, and been a reference. I haven’t found a person yet that I haven’t been able to help in some way.”

2. The more we put in, the more we get out

Since coming together to prove our organisational value, we’ve made monumental strides in outshining old stereotypes and proving our organisational worth. Still, we’ve come too far to lose our seat at the executive table.

When asked about the pressures of today’s environment, Chief Heart Officer of SupplyChainQueen, Sheri Hinish, explained that COVID-19 has taught us a valuable lesson. “We are ONE planet – each of us interconnected in ways we may not be aware of or see. You can’t watch the news without hearing supply chain nowadays…. Literally, we are seeing that supply chains have the ability to save lives and power the world we share.”

This requires us to learn more and give more: to society and our professional networks. Social media makes this possible.

3. It boosts collaboration

Although much of the world is still at home, social media has brought our community closer than ever. “The pulse for information due to COVID has created a space for helping others better understand and prepare for external risks, visibility, social and environmental insights that are all tied to building resilient and transparent supply chains.” – Sheri Hinish, SupplyChainQueen.

It’s clear the support we’ve given each other is admirable. Beyond that, we’re progressively moving and adding value outside of our normal realm. For example, some procurement teams have contentious relationships with their suppliers.  But according to Sarah Scudder, President at Real Sourcing Network, the dynamic must change – and social media is helping pave the way.  “COVID-19 is forcing companies to save money and be more efficient… I want all procurement professionals to believe in collaboration and teamwork with suppliers instead of ‘us versus them’.”

There is no “I” in team. Effective collaboration requires communication and sharing. It can be especially uncomfortable if your organisation is doing something for the first time. But, who says you can’t borrow from another playbook? That’s what makes professional networks so unique. Chances are, someone out there has tackled a similar issue to whatever you are facing today… and they’re willing to share what they learned.

4. Online communication can be just as personal and productive

Our own Principal Advisor Helen Mackenzie proved connecting virtually doesn’t need to be any less intimate than meeting face-to-face. “I’ve been working hard to connect CPOs with each other. We’re having virtual coffee breaks where three or four of us come together just for a chat and to exchange information, insight and ideas. I like to think that being that community connector, which after all is what we’re about at Procurious, has helped the CPOs I’ve shared a virtual coffee with feel that they are part of a wider network that’s there to support each other.”

With major changes ahead, it’s critical we keep up the momentum. The most rookie mistake supply chain and procurement leaders can make is not being receptive to further change. As Dave Food, Strategy Director at Prophetic Technology expertly puts it: “The future is full of possibility, say no to the old ways and leverage the new potential. Early adopters are the powerhouse of tomorrow.” And social media is the enabler.

For more game-changing insights and inspiring stories from key players themselves, check out our COVID-19 Gamechangers whitepaper.

And if you haven’t officially joined Procurious yet, do yourself the favor and make today the day.


How Kelly Barner Became The World’s No 1 Procurement Influencer

Reaching influencer status on social media in any industry comes down to two things. Procurement and Supply Chain Influencer, Kelly Barner reveals what what they are and why it is important…


With world social media day only moments away, it’s time to reflect on how far the procurement profession has come in promoting itself to the broader business community and the world.

It was only six short years ago that we launched Procurious as the world’s first online network for procurement and supply chain….and since then we have seen a plethora of social media influencers emerge representing our profession.

But before any of us burst onto the scene, Kelly Barner was already here, promoting the work of our profession on Buyers Meeting Point, publishing books and writing original content to help upskill the profession while promoting key individuals, brands, publications and events within the industry.

Thinkers 360 and CPOStrategy Magazine recently recognised Kelly as the number one influencer on social media for procurement. So what has been her secret? How do you become the most influential person in a space where everyone is vying for attention? I reached out to Kelly to find out.

Kelly Barner: In my opinion, reaching influencer status on social media in any industry comes down to two things: 

1. Consistently working at it day in and day out. I’ve been sharing and engaging on social media since 2010. In the early days, I didn’t have a following, but I stayed on course, actively promoting my own content and following others and commenting on their content. I use some platforms to help me automatically promote content periodically after the main promotional window is over, but I do 99% of my social media work the ‘old fashioned way’ – I do it myself, as me, every day. If your online brand is important to you, you can’t fake authenticity. Give it 5-10 minutes a day, every day. That is enough to make a noticeable difference.

2. Not generating a following for the sake of the following, but looking at it as a natural (and very valuable!!) byproduct of doing excellent work, writing excellent content, and building real connections with real people. If you are just focused on building up your numbers, you will end up with an audience built for the wrong reason, and those connections won’t help you achieve your primary mission.

Tania:  When the field is open wide, it can often be tough to find the courage to “be the first” and get started. I know it found me a while to “find my voice” (and I still may be looking!), but it took a lot of courage to get started sharing my stories on social media.

Kelly: This is one of those cases where it helps not to have any idea what you are doing. I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes along the way (and continue to make them to this day), especially since I don’t have any training in marketing, PR, or social media strategy. But it has helped to have good friends by my side along the way. The procurement community is made up of amazing, generous, inspiring people that never fail to inspire me with new ideas and approaches to tough problems.

Tania:  But now the field isn’t wide open, we have a lot of influencers in our space, and in some ways, that could be more daunting – you could feel that you don’t have a unique story to tell, that it’s all been said..and maybe by people that you think are better than you.

Kelly: Everyone has a unique perspective to offer – that is the first, most important lesson I learned from Jon Hansen. He has been my mentor since day one, and early on I asked him why he was helping me. We both had blogs, and I wondered why he didn’t see me as a competitor. He pointed out (in his friendly, genuine way) that as long as we both write from our own point of view, there is no such thing as competition. No one can ever be you, and as a result, you will always have a unique offering to bring to the market. You can also beat people on time and quality. Work faster, and make sure your work is cleaner, that everyone else’s, and the readers will follow.

Tania:  I’ve always encouraged our community that they have a lot of great stories to tell. We have such interesting careers, interfacing with so many interesting, unique issues every day.

Kelly: The secret to great writing and social media engagement is… READING! I know that isn’t the most popular activity these days because we are all so busy. But it is absolutely critical. Read content on procurement, supply chain, business, communication – absolutely everything you can get your hands on. I read several newspapers every day as well as blogs, and monthly/quarterly business journals. It is amazing how often inspiration and insight come from unexpected sources. And – back to the idea of having a unique point of view – since no one else will be reading the same mix of sources as you, no one can duplicate your perspective. 

Tania:  With due cause, COVID has been a hectic time in procurement and on the news scene.  Our recent How Now report showed how well our profession handled the stress and actually have an increased interest and commitment to building a career in procurement and supply chain.

Kelly: I think procurement has done an outstanding job keeping the lights on in these unprecedented times. Who else knows how to get hard to find products and services? Who else can be creative about solving problems on the fly? Our companies have relied upon our agility and determination, but so have our families. I’m sure I am not the only procurement professional who applied her knowledge of supply chain management to keep the house stocked with food, medicine and – yes – even toilet paper. We’ve had some odd meals (turkey kielbasa, stewed tomatoes, and buttered toast, anyone?) but we always had something to eat – and I never missed a deadline at Buyers Meeting Point.

Given the additional information supply chains have received since the pandemic began, I think there is good reason to be hopeful that a flood of talented, hardworking professionals from other fields will join procurement and supply chain because of what they have read and seen during the shutdowns. 

Tania:  Speaking of increasing influence, Kelly, you have just made a big strategic decision to purchase MyPurchasingCenter from another female entrepreneur.

Kelly:  MyPurchasingCenter was owned by MediaSolve Group, a B2B Marketing Company led by Michelle Palmer, and it was edited for a long time by another well-known figure in the procurement industry: former Purchasing Magazine Senior Editor Susan Avery. They were both determined that ownership of MyPurchasingCenter go to someone that wanted it for the right reasons; not to part it out or gut its assets, but who would show respect for its legacy as a standalone information resource.

I worked on this acquisition for A LONG TIME. I knew Buyers Meeting Point was uniquely positioned to show the respect that Michelle and Susan wanted to see (and rightly so!) and to create tangible value with the MyPurchasingCenter brand, content, and social media accounts. 

Tania:  Just like when you started Buyers Meeting Point, this acquisition is a big step, it must have taken courage.  Were you nervous about the next step. Can you give any advice to people wanting to take that first entrepreneurial step?

Kelly:  My short answer to that question would be, “Just GO!” With the exception of ensuring your personal finances are in a state to support the leap before making it, you can’t overthink the decision to step out on your own. If you do, logic will stack up against the decision to become an entrepreneur every time. Nothing in the world can prepare you for starting a business, but no professional experience offers more riches. The highs and lows, gains and pains are like nothing else. I highly recommend that anyone who gets the ‘itch’ seriously consider acting on it!

Tania:  What do you think the profession will look like in five years?  What will MPC/Buyers Meeting Point look like in five years?

Kelly: In five years, I think procurement will be a primarily data-driven profession. Technology will be able to handle a lot of the process work we do today, leaving us to analyze data and work at the highest levels of the enterprise to inform and contribute to the development of corporate strategy.

My plan for BMP and MPC is to continue supporting all of the information needs of procurement and supply chain professionals. Five years from now, I imagine the full MPC content archive will be back online and I will have had some other creative spark about how to perpetuate the brand on my own. I can’t wait to find out what I come up with!

Tania:  There’s a few things I’ve always admired about Kelly (being a lovely person would be the first), but from a business perspective, that she’s achieved this number one status, that she’s managed to do this without having to leave her family and travel like a madwoman around the globe to build her network and that she’s a great collaborator.

We’ve talked about the achievement of her influence, but what about being able to build this global network without travelling.  Kelly, what’s your secret?  Do you think face to face is a myth?  Has all our Zoom, Webex, etc during COVID proved your approach?

Kelly:  This is absolutely a unique point about my experience. I was a consultant traveling almost 100% of the time when I had my daughter 12 years ago. Overnight, I went from jetsetting to full-time first time parent, and it was quite a shock. I joined Buyers Meeting Point in 2009, 4 months before my oldest son was born (referring back to my point about about not overthinking the leap to entrepreneurship – logic would have told me that was a TERRIBLE idea! Who starts a business with a newborn and a 20 month old?). My youngest son was born in 2012, so I have had babies and/or kids for every minute of my entrepreneurial journey. It is amazing what technology will allow you to achieve. I don’t even have a home office. Before COVID-19, I worked at the kitchen table, and after my family all came home to roost full time, I moved to the dining room because I didn’t want peanut butter and jelly splattered on my laptop. 

I’m also lucky that I live about an hour from Boston, which brings a lot of people into my backyard. I make the most of those opportunities, and I have met many of my global colleagues – including you, Tania! – in person. There is something magical about sitting face to face across the table from someone you already have an online relationship with.

There is no question that being able to travel would have accelerated my career and influence, but not being able to travel wasn’t a deal breaker. Now that everyone else is in the same boat, I have an advantage because I’ve been working this way for over a decade. 

Tania:  And collaboration, you’ve always collaborated with others in the profession – Jon Hansen, Phil Ideson, and Stephanie Lapierre to name a few. I totally subscribe to this, we’re going to get a lot further promoting the profession if we all promote each other.  What’s been your approach to collaboration?  How do you choose who you want to collaborate with?  Will you be collaborating more or less with others into the future?

Kelly:  Deciding who to collaborate with has always been a gut decision for me. If I like you, there is almost nothing I won’t do for you. I received a ton of goodwill from people who were practically strangers when I was first on my own, and I have made a point of paying that generosity forward. This is another one of those areas where you can’t fake authenticity. If you really like someone, the collaboration comes naturally. If you don’t ‘click’ with someone, nothing can fix it. I’ve actually gotten stomach aches from dealing with certain people over the years, and I trust that 100%. After all, what is the good of taking on all of the risk of being out on your own if you can’t reap the benefits of being able to decide who you will work with and for?

Summary

I hope that leaves everyone inspired, with some great practical tips for increasing your own social media influence.  

From my own perspective, building a really compelling profile on Procurious is a great way to start promoting yourselves to 40,000 other procurement and supply chain pros around the world…and also connecting with them to solve your daily challenges.

Happy World Social Media Day Eve!

Gender Equality: From One Small Step at Work . . . To A (Hopeful) Giant Leap Forward

This IWD, I’m more motivated than ever to go beyond the hashtags and to start making meaningful change. Will you join me? 


Many of us, including me, have spent recent weeks transfixed by what can only be described as horrifying news. A beautiful woman, Hannah Clarke, and her three young children, Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey, were savagely murdered in Brisbane, Australia, by their estranged father, Rowan Baxter.

In 2020, after so much progress on women’s rights and equality – after #Metoo, #TimesUp and #WhyIStayed – the fact that an atrocity of this nature can happen in the first place is evidence that we haven’t come far enough. Not even close. 

There’s no doubt that we need a complete overhaul of how we work to prevent domestic violence. But beyond that, for all of the progress we’ve made, women are still at a distinct disadvantage throughout their entire lives. 

From the ongoing gender pay gap, to women’s decreased pension funds, to discrimination as we age, it seems to me that all of us – men and women – need to go beyond hashtags and endeavour to make meaningful change, as often as we can. 

Many commentators have said that progress is slow because it requires gargantuan mindset and structural shifts. But I don’t agree.

What we need is to start small, and from small things, big things will grow. Just as it’s possible to upskill your staff in less than half an hour with a $0 training budget, so, too, it must be possible for us all to make small changes to our behaviour so we can achieve gender equality – where, after all, we’ll all be better off.

The behaviour I believe we all need to start with is respect. Research shows that inequality often begins with one party not respecting the other, and I’ve certainly seen that, from business functions I’ve attended to boardrooms I’ve found myself in.

Respect isn’t hard to give, but it can be a challenging one. Often you may not even be aware that you’re subconsciously not giving it. So this IWD, let’s all change that. 

Will you join me in giving more women the respect they deserve? Here’s 5 tips for doing just that. 

1. Give eye contact 

It sounds so simple, but it’s important – research shows that we give more eye contact to people we respect.

Giving eye contact is a form of empowerment. It shows the person we’re listening to that we recognise their authority and expertise. And that we believe what they’re saying is worth listening to. 

Yet in work situations, women receive less eye contact than men. Researchers found that this was because people often unconsciously trust the opinions of men more.

Put this right by giving your female colleagues sustained eye contact. 

2. Listen 

If we want to show respect to female colleagues at work, another great way to do this is to listen. 

Studies show that, in general, women are interrupted far more often when speaking than men – on average, three times as much.This has led to the popular-cultural notion of ‘mansplaining’ – the idea that men interrupt women to explain things to them that they already understand. 

The thing about interrupting others is that we’re often not conscious we’re doing it. So next time you’re in a meeting, make sure you actively listen to the women on your team. 

3. Mention women’s job titles, not their parenting or work status 

How we describe others at work does matter, especially if it’s to people one of us meeting for the first time. And when we do this, we often default to more stereotypical descriptions of people. Men are more likely to be referred to by their role names only, whereas women are often referred to by their parenting and working status. 

For example, Lydia, the Communications Manager, might be referred to as Lydia, the working mum. Or Lydia, who works part-time. Referring to someone in this way can activate unhelpful stereotypes. 

To show more respect to women you work with, simply introduce them by their job title and leave it there. 

4. Emphasize that family leave is for women – and men 

One of the ongoing causes of inequality in the workplace is the fact that mothers typically take maternity leave – and less than 1 in 20 fathers do.  

This compounds inequality over the course of women’s lives. Women sometimes return to lower-paid roles, are mommy-tracked in their careersand ultimately end up with fewer retirement savings. 

And it isn’t only women who miss out. Research shows that the majority of dads would like to take more paternity leave if it was available to them and they felt comfortable doing so.

Taking action on this and giving mothers – as well as fathers – more respect when it comes to paternity leave can be as simple as not making assumptions when a colleague is expecting a baby. 

Instead of asking a prospective mum ‘How much time will you be having off?’ simply enquire as to the family’s plans. 

Similarly, if you know a prospective dad, let him know that taking family leave is an acceptable, and indeed great, thing to do if he can. 

5. Talk up women’s achievements 

Gender stereotypes proliferate in the workplace, and as a result of this women are less inclined to celebrate their achievements – and less likely to benefit when they do.

This often means their achievements are less likely to be noticed, affecting their ability to get recognition. And, ultimately, a promotion.

But there’s a strikingly simple action you can take today to help women you know get the respect and recognition they deserve. Talk up their achievements for them! 

Whether you do this in a meeting, via email or on LinkedIn, you could be the pivotal link that helps the women you know get the recognition they deserve.

So remember these 5 simple ways to show women respect this International Women’s Day – and do your bit towards boosting equality in your workplace.

To give more women respect and recognition this IWD, Procurious is asking you to tag your procurement and supply chain #HERo on LinkedIn – and tell us why she’s so great. Here’s our inspiring post on LinkedIn, to which you can add your nominations.

Information Hoarders Be Gone

Knowledge is power, but knowledge is now being democratised and made accessible to all, thanks to the development of AI.

Long live the democratisation of data

Is there someone in your work life who is hoarding information? Holding the data cards very close to their chest? Making it difficult for you to succeed because they have vital information and know-how shackled up close to their desk?

Good news – their days are numbered!

Knowledge is power, but knowledge is now being democratised and made accessible to all, thanks to the development of AI.

A democratisation of data

In supply chain, data plays a very critical role; data about suppliers, shortages, shipping and shelf life, the list goes on. And supply chain professionals are inundated with making sense of all this data.

Traditionally, to unlock the value from this data we’ve needed a group of people with deep technical skills in our teams to gather, manage and query.  Exhausting and time-consuming work, leaving little space or brain power for problem solving and decision making.  The need for these skills has concentrated the power of data in the hands of a few, rather than the wider team.

Nobody knows this better than the supply chain team at IBM.  With thousands of supply chain employees, over $40 billion in spend and millions of SKUs to manage from over thirteen thousand suppliers in their supply chain across 175 markets, there is a lot of data to keep track of.  There is a real need to ensure every supply chain professional has all the information to make the right decisions at the right time.

I reached out to IBM’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Ron Castro – firstly to congratulate him on his Manufacturing Leader of the Year by the National Association of Manufacturers. However, I also asked him to participate in our Supply Chain Career Boot Camp and then went on to quiz him on the detail behind why Gartner had been recognised by the IBM Supply Chain team as a Finalist in their Chainnovator Awards.

Given the scale and complexity of the IBM supply chain, Ron and his team turned to AI to augment the team’s capabilities.

Ron’s experience leading teams across the globe resulted in a really pragmatic approach.  AI was used to upskill supply chain talent and engage with subject matter experts. The analytics and tools developed gave wider access to data insights for their supply chain pros around the world.

Now, everyone in IBM’s supply chain can make better decisions and be creative – which is just the kind of capability needed in this new and challenging decade ahead.

There’s no more tedious data capture and formatting for the IBM team.  No more worrying that they’ve missed something in the never-ending news stream or even the weather forecast.

The Human + Machine Personas

For many years, the IBM Supply Chain team has known that one type of tech solution couldn’t fit all the needs of their team.  Everyone has different data needs according to their role – some are forecasting, others are planning and many are executing or delivering.

IBM’s approach is simple – it’s people-centred.  Data personas were created to map each supply chain team member’s requirements.  Now AI serves up data in the format and time that suits their needs. 

IBM Sterling’s AI helps you:

  • Gain visibility into data from across your systems and silos
  • Understand external events and their impact on your supply chain
  • Get ahead of events and buy yourself time with predictive insights
  • Capture and share knowledge and best practices with digital playbooks

By creating these personas, IBM Sterling uses AI to provide just what the forecaster needs to augment their brain and make the decision to keep those supply chains flowing.

Unlocking Collaboration

The final piece of the jigsaw is a concept that’s close to my heart – collaboration. 

IBM Sterling’s AI reviews unstructured data in its many and varied forms.  Whether it’s emails, discussion threads or reports, AI now has the power to find insights from previously inaccessible data sources such as team conversations, social media and news feeds, and weather reports… and serves it back to the person who needs it, when they need it.  AI makes key suggestions like:

  • Why don’t you consider this? – “They used it in the UK when weather conditions were similar”
  • Is this a change in risk level?  – “The last time this supplier’s lead times dropped to this level there was an underlying shortage issue”

It’s exciting thinking about the improvements in supply chain from the introduction of AI Augmentation.  I think we’ve only scratched the surface and can’t wait to see what happens as the power of IBM Sterling’s AI is unleashed on our supply chain brains.


How To Work With A Broken Heart

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

Very.

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

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

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

I feel your pain.

When I found out the clock was ticking

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

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

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

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

How much should we talk about our broken hearts?

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

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

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

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

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

Juggling through work and life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding what is really happening under your peers’ mask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working through a broken heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is increased diversity particularly important for procurement? 

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

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

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

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

How to increase diversity in leadership in procurement

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

1. Give (public) praise 

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

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

2. Encourage others to have a go

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

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

3. Mentor and sponsor 

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

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

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

4. Role model flexibility – regardless of your situation

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

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

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

5. Campaign for equal rights and equal opportunities 

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

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

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

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

This Halloween Beware the Scary Old-World CPO

It’s Hallowe’en! Is your boss scarier than your average ghoul? Is your career in the grip of a scary, old-world CPO and doomed to wither?

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

– Lewis Carroll, 1871

You’ll know a scary, old-world CPO when you see one.

I had almost forgotten about them until I found myself in a meeting with one last week. Somehow in recent times I have escaped the horror of hearing such old-world, closed network thinking like:

  • “I don’t want my team on social media, someone may poach them”
  • “We’re too busy working to be looking at what’s happening in the rest of the world”
  • “We know our business best”
  • “What if my team spends all day on social media?”

To the team at Procurious, these comments are like blasphemy. We’re on a mission to change the face of procurement, and give the images associated with the profession a makeover. We want to replace the old brown cardigan-clad stereotype, with fresh images of procurement as the “smartest guys in the room”.

My meeting with this archetypal nemesis reminded me of all the reasons why we founded Procurious. It gave me increased motivation to continue our mission, and gave rise to an overwhelming urge to protect all the amazing rising stars in procurement from the soul-crushing dictatorship of a scary, old-world CPO.

The Old-World CPO

Let’s face it, if your personal characteristics and actions portray an image that you’re living in the past, the chances are good you are. People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.

As such, we want to reward the great bosses, those leading by example, keeping their teams energised, investing in individuals’ careers, and continuously pushing procurement to excel.

What are the tell-tale signs of a scary, old-world CPO? The next time you’re going for an interview, or looking at your current boss, don’t fall for the flashy suit, big title, or even the big brand name they represent.

If the person opposite you falls into one of these categories, the chances are your career development will come to a screeching halt under such a draconian regime. 

The (Digitally) Invisible Man…or Woman

Check whether this CPO has any sort of online presence. Tell-tale signs of invisibility include profiles with no photos, or inappropriate photos, scant, or no, information, and no visible mentions in a Google search.

There may have been a freak internet-cleansing event, wiping out all references to this person, but the reality is that they probably haven’t spoken at any events, written anything interesting, taken the time or effort to understand social media, or understand the fact that you will be researching them online.

Also, beware those CPOs who have fewer than 500 connections in their network. Some CPOs do make the case of quality vs quantity. But, if you’re working in a large company, have a large team, and work with an extensive supply base, shouldn’t 500 quality connections be expected?

You (and the majority of your peers) want to work for someone who is an influencer. You want a leader with a wide range of connection they can introduce you to, and broaden your horizons. Working with someone with a limited network can be a road to nowhere for your career prospects.

Robinson Crusoe – the Loner

This CPO really is an island.

They don’t believe in networking, collaborating, or outside knowledge flow, and believe information is for their own personal advantage to build their power base. The Robinson Crusoe profile can physically manifest itself as an executive sitting in a corner by themselves, with their back to the team.

This information block exists not only within their psyche, but extends to the procurement team itself. This old-world CPO has particularly old-world views, and creates a knowledge hierarchy, where they take all the great (and politically advantageous) ideas as their own.

Another problem with this approach is that it encourages working in a closed network as part of the norm. These scary old world CPOs end up staying in the same profession, peer group, company, or industry, invariably associating with people they already know. This peer group continues to reinforce their outdated approach to management, and their thinking is never challenged.

The new world CPO is collaborative, a “true influencer” and shares their knowledge freely and widely.

My view is that a CPO’s main job is to not only drive change and innovation (and make a couple of deals on the side), but to give their team the opportunity to access tools and discuss ideas with other professionals, thought leaders and experts from around the globe.

Yet I still see CPOs encouraging teams to work in isolation, unaware that there is whole universe of knowledge to help them grow and excel in their jobs.

The Devil Wears Prada – The Career Crusher

Their desk calendar reads 2016, but their attitude towards employees is stuck in the 1950s.

Yes, your boss should have an overall plan for how their team is delivering against the overall business strategy. But they should also have a plan for you – both for what you need to deliver, and how you need to develop in the future.

They should be committed to diversity and promoting young talent, to making sure their team reflects this commitment and is generating opportunities for the next generation of talent.

The best CPOs are obsessed with finding the best people and helping them develop. They send their people out to be trained in the skills they need, expose them to new opportunities, and build peer networks that will develop leadership skills.

The worst CPOs keep their category managers locked away from the rest of the world in fear that their people will be poached. A great CPO doesn’t need to worry about this. They know that they have developed a great employee value proposition that keeps their team engaged and retained.

Reverse Mentoring

Let’s not be too hard on these talented Heads of Procurement. They can’t all be cut from the same cloth.

Why not get on the front foot and try and initiate some reverse mentoring. With a few polite, and well-placed pointers, I am sure you could help turn your scary, old-world CPO into a procurement rock star.

Sharing your skills and knowledge could help your CPO become increasingly tech savvy and an advocate for technology, including social media, for procurement. And just in case you need some more points, you can find a 5-point checklist on being a great procurement boss right here.

We look forward to seeing you both on Procurious soon!

Sustain Me – 4 KPIs to Get Your Sustainability Project Over the Line

With your vision, drive and persistence with your corporate finance team, you will be able to define a quantifiable dollar value on your sustainability initiative…

By SkyPics Studio/ Shutterstock

Getting your organisation up to speed with sustainability is no easy task.  It’s an area of responsibility for procurement and supply chain that covers a multitude of minefields – environment, social and economic etc. But also, fortunately, some daisy fields –  stronger brands, employee value proposition and a major positive contribution to a better society.

I’m lucky to have been educated on most of the sustainability areas throughout my career and via my global network.  But if you’re early on in your career, or new to the area of sustainability, it’s a lot of ground to cover!  My best advice (and this won’t be a surprise!) is to use your extensive network to get educated and learn best practice.

When I speak with people around the world, the biggest problem they have is getting off first base. The need to get budget approval from their CFO for their sustainability project.

Many companies around the world have signed up to The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), to all of which procurement and supply chain can make a positive contribution.  How your sustainability project is going to help your company achieve its SDGs is the first and most obvious link you need to make with your C-level and your project.

The case for purpose is just like any other corporate initiative, it has to be rooted in a strong financial return – a business case.  However, many of the important benefits that come from managing sustainability are seen to be unmeasurable. Organisations have been struggling to put a value on the impact of catastrophic supply chain events that permanently scare their corporate reputation.  The value of having positive relationships with employees and the community can also be difficult to quantify. But investors and the community are putting increasing demand on companies to validate their sustainability efforts. Reporting on sustainable communities and regional spend, by way of example. 

With the vision, drive and persistence within your corporate finance team, you will be able to define a quantifiable dollar value on your sustainability initiative.  Here’s four ideas for KPIs to get the thought processes flowing:-

1. Reduce total lifecycle cost

The early part of my career was spent extinguishing media fires set by consumers concerned about the environmental impacts of disposable nappies or aluminium cans. I quickly learnt that there are indeed three sides to every story.  Industries do so much to consider their impact on the environment and often go above and beyond what’s required, but rarely get appreciated in the mainstream media. In our “sound bite” media society, consumers rarely get to understand the concept of “total lifecycle cost”. It’s important we all build total lifecycle cost models, so we quantify and measure the total impact of the products and services we produce. This will allow us to measure whether we are increasing or reducing our total impact, that can be shared with others.

2. Increase employee engagement

Sustainability projects of every kind are a fantastic way to build your employees’ engagement with the purpose of your organisation.  In my personal life I got involved in the Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation and learnt about the impact of climate change and declining water quality on the health of our reef. Until that point, I had no idea what the impact of commercial farming, water and ocean freight passage lines had on our marine ecology. As a member of their Board of Governors, I was invited to swim the reef and was briefed first hand by the world’s leading marine scientists. Employees were also invited to take sabbaticals to the remote labs.  Nothing could better build employee engagement and understanding of climate change than these experiences. It had a huge impact on employees’ concerns and actions, but also lead to an increased respect for their company’s commitment to protecting the Reef.

I’ve also supported microfinance initiatives through an organization called Opportunity International, with a focus on small women-owned businesses in India. This gave me real insight into the plight of so many women in the world and the impact that breaking out of the poverty cycle can have on future generations.  This made the plight of small female-owned business in emerging economies very real to me, which has always helped crystallise situations such as Rana Plaza for me and the obligation we have to suppliers several layers down in the supply chain.

3. Construct a Net Promoter Score for your community

Does anyone measure this? In my mining days, this was referred to as a “license to operate.” That is, that the community trusted you to operate your business responsibly and ethically. Mining companies, probably more than any other industry, understand how important it is to ensure sustainability is at the front and centre for all their decisions. One program I worked on was a local sourcing program. We qualified and engaged suppliers from the local area to help underpin the social strength of the community in which their employees worked – a very different form of sustainability!

4. Commit a single digit percentage of your corporate spend to social enterprises

About ten years ago I began working with Social Traders, a company who was building capacity amongst social enterprises to enable them to win corporate contracts. Once again, I was reminded of the multiplier effects when marginalised members of our communities are engaged and employed.  For me it’s a no-brainer. There are definite areas of corporate spend that lend themselves well to social enterprises – (hint:  look first at any category that includes labour spend).  As one CEO said “we’re going to spend the money anyway, we may as well make sure it counts.”  It was difficult to get traction a decade ago, but I’m delighted to see now how much energy there is within the corporate sector to engage social enterprises. What’s great in these commercial relationship is that everyone wins – the suppliers, the companies, the shareholders and the employees.  It’s very powerful.

I’m bringing my years of experience and passion for procurement-with-purpose and sustainability to life by providing a global platform, Procurious, for people to share their learnings and experiences with each other.

For us it’s about demonstrating to our global network of procurement pros that purpose pays and that anyone can make a difference in their organisation, no matter how small.

Get up the learning curve as fast as you can by learning from your peer network.  Join Procurious.  Join the Procure with Purpose group, start sharing your knowledge, start asking questions and start shifting the dial on these sustainability outcomes.

Is AI Doing Your Head In?

Seven tips for making headway with your cognitive sourcing project.

I will never forget visiting the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington for the first time 30 years ago and seeing the Apollo capsule. Like so many others, I was amazed at how basic the technology was that took us to the moon.  I remember saying to my travel buddy, “Hey, this looks like my 1969 Toyota Corolla!” (my first car). Of course, back then, that was the very latest technology when humanity had its first “moonshot” opportunity.

My point here is that as procurement professionals, we may be sporting 30, 40 or 50-year-old hardware (our bodies!), but we need to make sure we are using 2018 software (our brains and capabilities) to get the very latest technology embedded in our organisations.

I mean, if cognitive is here, and it’s our moonshot opportunity to change the trajectory of the profession and there’s millions of dollars waiting to be saved, we don’t want to be left back on the rocket staging launch pad as an observer!

The challenge for all of us is to determine whether and how we implement this hot new capability.

Step one is to be clear about your corporate drivers. In my experience, companies are always going through one of six phases (please note the “status quo” is never one of them). Sometimes, they are going through multiple phases at the same time!

These directions are set from the top… hard coded. So if you want to get your cognitive sourcing project off the ground, you are going to have make sure your project aligns with one of these corporate objectives.

One of the key movers in the space, LevaData, is offering a hard ROI of 10 to 30% incremental cost savings, guaranteed. I asked them how we could link cognitive projects into the generic 6 corporate phases and this is what they had to say :-

  • Efficiency – massively reduce manual data validation, spend analysis, and sourcing event preparation activities
  • Compliance – engage approved vendors and qualified alternate sources of supply through auditable RFX process (vs. email and spreadsheets)
  • Transformation – elevate procurement and strategic sourcing as internal orchestrators, working cross functionally with engineering, finance, manufacturing, and sales to managing emerging supply risks and opportunities
  • Innovation – accelerate new product introduction and optimize cost and risk through the product life-cycle
  • Cost-down – improved negotiation insights lead to sustainable cost management year over year, capturing cost reduction opportunities as well as minimizing cost inflation risks
  • Growth – enable scaleability and responsiveness to forecast and market changes from months to weeks or days.

Getting BIG, innovative ideas and game-changing concepts through BIG Companies is not easy.  To successfully land cognitive technology in your organisation, you’ll need to:

1. Have courage and commit yourself. It’s important to have full confidence in your cognitive project and be prepared to put your credibility on the line and stand up for it at all costs. Once you’ve decided that it’s worth committing to, give it everything and don’t give up.

2. Do your homework.Make sure your cognitive sourcing project is closely aligned with a key corporate objective. Collect and scrutinise the data on the benefits of introducing cognitive and make sure your business case is bullet-proof. You need hard-nose, quantifiable benefits to support investing in the cognitive project and these numbers need to be backed up by the people who count (predominantly operations and finance).  Do your pre-work, build your support team. As you work your way around the organisation convincing people of the need to change, refer to your support network often: “Johnny in finance is firmly behind this, he helped me with the numbers”.

3. Think Big, Act Small, Accelerate Fast. Keeping the vision in mind, find a small representative project, experiment and demonstrate the ROI with Cognitive capability. Sell the outcome and accelerate fast. I would encourage you to think about what that project might look like and figure out ways to get it off the ground.

4. Pick a sponsor (carefully!). Think carefully about who would be the best sponsor for your cognitive sourcing project.  Make sure they have power and influence – and make sure they are supporting you for the right reasons and believe the project is important for the business. Try to avoid sponsors who are purely supporting cognitive for their own career advancement (I know this is hard to uncover at the outset). This is because your project will be dumped as quickly as it was taken up if it suddenly falls out of favour – which is another reason to make sure your project is aligned to key, quantifiable business objectives.

ONLY refer back to your sponsor when you reach a critical deadlock at an important milestone.  “Keep your powder dry” throughout the project, otherwise you will be too much of a drain on their time.  You need to make it easy for them to be your sponsor. Bring them in for the photo opportunities and the critical decision points.

5. Create a support network. I’ve often said procurement can be a lonely place, because you may be the only person in your company, or even in your industry, doing what you do! That’s one of the many reasons why I started Procurious, to help people connect and learn from each other.

Procurious is the perfect place for reaching out to others leading the cognitive journey within their own organisations. Over five thousand Procurious members visit our discussion board every month to share ideas and offer advice to their peers. Our blogs are read by thousands of professionals daily and spark debate, with members feeding their own commentary and ideas into the global community.

Our digital Big Ideas Summits, along with all the other networking, discussion and eLearning on the site, inspire a global generation of procurement leaders and business intrapreneurs, challenging them to take a more innovative professional approach.

Your network is also a powerful tool for endorsing what you are recommending, for example you can refer to your network – “I know Janie at ABC company (our competitor) and they are already implementing cognitive”.

6. Be human(!) in all your interactions. Up, down, and across the supply chain, it will be interactions between people that will be the real determinants of success and failure in an increasingly robotic era. To prosper in this next Industrial Revolution, we need to play to our human strengths – collaboration, connection, innovation, influence – the things only we humans can do.

7. When you get knocked down, get back up again. If you’re going to succeed in getting your big idea through a big company, you have to be incredibly resilient. You will have nay-sayers telling you why cognitive is not going to work, so keep going back to the data that demonstrates how this will support the business objectives. That is your strongest defence.

So, like any other project that is doing your head in, the implementation of cognitive can best be tackled by breaking it down into distinct steps. It’s going to take grit and more than a little determination, but the potential rewards are stratospheric.

Tania Seary will deliver the closing keynote at LevaData’s Cognitive Sourcing Summit on 13th September 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. Find out more.

Unleashing the Real Power of your Supply Chain

The human element will make or break your supply chain career. Procurious Founder Tania Seary reveals the human strengths that AI will never replace and how to leverage that competitive advantage.

There comes a time when you forget why you ever started.

I’ll never forget my first meeting as a procurement executive with a supplier. For me, it was one of those moments of illumination. I can still remember the desk, the room, (funnily enough, not the particular supplier) and how I felt. I must say, the one word that continually comes to mind to describe what I felt was … power.

Not in a newly-minted supervillain kind of way, but “power” in the sense that for the first time I really felt the tangible ability to make an impact. To tell the truth, I’d had a lot of fancy jobs up to that point – marketing for Walt Disney in London, PR for the Mexican beer company Corona, hosting trade missions for LAX, launching listed companies. But moving from one side of the table from the role of seller to being the buyer … that was a buzz. 

There’s procurement gold in them there hills!

You see, procurement 20 years ago, was – for the first time – sexy. It was on a new trajectory – its very own moonshot. It was a time for firsts.

B2B was all the rage. CEOs and Boards were ponying up millions of dollars to build fancy eProcurement solutions and invest in procurement exchanges. Procurement was coming in from the wild west and being tamed and urbanised through leveraged buying, reverse auctions and blanket contracts. Everything was a first.

MBA graduates were like blurry-eyed prospectors, rushing for the gold fields to claim their stake on their ambitious careers by making their employers a fortune. I distinctly remember asking one of my fellow Penn State classmates, “Why are you going into procurement?” He answered, “Because you can save your company millions and be a corporate superstar overnight. It’s the fastest way to the top.” In other words, “There’s gold in them there hills!”

This is where my passion for procurement started and has continued. Like the chief cheerleader, I have been singing procurement’s praises ever since.

A lot has happened in the last 20 years, but we need to ask ourselves if we’re getting today’s graduates and future leaders excited enough to join our ranks in the search for exponential value? Do they see a bright future in our profession? Because now is certainly the time!

Procurement’s new moonshot opportunity

For the first time in more than two decades, a new moonshot opportunity has emerged for our profession. Cognitive procurement is upon us.

AI and cognitive give us the opportunity to provide a quantum leap in delivered savings. The opportunity to move away from all those back-office administrative tasks that have been holding us back.

Cognitive is going to take away everything we’ve been whining about, launching us out of the transactional malaise and into the strategic stratosphere. Our role in Industry 4.0 will be to orchestrate, collaborate, and negotiate within a complex, technology-enabled global supply network.

Our future will be e-enabled, but humanity most definitely still has a place in procurement. At the odd times when Watson, other robots, and the data seems to be at cross-purposes and pointing us in different directions, we are going to have to step in and use our uniquely human skills to untangle the gridlock of competing interests to find a resolution to the supply challenge.

You see, the secret to our success in Industry 4.0 lies in something that no AI being can match – relationships, along with our ability to leave people with the feeling that they are special, important, and of real value.

As you can see, I’m so excited about the “moonshot” opportunities currently available for procurement. I’m personally energised by my work with IBM on Watson, partnering with SAP Ariba to promote Procure with Purpose and with Procurious itself growing at 25% per year with nearly 30,000 members today and on track to have 50,000 members by 2020.

But of course, in life, nothing is ever perfect.

The human element

My mother is only 71 and has advanced dementia. Many of you will relate to this story. There are lots of things my Mum can’t remember, including most people’s names, what year it is, and how old she is.

But, surprisingly, she can still remember her feelings at different points in her life. She may not remember someone’s name, but she can definitively (and accurately) describe the emotions she associates with that person.

It reminds me of that important leadership lesson: “People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel”.

Playing to our human strengths

For me, the human element is what makes business:

  • interesting
  • challenging
  • innovative
  • rule-breaking
  • risk-taking, and
  • friend-making.

For me, the joy of procurement is the personal. It’s the unique relationships I create with people: the deals, the secrets, the preferential options. My relationships are my competitive advantage.

Up, down, and across the supply chain, it will be interactions between people that will be the real determinants of success and failure. To prosper in this next Industrial Revolution, we need to play to our human strengths – collaboration, connection, innovation, influence – the things only we humans can do.

We need to embrace our human-ness, our humane-ness, and really get connected with our stakeholders, our suppliers, our teams and our communities.

We have developed Procurious for current and future generations of “Procurers”. We want to empower our future procurement and supply chain leaders to change the face of the profession from the inside out. We’re on a mission to enthuse a new generation, putting new moonshot opportunities through the power of conversation, collaboration, and connections.

Let’s stop worrying about the future and start creating the future we want to live in.

Let’s embrace cognitive and all that Industry 4.0 has to offer. Let’s equip ourselves and our teams to really make a difference with the advanced skills AI cannot – namely the power we have as human beings – or the power to connect.

Procurious Founder Tania Seary delivered this message to inspire audiences at the Procurious Big Ideas Summit in London, SAP Ariba Live in Amsterdam, The Faculty CPO Forum 2018 in Melbourne and ISM2018 Nashville.