All posts by Tania Seary

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.

“Wat the?” 5 things I learnt about Watson Supply Chain in Vegas

Rather than adopting the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mantra, I wanted to share some new insights into Watson that I gleaned at IBM’s mega thought leadership event – Think 2018.

1. Watson needs education – but it’s a fast learner!

When you think of Watson, you probably think of a computer that can win Jeopardy and has a PhD in a whole lot of things…but in reality, when Watson enters a new profession, it is like a child that needs to learn.

As humans, we learn from birth and can only pass on that knowledge to someone who in turn spends time learning.  AI, like Watson, is similar. It learns by gathering information (i.e. data) and interacting with humans.

You could liken Watson Supply Chain today to a  5th-grader, but its rate of growth is so exponential that it will have a Master’s Degree in Supply Chain within the next three months.

How? Because IBM’s own supply chain practitioners are training it daily by feeding their US$30Bn spend through Watson, pushing through millions of documents, data elements and hundreds of real life supply chain challenges that are resolved each day in the Watson Resolution room. Last year, Watson supported $71.7 billion in revenue, managed 150,000 contracts, and supported 20,000 professionals and 11,000 suppliers to ensure 5,000,000 deliveries were made.

With every insightful response and interaction, Watson is getting smarter. The more Watson is used, the more knowledgeable and insightful it becomes.

I first met Watson at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive conference in London last year. Catching up six months later at Think 2018 in Vegas… even I could see the growth.  Watson is now answering supply chain questions in natural language (plain English), and can curate what is most critical for you to pay attention to – alerting you to an impending disruption, immediately assessing the financial impact of the disruption and will help you drill down effectively to understanding what the issues are that you want your team to resolve, and quickly. Watson does this through opening a resolution room, quickly providing answers that typically reside in different system which reducing the time needed to write emails, make phone calls and follow-ups.

The team at IBM told me that their own implementation of Watson has seen disruption mitigation time reduced from days down to hours – or even minutes in some cases – which is critical when you’re moving inventory in the millions of dollars.

“Watson is brand new every day.  Every time you go away, it grows and becomes more interesting, because it is constantly learning.  You come into the office and there will be a new API. Watson doesn’t take a day off, it is adding knowledge and features 24/7/365.”

Watson Supply Chain Program Director, Rob Allan.

2. Watson Supply Chain is helping save lives

… literally. One of the first user test cases for Watson is a global philanthropic organisation working to improve vaccine distribution in Kenya. Local African pharmacies battle constant low stock of critical medical supplies due to lack of inventory and poor visibility across the supply chain.

It is still early days, but the IBM team is really motivated and engaged with this important humanitarian project. I caught up with IBM Watson Supply Chain’s Program Director Rob Allan, who was energised after a recent visit to Kenya. “It’s great to be putting Watson to work on such a worthwhile project. In Africa, it’s not uncommon for a mother to walk half a day to get medicines, with no guarantee that she will be able to secure what she needs. Our program will deliver vaccines and supplies to more than 4,000 delivery points in Africa. This should make a huge difference to access much needed healthcare. We really hope we can make an impact.”

3. The proof is in the pudding.

 Leading companies, like Lenovo, have started mapping their thinking supply chain journey with Watson…but the biggest proof of concept is IBM itself who has been using Watson to manage its multi-billion dollar global supply chain for the last 18 months.

We all know that necessity is the mother of invention and this was certainly the case for the creation of this product. You may not know that it was actually IBM’s internal supply chain team that created Watson Supply Chain Insights.

If you listen to this webinar, you will learn that IBM’s VP Supply Chain at that time, Joanne Wright, had an “aha” moment back in 2011. A series of unthinkable events prompted Joanne to look for a solution. The Japanese Tsunami had wiped out components globally, volcanic eruptions in Iceland disrupted Nordic freight lines and floods in Thailand destroyed disc drive head production.

Joanne’s team struggled to get the right data and she dreamt of a day where she could get a smartphone alert prioritising supply chain failures, present the relevant data and even suggest solutions.

It wasn’t perfect at first. The team had to find and clean the data and learned that you must train Watson … that can’t be underestimated. They consulted the Watson Health cancer team and understood how to train Watson to talk supply chain.

It would seem that it was worth the effort, as it helped IBM’s Supply Chain save millions in inventory and freight costs, not to mention IBM reduced their supply chain data retrieval times by 75% using Watson – and helped build the technology that will drive supply chain into Industry 4.0.

4. It’s not a big a deal as you think!

From everything I have learned in the last 12 months, implementing Watson Supply Chain may not be as onerous as you think. In terms of time to implement, from London, Raleigh to Vegas I have asked numerous executives and they’re all convinced that they can overlay Watson on existing clients’ systems and have a meaningful dashboard up and running within a month.

5. Blockchain … coming soon.

Having been a Queen B2B in the late 90’s, I have long known the value of having common language and data for taking friction out of business transactions. That’s why I’m excited about blockchain. There’s certainly been a lot of hype, and, of course, the bitcoin currency part is totally out of control… but the idea of having a common ledger or “one version of the truth” for all B2B transactions, with the ability for business partners to get in and view the same information, is very appealing.

Watch this space! IBM previewed a new, blockchain-based offering called “Shared Ledgers” at Think.

Taking the plunge…

There’s definitely been a lot of hype about Watson, but there are some real reasons to start your thinking supply chain journey, powered by AI.

In explaining why Lenovo took the plunge with Watson, Bobby Bernard said, “This space is evolving quickly.  We want to be an influencer about these new supply chain technologies.”

With most technology introductions, most organisations have been able to wait out the early adopters and jump on-board when the technology is mature and in widespread use.

But IBM is warning that this is not the case with AI. According to Watson Customer Engagement GM, Richard Hearn, “Everyday you’re not using AI is another day your competitor or upstart might be leveraging AI to learn, adapt and disrupt your market and you!”

Procurious Founder Tania Seary is an IBM Watson Customer Engagement Futurist and attended #think2018 as an #IBMPartner.

My 5 Networking Goals For 2018

Given that she’s always “banging on” about #networking, it’s no surprise that Tania Seary’s 5 New Years Resolutions are all about growing – and nurturing – her professional network.  

This year I am going to:

  1. Find my fabulous five
  2. Dine (not eat)
  3. Keep watering the seeds of possibility
  4. Connect the dots, and
  5. Take more photos!

I guess this isn’t the typical list you would see for someone’s New Year’s resolutions … but I feel that it works, given that I’m always “banging on” (English for carrying on, talking, espousing) about the power of networking. In the past I’ve spoken about networking in a theoretical way, so for those who are interested in improving their networking skills and want to start NOW, I thought I would share my 5 networking goals with you and provide some examples to get you started.

Find my Fabulous 5

My first goal is to identify 5 new people who I would like to connect with in 2018 who could really help “shift the dial” for my businesses. My challenge is that there are so many amazing people out there who could really help, so it’s not going to be easy to get it down to 5. I have to be strategic and even ruthless in my selection.

Now the tough part – once I’ve found someone fabulous, how do I find a reason for them to connect with me? This is where so many people get stuck. They freeze at the thought of putting themselves “out there” and fear rejection.

Here’s my advice. Take a deep breath, raise your head high and move forward in the confidence of knowing the most important rule of networking – and that is to Network From The Heart. Why from the heart? Because networking is about giving, not receiving. It has to be authentic. You need to have the other person’s interest as your priority … so, in my case, once I have my list I’ll immediately try to work out how I can help each of the 5!

Keep watering the seeds of possibility

The Fabulous 5 are not currently in my network; rather, they are game-changing people I would like to know. Equally important are my current connections who are the lifeblood of information about the profession. Of course, I’m following all these people online and can see what is top-of-mind for them, but to understand their concerns, strategies and aspirations, I really need to have a conversation.

This year, I have decided to become a bit more structured and conscientiously catch up with these people each quarter. I am going to schedule calls. There are probably up to a dozen people in this “inner circle” – they are a combination of CPOs, management consultants, media, and influencers who really have their finger on the pulse. They are the hubs of their own large networks.

Who are the hubs within YOUR network who can help keep you connected?  Write down their names – potential future employers, smart people whose opinions you trust, people who would recommend you to others. Now, what can you do to help them in 2018?

Don’t eat, dine

I am not sure who made the famous quote “why eat when you can dine?”… but it’s one of my favourites. Even though I write so often about the importance of online networking, I am also a huge believer in the importance of meeting people face-to-face. It’s only through face-to-face contact that we really get to know people and begin to understand both their motivations and their aspirations. You can then work out how you and other members of your network can help them achieve their goals. That’s when the magic starts to happen.

I love food and eating … so for me, sharing a meal is a great way to get to know people. “Breaking bread” with your network can lead to all sorts of mouth-watering business opportunities.

My 2018 resolution is to host some small dinner parties at home to get to know my key business partners (and their partners!). It may not be practical, feasible, or even of interest for you to entertain at home, but there are plenty of other options such as catching up for coffee or inviting them to be your guest at an event where other people are hosting. Get creative! The dividend of knowing someone well will always pay off – a pleasant meal, a new learning, a business lead, the creation of a new friendship … the business opportunities are endless!

Connect the Dots

As well as keeping in touch with my network online, high on my agenda for this year is to attend as many face-to-face networking events as possible. For me, this includes Procurious’ Big Ideas Summits in London, Sydney, Chicago & Munich, The Faculty’s CPO Forum in Melbourne, IBM’s Think event in Las Vegas and ISM 2018 in Nashville.

It’s going to be a busy year, but I am so energised by the opportunity to meet and connect with thousands of procurement and supply chain professionals around the world and help “connect the dots” within the Procurious network.

Many people equate having a good network with having a large database of contacts, or attending high-profile conferences and events. But they falter at the next step – actually doing something to make the connection meaningful.

It’s impossible for anyone holding down a day job to attend all these events, so my advice is to be strategic. Choose your events wisely and have a strategy to achieve your ROI!

Take and post more photos!

I don’t know about you, but I love seeing photos of real people in my professional social media feeds! I am so tired of those generic stock photos that are branded on too many social media posts. This year I am going to be talking a lot about being human (look out for #behuman and #beatthebots hashtags) because I believe authenticity is a vital part of being a great leader. There is also a huge opportunity for us all to carve out a new future for ourselves in Industry 4.0 by leveraging our own very human unique personalities and capabilities that robots won’t possess (in our lifetime, anyway). Procurement can also “procure with purpose” to make a big difference in the communities in which we operate. So many possibilities!

We all have to work on promoting our profession to the world and make sure procurement & supply chain are well represented in the Googlesphere! Photos capturing real moments, with real people, like me here with some procurement professionals from Costa Rica I met at ISM 2017 shows what an interesting, diverse and optimistic future we have for our global profession. #BRAVO!

All the very best for 2018.  Stay in touch 🙂

Procurement Pudding (It’s A Trifle Complicated)

Nothing says Procurement quite like a classic trifle; it’s intricate, it’s complicated, but if you get it right… everyone wants a piece of it!

As the holidays descend upon us, it’s time to start winding down the gears to relax and – inevitably – reflect on the year that was!

Time with family and friends for me is synonymous with food! Because I almost always spend this time of year in the southern hemisphere, it’s a summer menu. It’s more about prawns and pavlova than pork and pancetta (although the latter does make it onto table anyway!) But, of course, that other p … the “p” we all love – procurement – is never far from mind and always on the menu for discussion!

During the year I have been fortunate to speak to procurement and supply chain audiences around the world about the trends we are seeing on Procurious and the impending impact of Industry 4.0 on our profession. In order to provide a framework for thinking through all the challenges and opportunities, I have been sharing a rather quirky analogy by comparing the well-loved English pudding – the trifle – to procurement and supply chain today. Putting up a giant image of a pudding on the big screen at a conference is also a great way to get your audience’s attention!

For the uninitiated, constructing an English trifle involves carefully layering sponge, jelly, custard, fruit, cream, and often garnishing with a heavy sprinkling of nuts.

Yet each layer remains distinct, and that’s how I think of procurement today – a series of self-supporting layers that feed into and out of each other. To manage our roles, we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses or the “setting points”, of those layers if we’re to stay ahead.

Let’s think through some of those layers.

Navigating the Nuts

Let’s start with the top layer of nuts. A generous sprinkling of the unexpected! This is how I think about the Black Swan events that seem to occur with alarming regularity these days. We need to be thinking about these unthinkables – hurricanes like Harvey that de-commission whole cities, man-made catastrophes like the Tianjin port disaster, not to mention recent terrorist attacks. If we can’t predict them, we can at least prepare for the unexpected, take pre-emptive action against disasters that could destroy our supply chains and analyse areas of high-risk.

Geopolitical jelly

Brexit is just one example of how our supply chain forward planning can become somewhat suspended by macroeconomic and geopolitical changes. In Europe, the UK’s decision to activate Brexit is having clear ramifications including a rise in nationalism that’s reflected across Europe. Currency fluctuation and workforce migration also impact procurement and supply chain. The costs to import goods within supply chains will increase; there could be a loss in freedom of movement both in goods and services for UK and EU businesses, and procurement talent could also be considerably affected if the talent pool is reduced.

The Fruits of Progress

We all have front row seats at the parade of new and exciting technologies that are driving the 4th industrial revolution. The rise of the Internet of Things, robotics, blockchain and artificial intelligence will create what we are calling Procurement 4.0.

Cognitive procurement & supply chains are the most exciting developments to happen during my 20-year career. These innovations will enthuse a whole new generation of procurement professionals to join our ranks, but we need to be flexible, agile and able to foster a culture of continuous invention to stay on the leading edge and avoid extinction.

The Foundation Layer

Finally there’s the layer in which we hold the power: Procurement.

Procurement is the sponge at the bottom of the trifle. No matter how many unstable layers of fruit and jelly and custard are piled on top of us, we remain intact. We successfully juggle with the events and changes over which our stakeholders and suppliers have only limited control.

Fortunately, social media helps. I don’t know about you, but when my phone is pinging through the night with texts and emails from the other side of the globe, I’m often tempted to turn it off. But I don’t, because for all the downsides of being constantly online, the benefits of being connected are immense.

Three out of four of our respondents to our Gen Next Survey believed that being well-connected online actually improved on-the-job performance. By using resources like Procurious, not only can we maintain the layers of our trifle by staying aware of these constant changes, but we can also gain access to an enormous diversity of ideas and enthuse the next generation of procurement talent.

The Cream of Procurement Talent

To meet the challenge posed by the top layers of the trifle – unthinkable events, geopolitical earthquakes and disruptive technology – attracting the best and brightest to the profession is vital to our success.

To do that, we need to think hard about how we are bringing on Generation Next, and giving them every opportunity so their impact is not just local, but global.

While we’re talking about talent, here’s another “unthinkable” to ponder – our Gen Next survey also discovered that over 70% of our 500+ survey takers intend to leave their organisation within the next five years. How can we respond to this? The worst thing to do is to keep up the pretense that every member of your team will be sitting at the same desk in ten years’ time. Instead, it’s time to throw away the retention plan and accept the reality that today’s workforce is increasingly mobile.

But this doesn’t mean giving up on developing your team. If you’re known as a supportive manager who gives others the opportunity to go on to a stellar career, you’ll become a talent magnet in the profession. Just image the level of superstar talent that you’ll attract if you develop a reputation as someone who produces future CPOs!

Cutting Through The Complexity

Change management is such an integral part of every senior procurement professionals’ role, and often involves driving change within your organisation and amongst suppliers on a global scale.

The good news is that we’re exactly the right people for the job. Procurement’s position as the conduit of supplier intelligence, our ever-growing level of influence in our organisations, and our keenly-honed negotiation and communication skills make us natural change-management gurus.

Remember that trifle?

The challenge for today’s procurement leaders to deftly cut through all those quivering layers of economic, social, political and technological complexity to serve up a slice of procurement solutions in such a way that your audience will devour your change agenda with gusto! 

Bon Appétit!

Hope Is Not A Strategy

As Procurious assembles 50 of the U.S.’s most influential procurement & supply chain leaders in Chicago; you’re invited to take control of your career and join us for FREE as a Digital Delegate!

We’re live from the Big Ideas Summit Chicago! Register now as a digital delegate to follow all of the day’s action!

It’s all too easy to find excuses for why your career is not panning out the way you intended. Soft targets for blame include your employer, your peers, your organisation or even your own personal life- challenges for blocking your charge to the top.

You might be a rock star employee who delivered on all your KPIs, participated in “extra curricular” activities, and can boast a strong and supportive network (you even know the CEO!) but it doesn’t mean you’ll be offered your dream role when you think you deserve it!

The Common Denominator To ALL Your Career Problems

When career breaks don’t fall in your favour, you need something (or, even better, someone!) to lash out at. Bosses are always a great starting point, right?

“My boss is useless… emotionally inept…a control freak…”

The list goes on, and on! In fact, our Procurious community tells us there are some significant problems with procurement bosses around the world (we’ll be releasing those survey results in a couple of weeks).

Bosses aside, there are some real structural issues that are impeding procurement pros’ progress. These include super flat organisational structures that don’t allow for upward career progression and serious financial constraints that restrict team sizes and budget for training. These factors have many implications, one of which is that you can’t get away from the office to learn.

But…as I have always said, and will continue to say, the only common denominator in your career is YOU.

If you’re going to get anywhere with your career – you have to take control.

It’s Time To Take Your Career To The Digital Side

In today’s digital world, there is absolutely no excuse for you to not be advancing your career. And it’s no use turning a blind eye to all of the rapidly advancing tehnology developments, in the hope that it won’t impact you. It’ your responsibility to get on top of it!

If your boss’ attitude and organisational structure are thwarting your efforts, don’t keep knocking your head against a brick wall; walk along it, through the side door and into the ether!

Need to learn something? Take an online course. Have a question? Ask your global network of peers in an online discussion group. Need to improve your profile to get that next job? Post your achievements in a strategic way through social media, update your online CV, and connect with influential peers and thought leaders. This is easy…and can all be done from the comfort of your own desk.

It may not be as effective or as stimulating as attending live training or networking events, but when live attendance isn’t possible, eLearning is a viable alternative. In fact, in our recent Procurious survey, 61 per cent procurement pros said a combination of both online and offline was the ideal mix for propelling their career prospects.

The good news is that there is a lot of useful online content and it is only going to get better! Top training providers in the profession are responding to the market by shifting their entire courses into bite- sized units online. And your peers are voting with their feet (or their clicks!)

Procurious has seen interest in online learning grow steadily. There have been 65,000 downloads of the Introduction to Procurement eLearning module and, just this month, more 6,000 procurement pros took part in our online Career Boot Camp. These figures demonstrate the value procurement professionals see in bite-size online learning.

Over five thousand Procurious members visit our discussion board every month to share ideas and offer advice to their peers. And our blogs spark debate, with members feeding their own commentary and ideas into the global community.

This group of Procurement’s Generation Next, are leveraging these online learning opportunities and connecting with thousands of peers around the world, as well as senior executives, thought leaders and CPOs.

Don’t Delay, Start Today!

Our digital Big Ideas Summits, along with all the other networking, discussion and eLearning we have on Procurious, will empower ambitious individuals, from wherever they are in the world, to stay ahead of the curve.

Together we aim to inspire a global generation of procurement leaders, business intrapreneurs, ‘people who can think outside the box’, and challenge them to take a more innovative professional outlook.

By registering as Digital Delegates today, procurement’s rising stars will be able to connect directly with other attendees, access video interviews from our speakers and other educational content– and even receive a digital goodie bag.

Live From Big Ideas Chicago

To register to attend for FREE as a Digital Delegate sign up here. 

The BIGGEST Mistake Leaders Make On Their Way To The Top

Procurement leaders, listen up! We hate to break it to you, but life’s not fair. And neither is your procurement career! 

Christin Lola/Shutterstock.com

Career Boot Camp 2017 launches on 4th September, featuring podcasts  with 5 global CPOs. Sign up here (It’s FREE!)

How many times have you been told about someone’s promotion and thought “how did they get that job? I would have been great for that!” Rejected and demotivated, you head home, resolute to move companies. You pour a tall glass of wine and start polishing your resume.

I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs, CFOs and CPOs. I’ve seen people rise to the top, sink hard and fast to the bottom and flounder somewhere in between – never quite gaining the momentum required to propel an upward trajectory on their career.

From my experience, the biggest mistake people make in their quest for the c-suite is believing that the promotion process is fair.

Life’s not fair, and neither is your career…

You can do all the right things but it doesn’t mean you are going to land yourself the next big job. Corporations are complex and corporate politics are tricky, which means you’ll never really see the full picture.

You might be a rock star employee who delivered on all your KPIs, participated in “extra curricular” activities, and can boast a strong and supportive network (you even know the CEO!) but it doesn’t mean you’ll be offered your dream role.

So why do highly qualified candidates miss out on the top roles? There are a million and one reasons and you may never know the real answer. Some of the reasons for rejection will be about you, others will be about the company.

Here’s a handful of reasons why you may be blindsided:

Things that are not about you

  1. A change in strategy direction (ie. they put in a marketing person because they want “customer focus” or an IT person because they want a “technology focus”)
  2. The leadership team has changed and you are perceived as being part of the “old regime”
  3. They want to find a leadership role for another high potential employee and this is the best opportunity at that time
  4. There is a bias in the selection process. Even though companies are becoming increasingly aware of unconscious bias, it still may exist. Thirty years ago my husband participated in a leadership conference for 23 participants, 21 of whom were first-born sons, 1 female and 1 other male…which was my husband! Alternatively there may be a conscious bias to improve the diversity of the leadership team.

Things that are about you

  1. You’re not perceived as having the right level of experience (whether you do or not is irrelevant)
  2. You’re not promoting yourself enough. This doesn’t necessarily require an elaborate self-promotion campaign.It can also simply mean delivering on the basics. For example, one CFO told me he went into his internal HR system and some candidates didn’t even have their CV up to date, or a photo on fil That will make it unlikely for you to be selected. If you only do ONE thing as a result of reading this….PLEASE update your in-house profile!
  3. You’ve upset someone along the line. In hindsight, the inappropriate comment at an important executive meeting or the impromptu performance at the Christmas party may have been a career-limiting move. I actually know someone who slid down the boardroom table at a Friday night drinks, which may (or may not) have been forgotten, except that his belt buckle engraved a huge scratch from one end to the other – which was all too apparent to the Directors on Monday morning.
  4. Of course, the obvious: you just aren’t qualifi­­­­ed for the role!

It’s a long way to the top

As the famous ACDC lyrics go, “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll” – tenacity is key. Wait patiently, which is not my strong suit, ­­­ for “your time”.

There is a direct correlation between how quickly you bounce back from a career disappointment and how quickly you get promoted. If you’re going to thrive, you need to take a long-term view on your career and build up your career resiliency.

I’ve seen this time and time again. One of my favourite examples was a mentor of mine who was at one point in a heated competition with one of her peers for the CPO role. Unfortunately she missed out, but quickly changed her perspective, becoming the trusted 2IC to her former peer, now boss.

Within twelve months she was headhunted to become the CPO of an even larger organisation! And guess who one of her biggest fans was? Yep!The very same person she had been competing with just a year ago; former peer and now boss,the CPO. How circumstances change!

Remember your career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You need to build career resiliency. In the long run, your endurance will pay dividends and chances are, you’ll land the dream job when you least expect it.

Career Boot Camp 2017 launches on 4th September, featuring podcasts with 5 global CPOs. Sign up here (It’s FREE!)

 

The Three Stages To Coming Back From Your Career Break With A Bang

Fretting over your imminent redundancy? Let’s put a positive spin on this! A career break is the perfect time to re-calibrate, cruise and power up!

Our webinar, Out of Office: Your Career Break (Through), takes place at 1pm on 10th August 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here. 

It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Your legs are like jelly as you walk down the office corridor You’re responding to a summons from head office, only to be told the business is downsizing and you’re in the firing line.

Being made redundant is rarely in the career plan but taking an unexpected career break can actually be the making of you. You just have to do it right.

Your first reaction will be to panic-apply to every job advert you can get your sweaty palms on with little consideration for their suitability or appeal. The best advice I can give you is to hold your horses! You’re experiencing the entire spectrum of emotions; shock, denial, anger and upset. It’s not the time to apply for a new role and it’s definitely not the time to be making huge, life-changing decisions.

Taking a significant career break, whether by choice or due to redundancy might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s a chance to get your life in check, turn your attention to all the things you’ve been putting off and take a step back to assess the future.

It’s not often we’re de-shackled from the pressures and stresses of working life. If your brain is mossy from years of career servitude, it’s time to do a spot of gardening. Here’s my three-stage guide to preparing to come back from a career break with a bang!

Stage One – Re-calibrate

  1. Admin, Admin, Admin

It’s more than likely that you’ve still got your workplace autopilot switched on so you may as well kick of your career break with personal admin whilst you’re still in the zone! Think about what’s been causing you stress; what’s niggling at the back of your mind. If you’ve got a pile of paperwork in your home study- sort it! If you’ve been meaning to redecorate a room – do it! And if there’s whole bunch of appointments you’ve been postponing, pick up the phone and schedule them!

  1. Reconnect With Your Life

Whether it’s spending time with your family, your children or your closest friends, this is the perfect time to reconnect with everyone important in your life. Do the school drop off, get to know some of the other parents and engage with your children’s teachers. Re-integrate yourself with family life and catch up with your friends. Don’t underestimate the value of this – as well as being an important reminder of what’s really important in life and what makes you, you – you also never know who could connect you with your future job or give you some valuable advice.

  1. Health, Beauty, Fitness

We all know the benefits of keeping in good health but when you find yourself between jobs it’s more critical than ever to get the blood pumping to the brain, oxygen in lungs and endorphins released. Go for long walks, take up a kick boxing class or sign up for a (half-) marathon. If you’ve got a twinge in your knee, organise some physio…get that tooth fixed. When you finally get back to work you’ll be prepped and healthy many months to come!

Stage Two – Cruise

If you embrace and apply all of the above advice then you’ll gracefully enter into the cruise zone. Which mean it’s time to take a deep breath (or gulp!) and enter into Stage Two of your career break. Be ready to open your mind to the many possibilities open to you and take the time to really explore what you want to do with your future career.

  1. Map the Market

Have a think about some of the companies you’d like to work for based on your desired work culture. Do you want a flexible working environment, a tech-savvy forward thinking organisation, a sociable culture or the best salary possible? Your Stage One reflection-time should help you out here. You’ve had a chance to work out your priorities in life. And if you’re feeling angry and bitter about your old job, that’s ok! Harness it to establish what it is you DON’T want from your new role.

  1.  Activate Your Network

Once you’ve drawn up a list of dream companies, it’s time to do some cross-referencing! Is there anyone in your network that works for these companies? Can they help you get an introduction to any of the key decision makers? You can also use your connections for reference checking. What are their experiences of working for this company? Are they an advocate?

  1. Craft Your USP

What is your unique value proposition? Identify what you can do better than anyone else. If you were a product on the supermarket shelf, what would make you stand out as the candidate of choice?

Stage Three – Power Up

You’ve had your chill time, you’ve reflected on everything from utility bills to dental hygiene and you’ve identified your USP. Congratulations! You’re ready to get back in the game!

  1. Remember you’re in a sales process

The number one rule of selling is to uncover the buyer’s needs and that’s exactly what you need to do when you’re researching the perfect prospective employer.

This is going to require a lot of listening. Listening to your friends, your connections and how your employer of choice is marketing itself online.

You know what your unique skills are so start matching them up with the organisation’s needs and sell yourself!

When you finally meet someone with the hiring decision you’ll able to perfectly articulate what you can bring to your role within the company.

Too many people attend interviews and only talk about themselves The trick is to turn your meetings into conversations! People will feel more comfortable and your interactions will be all the richer for it!

  1. Follow Up

Don’t underestimate the value of keeping in touch. After an interview, be sure to send a follow-up note (or two!) and leverage social media to keep yourself in the spotlight and your name on people’s minds.

Connect with the companies that you want to work for on LinkedIn, Twitter and Procurious. Post issues and news that demonstrate your interest and commitment to your chosen career and employer. Set up Google alerts so you’re kept in the loop on current affairs, your target companies and all things procurement.

  1. Ask for the job

You know that you’re the best person for the job- but they don’t! Make sure you ask for the job – tell the employer how much you want to work for them and why. You’d be amazed how many people don’t actually ask for the sale!

Our webinar, Out of Office: Your Career Break (Through), takes place at 1pm on 10th August 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here. 

You Don’t Have To Be A Procurement Genius

So you think you’re some kind of procurement genius? In this day and age, there ain’t no such thing and that’s ok!

We all like to think we’re geniuses, that we can single-handedly solve all the procurement problems of the world.

We now know that the concept of the ‘solo genius’ is largely a myth. True creativity comes from collaborative partnerships such as Jobs and Wozniak, Lennon and McCartney, or the Wright Brothers. Even the most famous ‘solo’ geniuses – Einstein, Newton, Mozart – didn’t operate in a vacuum, but built upon the work of countless others. Today, we’re lucky to live in a world where all the answers and ideas we need are only a click away.

Let’s face it, procurement’s most pressing issues (slavery, child labour, unsafe work practices, exploitation, neglect for the environment and copyright) are too big for any one person, or even any one company, to solve alone.

Even at the best of times, working in procurement can be a lonely place, even when we’re working as part of a team. You might be the only person managing your category in your company, in your industry, maybe even in your whole country!

Clambering out of Einstein’s basement

If you have a problem that you can’t fix and need some breakthrough thinking, don’t be like Einstein and barricade yourself in a basement waiting for genius to strike.

Remember that you are part of a vast, virtual, global procurement team full of millions of talented professionals with ideas – help is only a click away.

Get yourself out of isolation, onto the global playing field and ask the universe for inspiration.

Solving the world’s problems, together.

Over five thousand Procurious members visit our discussion board every month to share ideas and offer advice to their peers. Our blogs spark debate, with members feeding their own commentary and ideas into the global community.

The three hottest topics on Procurious in the past two years have been the Tianjin Port disaster, the Trump election and, most recently, the Grenfell Tower fire.

We are still seeing the ripple effects of these events with high levels of member engagement and interaction within the community; the feeding back of vital intelligence on alternate sourcing, suppliers, freight, logistics, on-the-ground contacts and changing regulations.

The hurried and helpful responses to these challenges by the global procurious community has proven that many hands make light work of disruption.

It’s clear that we want to talk online about the issues affecting procurement and are keen to help each other. It would seem that global “team procurement” is alive and well – but are you part of the flow?

Leveraging the Power of 23,000

There are now 23,000 Procurious members across 145+ countries, all with different strengths, weaknesses and experiences. Somewhere, out there, is someone who has had the same experience as you and some wise words to share.

Leveraging the wisdom of the crowd is the beauty of social media. By building your online presence and contacts you can craft a network of thought-leaders, influencers, and experts around you, to provide fantastic ideas and insights.

Even if you have a truly unique problem, there will be someone who can provide a fresh perspective that creates a lightbulb moment for you.

Take the lead

As a successful leader, you don’t have to have all the answers – but you do need to have the best questions….and know who to ask for the answers!

Whichever business icon or “genius” you admire – whether it be Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Elon Musk………you know they are not the only person providing the brain power to conjure their vision, there are teams working day and night to deliver the dream.

Like me, you’re probably “blown away” (pardon the pun) by the rapid progress of the SpaceX program. But as you admire Elon’s vision, just remember this is not solo genius, no one talented employee finding all the answers – there have been thousands of people working over decades to get these game-changing rockets to the launch pad who have been collaborating globally online to solve a millions of small and large challenges on the journey to space.

It’s exactly the same story in procurement. Behind every apparent genius (aka Global CPO), there’s a team of procurement pros behind the scene helping come up with solutions. Even if you don’t have a real team helping you – you have a secret weapon – you can consult your global team of procurement buddies to help you find the answer.

Be the smartest guy in the room

To shockproof our profession and become the smartest guys in the room, we need to move out of our silos and work together.

Procurement needs to be ahead of the curve – to be agile, to be savvy and to be bold. We are the avengers, the rock stars, the movers and shakers negotiating the deals that guarantee supply, quality, cost, ethics and sustainability. But we can’t do it on our own.

When you’re next faced with a challenge or struggling with the beginnings of a great idea. Don’t just sit there. Do Something. Get online and ask questions. The answer is only a click away.

Collaborate to proliferate!

Make it happen!

From Pittsburgh to Paris – Let’s Clear the Air

It’s all very well putting Pittsburgh before Paris, but did you know that modern anti-pollution laws first started in Pennsylvania? Tania Seary gives the run-down on steel cities, “death-fogs” and Pittsburgh’s incredible transformation into an innovation hub.      

It’s not every day Pittsburgh hits the news, but it certainly did last week with the comment, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. The subtext is that there’s an obligation to protect the steel industry before the climate.

I’m not a political analyst, nor a climate change expert, but I have lived in Pittsburgh, visited Paris and worked in the metals industry. I therefore wanted to share some of my own personal learnings (and give some historical context) for those of who are trying to catch up with all the news.    

The Donora Death Fog

Ironically, Pittsburgh is only 30 miles north of a town which famously claims to have kick-started modern anti-pollution laws.

You may not have heard of the Donora Death Fog (actually a smog), where the deadly combination of an atmospheric inversion, toxic gases from the town’s zinc and steel works led to the death of 20 people and half a town hospitalised in 1948.

Comparable to the Great Smog of London and perhaps even modern-day Shanghai, the Death Fog played a big part in opening the eyes of Americans to the hazards of air pollution. The tagline at the Donora Smog Museum is “Clean Air Started Here”, because concerted political action saw the first act concerning air pollution being put into law in 1959. Pennsylvania passed legislation that afforded the state the authority to prevent the “pollution of the air by smokes, dusts, fumes, gases, odours, mists, vapours, pollens and similar matter, or any combination thereof”.

Modern Pittsburgh is a tech hub, not a steel city

The jobs that the administration wants to save left Pittsburgh in the 1970s. Since then, Pittsburgh has built itself into a great example of a city that has thrived on new opportunities.

I had the pleasure of working in Pittsburgh for a couple of years around the turn of the century – in fact, I was there during the Y2K frenzy. For those of you who weren’t in the workforce then, the “Y2K bug” caused a panic when people thought the world’s computing systems would go into a meltdown when dates changed from 1999 to 2000. The consulting companies made a fortune!

Although it was once among the most polluted cities in the country, Pittsburgh has reinvented itself from a steel town to a centre of “eds and meds”. It has become a hub of technical innovation and medical research. The city even has its own Google outpost, along with a test track for autonomous cars.

In reinventing itself, Pittsburgh has benefited from flagship universities like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, which produce their own tech entrepreneurs and medical breakthroughs.

Pittsburgh nurtures entrepreneurs

I have to mention two of the city’s most famous entrepreneurs – both named Andrew. Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon were huge drivers and beneficiaries of the steel industry (like the U.S. itself) and then spent the large majority of their lives giving their money away.

Born in 1835, Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist who is still identified as one of the richest Americans ever. By the time he was 50, he had almost total control of steel production in Pennsylvania. He squeezed every penny out of his mills, living by a famous motto that every procurement professional can relate to: “Watch the costs, and the profits will take care of themselves.”

He sold Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for half a billion dollars, propelling him to the position of richest American (surpassing even John D Rockefeller). While J.P. Morgan transformed his company into the U.S. Steel Corporation, Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to large-scale philanthropy, with Pittsburgh itself benefiting enormously with stunning libraries, a university, museums, a gilded concert hall and more.

It seems like the state governors and city mayors who are committed to upholding the 2015 Paris agreement agree with Andrew Carnegie’s quote: “Do your duty, and a little more, and the future will take care of itself.”

Or, in Andrew Mellon’s words, “Every man wants to connect his life with something he thinks eternal”.

Andrew Mellon built up a financial-industrial empire throughout the late nineteenth century by supplying capital for Pittsburgh-based corporations. He founded the Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa) and branched into industrial activities including oil, steel, shipbuilding and construction. Mellon also reformed the US Government’s tax structure while he was secretary of the treasury. Like Carnegie, he gave back an enormous amount of his wealth, with his philanthropy making possible the the building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

These days, Pittsburgh is home to one of the procurement profession’s all-time entrepreneurs, the legendary Glen Meakem. Meakem founded Freemarkets Inc., the first online auction technology, which was later purchased by Ariba. Keeping with tradition, Meakem has also invested a lot of his resources into philanthropy.

Giving back

The story of these entrepreneurs all point to a wider trend as Pittsburgh continues to evolve. Like Carnegie and Mellon, the city grew rich on the steel industry, but now it’s giving back. Firstly, by producing a new generation of entrepreneurs whose success ultimately benefits the community, and secondly, by being part of a climate alliance that is looking for future opportunities rather than trying to bring back the past.

Networking No-Nos

You only get one opportunity to make a first impression, so don’t blow your chance to make a positive contribution to your personal brand equity by making some classic mistakes at your next procurement networking event.

Willrow Hood/Shutterstock.com

The way you approach networking in a crowded room depends upon your personality. Is it your first time at the event? Do you stride in like a confident extrovert, or work your way quietly through the room more like an introvert? Does your style of greeting make people feel comfortable, or is it as alien as Mr. Spock’s Vulcan salute from Star Trek?

Throughout my career, I’ve seen some career-limiting moves at the dozens of procurement conferences and events I’ve both organised and attended. Fortunately I’ve learnt a thing or two, which has helped me build a very large, healthy network.

So, what are the protocols for attending a procurement networking event? From my experience, you can’t go too far astray, so long as you avoid eight networking no-nos : 

  1. Don’t waste time

Whether you’re at a cocktail party or a two-day conference, every minute counts.  Don’t let yourself get stuck in a bad session or a non-productive conversation. Stay focussed on your end-game and be ruthless with managing your time. Time wasted indulging in idle chat is time best spent elsewhere.

  1. Don’t hang out with people you know

As comforting as it is to hang out with people already in your network, try to resist the temptation! You can have lunch with your colleague any day of the week, but you can’t meet your next employer or source of important market intelligence in the company canteen.

You have made the considerable effort to get into a room with a whole lot of new people, so challenge yourself!  Push outside of your comfort zone and reap the benefits of engaging with someone new.

  1. Don’t be invisible

After listening to an interesting speaker, make sure you ask an impressive question. Don’t be shy – you can bet there’s someone else in the room that is pondering the same question. Make sure you’re the one with the courage to speak up. Remember to start with your name, title and company when you ask a question to ensure everyone in the room knows who you are. It may prompt someone who wants to meet you to come over and introduce themselves.

  1. Don’t shirk suppliers

Great CPOs make sure they work the Supplier Exhibit Hall. Let’s face it; great conferences wouldn’t exist without the investment of these companies. More importantly, suppliers are an important part of your network. If you want to be across the latest market intelligence and product developments, you need to know what these guys are offering. This doesn’t mean you need to spend hours trawling through supplier stands. Research prior to the event will make sure you are purposeful and efficient.

  1. Don’t have a social media vacation

You might be working it hard with your face-to-face networking, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to avoid social media!  Posting your thoughts, comments and relevant articles will ensure you become more visible at the event. Your posts or tweets may also be re-posted or re-tweeted by the people you tag, which will amplify your presence. Event Apps, for example, are a fantastic networking aid and the most comprehensive place to find out about fellow attendees – and for them to learn about you! Once they know you’re in attendance, people will hopefully reach out to meet up.

  1. Don’t eat alone!

Event organisers serve food to help grease the networking wheels, not just to feed you!  Pluck up the courage to walk up to a new group and introduce yourself. I always politely request to join a group before quickly insisting. “Please, continue your conversation! I’ll listen while I eat.”  With this approach, you’re not rudely interrupting a conversation.  You will learn more by listening and asking a few select questions. If you’re really keen to make the most of the networking event, you may decide not to eat at all! This keeps your hands free for handshakes and your mouth free for answering questions – not to mention some of those embarrassing food moments where you have something hanging out of your mouth, or drop on your freshly-cleaned suit!

  1. Don’t forget your nametag…or your personality! 

So many times I have turned up at a conference, only to find that I’ve left my nametag in my hotel room, which leaves people questioning me all day: “Sorry, who are you?”

One thing I have never left behind is my personality, but so many people do! They feel like they have to put on a mask and act differently in their professional lives. You’ll look far more approachable if you look interesting and interested.  Smile, laugh, enjoy yourself, have a joke but, a word of caution…

  1. …Don’t fake it

My number one networking tip is to network from the heart and be authentic.

The bottom line to all these networking no-nos is to not be shy. Have the courage to throw yourself into those uncomfortable and nerve-racking situations. Introduce yourself, start a conversation, ask that question and find a new buddy! Who knows, you might even start enjoying yourself!