Category Archives: Life & Style

Procurement’s Future – Growing Not Killing the Golden Geese

Rumours of procurement’s imminent demise persist. But would organisations be killing their golden geese by getting rid of the function?

6 geese a laying

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day. Catch up with the story so far on the Procurious Blog.

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…six geese-a-laying.”

Mark Twain is reported to have once said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

We like to think of the procurement function, and it’s fantastic professionals, as the golden geese of an organisation. We bring savings and value, build our influence, and increasingly drive strategy, but still find ourselves defending our position. And for some experts, the end of procurement in its current guise is still on the horizon.

But are we looking at this from the wrong angle? Nothing remains the same forever, so what are the strategies procurement can use to maintain its hard fought position?

Is the End Really Nigh?

It’s been a little over a year since PepsiCo took the decision to scrap its marketing procurement function. The move took many people by surprise, and left procurement commentators wondering if other major players would follow suit.

At the time, few people thought there would be a snowball effect for procurement. And, so far, they have been proven correct. So, let’s put the doom and gloom behind us, and focus on what procurement might look like in the future.

It would be incredibly naïve of us to think that procurement will continue to exist in its current form. However, what this does mean is that we have a fantastic opportunity to develop in line with strategy and disruption.

We’ve had differing views on what this might look like for procurement in the future. At the Big Ideas Summit this year, Anna del Mar, outlined how procurement could be integrated into the business.

This would not only help break down organisational silos, but actively encourage best practice procurement across the board. A collaborative attitude is going to help mould procurement success, and at the same time, make communicating our value much easier.

Tech & Disruption – Grow the Golden Geese

This all brings us back to a hot topic across all business right now – disruption. You might be tired of reading about it, but getting ahead of the disruptive wave is what we must aim for.

The disruptive landscape is changing, and even the famous disruptors (Airbnb, Uber, etc.) need to stay on their toes. Technology is forcing organisations to re-evaluate how they do business. But at the same time, it’s giving them the opportunity to change and make processes more efficient and effective.

Cognitive computing, such as IBM Watson, Big Data, the Cloud, AI and Blockchain. All these disruptive technologies stand to make massive impacts in procurement and supply chain. Processes can be automated, and taken over by robots. Technology will change the way we interact with suppliers, stakeholders and the public.

But even as the robots take over (not really), there will always be a role for people in procurement. Just as there will always be a role for procurement in the organisation. For procurement, it’s finding that sweet spot between cost and value that allows it to grow. For the professionals, it’s about having the key skills to allow them to grow with the change (but we’ll come to that in a few days!).

So let’s not get the procurement obituary prepared just yet. There’s plenty of time left in procurement’s hourglass if we’re doing the right thing. It’s all a matter of showing why it’s turkeys, and not geese, on the chopping block for next year! 

Is procurement taking heed of its impact on the wider community? We certainly don’t want to feel like we’re swimming against a tide of public opinion. Find out what we mean tomorrow.  

Measuring Value – All That Glitters Isn’t Necessarily Gold

The Five Gold Rings might be the most expensive of the gifts listed in the carol, but does that mean they’re the most valuable? Not necessarily. It depends on how you measure value.

five gold rings

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day. Catch up with the story so far on the Procurious Blog.

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…five golden rings.”

In 1982, the late, great Irish actor and singer Frank Kelly released a hit single called “Christmas Countdown”. The song is a parody of the 12 Days of Christmas, where the hapless narrator writes a series of thank-you letters to his over-indulgent true love, getting increasingly frantic as each day passes.

As his small home fills up with various aggressive birds (doves and geese in the living room, swans in the bathtub), he and his elderly mother become overwhelmed with the noise, the smell, and the veterinary bills.

By the time the maids-a-milking, drummers drumming and lords-a-leaping add to the pandemonium, the singer’s letters have turned from thanks to abuse, and his mother has been taken to a home for the bewildered.

But, amongst all the inappropriate gifts of birds and musicians, there’s one gift that makes him pause.

“Your generosity knows no bounds! Five gold rings! When the parcel arrived I was scared stiff that it might be more birds, because the smell in the living-room is atrocious. However, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the beautiful rings.” 

Finding Gold Among Feathers

As procurement professionals, we often need to take a step back and look at the true value of the product or services we’re procuring. Below we’ll take three different approaches to the measurement of value – according to price, utility, and cultural value. 

Value Based on Price

To be clear, judging the value of an item based on price alone is not good procurement practice. It’s a gross oversimplification of the concept of value. But sadly, it’s still an ingrained way of thinking for many practitioners.

If you want a chuckle in the lead-up to Christmas, check out PNC Wealth Management’s “Christmas Price Index. The Index totals up the cost of the 364 gifts (including all the repetitions) listed in the carol. The total cost is a staggering $156,506.88 for 2016, which is a rise of 0.7 per cent over last year.

The tongue-in-cheek economic indicator pulls its prices from a range of local sources, including a Philadelphia nursery for the pear tree, a local jeweller for the golden rings, and the Pennsylvania musicians’ union for the drummers’ wages.

Value Based on Utility

The 18th-century mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli hit the nail on the head with this memorable quote: “The value of an item must not be based on its price, but rather on the utility it yields.”

Apart from the potential egg yield of the three French hens and six geese a-laying, the only other material return to be had from this gift bonanza would be quite a lot of milk from the eight maids a-milking and, possibly, a few pears. All the other gifts have little to zero utility, but do have significant cultural value. 

Cultural Value

This carol is packed with cultural value. There’s atheistic value in the ornamental birds, sentimental value in the golden rings, and artistic value in the performing musicians.

Think about some of the goods and services you’ve procured for your organisation. Which ones have had cultural value? Cultural value tends to attract a price premium, but often pays off in raising customer perception of your brand. 

From the Value Experts

According to the experts, organisations are also increasingly using the concept of value to define their strategies. Alex Kleiner, General Manager, EMEA at Coupa, explained more at Big Ideas Summit 2016:

Different companies will view value in different ways. This concept of Value-as-a-Service takes in everything from usability, to lives saved, and everything in between. It’s down to each individual organisation to decide how to measure this.

From a procurement point of view, it’s also good to remember that we shouldn’t be constrained by one particular definition. All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. The profession just needs to define the stakeholder needs, and go from there.

While value might be difficult to define as one concept, we like to think procurement is worth its weight in gold. But can the profession survive in its current form? Or will the golden goose meet its end? Find out tomorrow.

Hello, Procurement Career? It’s Social Media Calling

Have you found your calling in life? Do you worry that your procurement career is getting away from you? Then you need to heed the siren call of social media.

Four Calling Birds

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day. Catch up with the story so far on the Procurious Blog.

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…four calling birds.”

By now, the receiver of the true love’s gifts probably has a large aviary to keep all the birds in. Just as well really, as three of the next four days will bring even more. However, despite the song bringing us calling birds, it’s another, bluer bird we’re looking at today.

Where’s Your Career Going?

By this time of the year, most of us have decided on resolutions we’ll kick off the new year with. Starting with good intentions, we make smaller changes to how we live our lives. We might want to eat less, exercise more, or spend more time on our favourite activities. But, life tends to take over, and by mid-January, we’ve fallen back into old habits.

But for some people, this is the time of year that brings consideration about the next steps of their career. Whether it’s a change of companies, going after a promotion, or even thinking about a complete change, most people start their search on the Internet. More specifically, they’ll start to look for information and new roles on social media.

The array of sources, information, and potential employers, makes social media a major tool in an individual’s search. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter (see, we told you we’d be talking about a bird…), there is plenty you can do to boost your career.

So how are you going to turn that around, and make social media work for you? We’ve been calling on our experts this year to share their thoughts on this very topic. And they haven’t disappointed.

Break Down Walls, Increase Value

During our Career Boot Camp, Jay Scheer, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at THOMASNET, highlighted what many of us have been doing wrong on social media. That is using different accounts for different areas of our lives.

However, Jay advises that we need to break down these personal silos in order to increase our digital value. In a more connected social media world, employers want to see the full picture. And individuals want to portray a more rounded image.

Breaking down the barriers is the first step. Jay also advised the following when on social media:

  1. Start thinking of yourself as a brand – project the right image to the public
  2. Be authentic and conversational – inject your personality where possible
  3. Be targeted – always consider the medium and the audience, and tailor your activity
  4. Don’t be banal – don’t post for posting’s sake
  5. Draw a line – use the grandma test for all your posts

No Avoiding the Brand

So now we know how we could be using social media, we need to know how to portray the right image. Happily, another of our experts took care of that – Procurious’ own Lisa Malone.

Lisa gives some great tips on building a ‘kick-ass’ personal brand that’s bound to get you noticed. And if you’re looking for a new job, or to showcase why that promotion should be yours, then getting noticed is what you need.

From authenticity and injecting a bit of colour into your profile, to connecting with top people (and then leveraging those connections), there’s plenty here to get you started.

Personal brand is key on social media. And if we all take the time to boost our personal brand, then the brand of procurement will benefit too. We’ve got plenty of tips and tricks that we’ve shared.

But perhaps the biggest is the importance of a great profile picture. If you do one thing the next time you’re on Procurious, check out your picture, and see if a change will do you good.

What are you waiting for? If you hear a new job calling for the new year, or just want to give your social media accounts a spit and polish, now’s the time. You never know if that perfect job is just around the corner, but at least you’ll be ready!

Knowledge is worth its weight in gold. So how can you boost your procurement knowledge using some economic basics? Make sure you come back tomorrow to find out.

Speaking the Language of The Three French Hens

Feel like you speak a different language to the business? Then imagine how the French hens felt with the other birds in the song.

three french hens

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day. Catch up with Day 1 and Day 2 on the Blog.

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…three french hens.”

So the gift giving continues, and so does the avian theme. And yes, we are well aware that although the French Hens might have been French, the language barrier probably wasn’t an issue. Forgive us for stretching a metaphor, but we do aim to make a valid point!

One of the common themes we have come across in 2016 has been the concept of language. Specifically the concept that procurement needs to start speaking the language of the business to get ahead.

Communicating the value of procurement can be tricky. However, it’s up to all of us as professionals to make sure our voice is heard.

Bonjour, French Hens

While we were at ProcureCon Europe in Berlin in November, a number of keynotes discussed this perspective. Both Finance and Engineering were represented, and both speakers highlighted the different language the business speaks.

One speaker, Gordon Tytler, Director of Purchasing at Rolls-Royce, did state that procurement was valued in his organisation. The issue was that it wasn’t fully understood, neither in value, nor in activity.

Tytler also warned against insularity in procurement, arguing that this means the function can’t be sure it’s delivering what the business actually wants. As procurement adapts and changes to organisational requirements, it’s vital that our role is understood.

How do we go about communicating this value? Well, first we have to define the value we are delivering. Value is underpinned by four key aspects – service; innovation; risk; cost. Find out how here.

The Value of Procurement

Communicating the value of procurement to stakeholders is all very well. But the profession needs to ensure that strategy is following suit. This was one of the topics on the agenda at this year’s Big Ideas Summit.

Gabe Perez, Vice President, Strategy & Market Development at Coupa Software, discussed how disruption is forcing procurement to put value at the core of all its activities. According to Gabe, procurement needs to start with the value proposition, and work backwards.

It’s the same whether it’s a manufactured good, or a service (Gabe used the example of buying procurement technology). This sort of focus will allow procurement to move forwards with the value agenda.

The transition from cost to value was also on the mind of ISM CEO, Tom Derry. You can see what Tom had to say here.

Understanding how procurement is delivering value is a good first step for the profession. Communicating it is another matter, though, unlike the french hens at least, we don’t have a language barrier to cross. Maybe just a terminology one instead.

Our avian theme continues tomorrow on the fourth day of Christmas. But we’re looking at a bird with a difference – it’s blue, digital, and a great tool for procurement to use in its communications. Stay tuned to find out more.

Be Like Two Turtle Doves – Spread the Love

On Day 2, the true love gifted two turtle doves. This festive season, be like the doves, and spread the love with suppliers and customers.

two turtle doves

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day. Catch up with Day 1 here.

“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…two turtle doves.”

Turtle doves traditionally represent love and faithfulness because they mate for life, and work together to build nests and raise their young.

What’s that got to do with procurement, we hear you cry? Well, if you’re looking to build world-class procurement performance, you need to value your relationships. Be it your suppliers, customers, or internal and external stakeholders, they should be the focus of your attention.

Take the Lead from the Turtle Doves

If you’re not feeling the love in your supplier relationship, you’ll need to put some hard work in. As Tania Seary says here, there will come a time when the romance fades. But you can bring it back to make sure that you and your supplier are working in tandem.

It takes time and commitment to build this relationship, there are no short cuts. And once you have built trust, you’ll need to work even harder to maintain it. This is where good Supplier Relationship Management comes in. Here’s a brief refresh:

Building the relationship (much like our turtle doves) helps build that feeling of faithfulness, and both parties are less likely to drop the relationship at the first sign of trouble.

So what are some of the tactics you can use to keep you relationship fresh and mutually beneficial:

  • Spend time with your supplier, and make time to visit their offices/factories/premises. They’ll appreciate it.
  • Give due reward for good work. Often a simple thanks will work best, but how about letting them in on the ground floor of future contracts?
  • Be open, honest, and truthful. Nothing destroys a relationship quicker than a lack of trust.
  • Got a problem? Invite them into see if they can help with a solution. You never know, you might just get a great gift of innovation from them.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

And it’s not just your suppliers that you need to build strong relationships with. Your customers, internal and external, are just as important for procurement. The customer is always right after all (even when it seems like they aren’t!).

Customer (or stakeholder) engagement comes down to three critical skills for procurement professionals:

  1. Good communication
  2. Effective questioning
  3. Stakeholder mapping

Want to know more? Funny you should ask that – you can catch up on another top Procurious video here.

Much of this can be linked back to the well-known, and oft-trodden, procurement process. Stakeholder engagement should underpin the entire process – we used this example yesterday when we talked about creating a specification.

People naturally want to be kept in the loop, and don’t like unexpected surprises. But, at the same time, most people will be more understanding of issues if they are made aware of them. So, much like your supplier relationships, open and honest communication will take you a long way.

Although we’re on Day 2, consider this as step 1 in the process. Get everyone onside at the start, and you’ll save yourself a lot of pain in the future. And, with any luck, you’ll manage to build a lasting relationship.

Do you still feel like you’re speaking a different language to the rest of the business? Still struggling to communicate procurement’s value. We’re talking Three French Hens on Monday.

Can You Write a Specification For a Partridge in a Pear Tree?

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a partridge in a pear tree!”

partridge in a pear tree

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day.

No-one is entirely sure why the “true love” in question decided to gift this particular item. As you can tell by the song, he/she was clearly out to impress, and figured this was a good place to start!

Building up from there, the gifts get grander and grander, culminating in a large number of drummers. More on that in a few days…

Irrespective of motive, what can be said about this gift giver, is that they got their specification and logistics right throughout. Not one gift arrived on the wrong day, and they were all as expected. With a procurement hat on, this is no mean feat (especially at this time of year).

Can you Specify a Partridge?

So how do you go about drawing up a specification for a partridge? There are 14 species of partridge in the world, and you wouldn’t want one that didn’t happily perch in a tree. It needed to be that specific partridge, and no other.

Or the whole plan would have fallen apart on Day 1.

And for the tree, it had to be a pear tree too. (Though some people believe that pear tree is actually a mistranslation from French.) What’s not considered in the song is the height of the tree, the number of branches, the colour, and other attributes.

We’re stretching a metaphor here, but you should see where we’re coming from.

Writing a Good Specification

A good specification, or Scope of Work (SOW), is a key foundation for an efficient procurement process. It can mean the difference between the right product for the job, and purchasing something not fit for purpose.

In its simplest terms, a specification or SOW outlines exactly what procurement requires from its supplier. It should be written in conjunction with end users and internal customers, to ensure all requirements are taken into account.

However they can be written in such a way that allows for flexibility from suppliers. This can also open up opportunities for innovation. You can find out more by watching our great eLearning video on this topic. Here’s a quick sample to whet your appetite:

In the case of the partridge in a pear tree, a descriptive, rather than functional, specification would be required. This outlines exactly what is required, complete with all relevant details and attributes, and will help to stop scope creep.

So now you’ve specified your partridge in a pear tree, you need to think about delivering it. But you’re going to have to wait for that one!

Turtle Doves have traditionally symbolised love – but how can you show this love to your suppliers and customers? Join us tomorrow for the next part in our festive series to find out.

How Our Consumption is Driving Global Warming

Global warming isn’t just about the cars we drive, or the industries we run. Our consumption is a much bigger driving factor that we might know.

Consumption and Global Warming

This article was originally published on Farm Machinery Locator.

When we think about global warming many of us immediately think about cars and industry ruining the planet, but does this tell the whole story?

While transportation, including travel by road, sea and air, contributes over 13 per cent of our annual CO2 emissions there is another factor, which we may not initially consider, but which has a bigger impact.

Figures highlighted by Farm Machinery Locator show that there are nearly 8.3 million cows in the UK alone. These cattle provide us with hundreds of thousands of litres of milk, and thousands of pounds of beef every day. We often assume that agriculture is natural and therefore can’t be damaging to the environment, but that assessment is wrong.

The ever-increasing amounts of farm machinery – tractors, cultivators, combine harvesters and balers – for sale and in use, only adds to the current issue of rising average temperatures across the world, due to the pollution they expel.

So, whilst being natural, the negative connotations of farming and the agricultural industry mustn’t be brushed over. We will explain the role livestock plays in global warming too, below.

Livestock’s Contribution to Global Warming

In fact, if we look at figures published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, agriculture contributes 18 per cent of the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide, a much higher figure than that for transportation.

Emissions from cattle are particularly damaging because it is not CO2 that cows are releasing, but methane. Every single cow releases between 70 and 120kg of methane per year. While this is a greenhouse gas like CO2, its detrimental impact on the planet is 23 times higher than the negative impact of CO2.

In addition, livestock cause over two-thirds of the world’s ammonia emissions, and this greatly contributes to acid rain. When you consider there are over 1.5 billion cattle worldwide the damage quickly adds up.

Livestock figures are rising because of the general increase in our level of prosperity, which brings with it a higher demand for beef and milk. It’s not only emissions from cattle however that are causing problems to the planet. Intensive farming also leads to a whole range of other environmental issues.

Land Clearance and Deforestation

Livestock now use over 30 per cent of the world’s available land. Much of this is used for grazing although there is also a substantial portion which is utilised to grow feed.

A need for all this space has been a major contributor to deforestation, and with deforestation a further release of CO2 into the atmosphere occurs. This comes about due to two main reasons.

First, as the trees are cut down, the carbon dioxide they store is released. Second, fewer trees leads to lower levels of photosynthesis, a process which would normally help to absorb carbon dioxide.

In addition, once land has been cleared, if it is then overgrazed it runs the risk of turning to desert. This has already happened on 20 per cent of pastureland.

Drought

Cows also use a substantial amount of water. Each cow requires 990 litres of water to produce just one litre of milk. As global warming continues an upward trend, water becomes ever more precious.

Furthermore many of the antibiotics and hormones used to treat cattle can end up in drinking water. This can then lead to risks to human health.

Pollution

There will always be a level of pollution produced by livestock and ultimately this will wash down to sea level. Nutrient run off causes an overgrowth of algae which consumes oxygen in the sea.

This can kill coral reefs and lead to so called ‘dead zones’. One in the Gulf of Mexico is around 6,500 square miles in area. It has predominantly been caused by US beef production waste, which is carried down to the coast by the Mississippi River.

We all need to lower our carbon footprint. And when we realise how much of an impact agriculture has on the environment, we should consider reducing the amount of meat and milk we consume.

The planet’s population is growing substantially every year. The western diet, which is meat and dairy heavy, has a widening appeal, even in countries where fruit and vegetables used to be the mainstay of meals.

If we want to become greener in all areas of our lives we should all be a little more aware of the detrimental impact our own consumption of meat and milk is having and take steps to reduce it.

Throwback Thursday – Eat the Frog…and 6 More Tips for Boosting Personal Effectiveness

How have you found your personal effectiveness in 2016? Why eating the frog might be able to help revolutionise your daily routine.

Eat the Frog

We all struggle sometime with our personal effectiveness. We start the week with grand plans for our time, but by Monday lunchtime, the plans are in disarray.

If you’re still struggling with your personal effectiveness (or want to boost it after the summer holidays!), we have the Throwback Thursday article for you, from our own Lisa Malone.

Start Right, End Right

You’ve survived your first day back in the office! You’ve cleared your inbox, written an alarmingly long To-Do list and even written your name and phone number (neatly) in a brand new Moleskin notebook. You’re practically smug with a sense of organisation and readiness.

Fast-forward one week: 213 unread emails, endless meetings, doing ‘real work’ after 5pm, and back to scribbling on loose-leaf.

Many years ago, I sat next to the Executive Assistant for the Chief Marketing Officer at a very large bank. To me, a person calm in the face of 1,352 unread emails, Ali was something of a mystery. Alarmingly organised, a spreadsheet navigator-extraordinaire, and always ready with colour-coded sticky notes, Ali’s idea of heaven was a Scandinavian Container Store.

Although I can’t pretend that proximity to Ali transformed me into a Type-A Goddess, she did share some great, practical tips for increasing personal effectiveness. I now bequeath these to all fellow Type Bs today.

Eat the Frog

Most of us have a limited amount of willpower that decreases steadily throughout the day. Anyone who has ever planned to go to the gym after work, only to never actually get there, will be able to attest!

For this reason, professional coaches like Brian Tracy recommend getting the hardest, most important task done first.

According to Tracy, your ‘frog’ should be the most difficult item on your to-do list; that ugly, distasteful, difficult job that you’re most likely to procrastinate about.

Rather than delaying, dreading and allowing your frog to sit there, staring at you while you do other less important things, eat it up first and feel energised for the rest of the day.

You probably already know what your frog is, but if you are in any doubt, look through your list of tasks and rate each one according to:

  1. Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.
  2. Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
  3. Things you want to do and actually need to do.
  4. Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.

Your frog will fall into Category 2. The best way to ensure it doesn’t fall victim to procrastination is to subordinate it to habit.

Eating your frog at the start of the day is just such a habit and will leave you free to do things you’ll actually enjoy.

Meeting 101: Spend less time in Meetings

Getting out and meeting stakeholders and suppliers is a critical part of any procurement professional’s job. But what about the myriad meetings that go round in circles, without any clear outcomes, sucking energy and time from your day?

In this world of instant messaging tools (we have a fondness for Slack at Procurious) that make file-sharing, getting answers quickly, and making introductions easier, it should be possible to cut back on a lot of those meetings.

Where only a meeting will suffice, here are some hints for improving their effectiveness:

  • Only accept meetings where the organiser has sent through a clear agenda. Even then, think about halving the allotted time to create a sense of urgency.
  • With 10 minutes of the meeting to go, review the objectives and clearly agree what action items have come out of the meeting and who will be responsible for completing these. Set a clear date for completion of next steps.
  • If appropriate, try scheduling a walking meeting. A change of scenery and the action of moving in the fresh air can help clear the head, stimulate creativity and can be particularly effective when having conversations that you don’t want to.

Don’t Skip Lunch

The 80s might be long gone, but Gordon Gekko’s “Lunch is for wimps!” philosophy still is alive and well in some firms.

While its possible to mistake ‘busy-ness’ for importance, evidence shows there are significant cognitive benefits of allowing our fatigued brains regular downtime.

So what’s the perfect work/rest ratio?

DeskTime App monitored employees’ computer use and found that the most productive 10 per cent of employees tend to work hard for 52 minutes, then take a break for 17. If this seems short, it is – our brains can in fact focus for up to 90 minutes, but then need roughly 20 minutes rest.

Strategic breaks equal more efficient work. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your 17 minutes should be spent online shopping – there are a multitude of more valuable (and less costly!) things you can do to refresh and reset:

  • Most gyms offer express classes at lunchtime. Consider taking a 45-minute yoga class to reset your brain and energise you for the afternoon.
  • Watch a 2-minute eLearning video or stretch your mind with a Big Ideas video or Ted Talk.
  • Prepare a list of easy 2-minute tasks. These are things that won’t stress your grey matter but need to get done, and you can tick off in your down time.
  • Embrace a creative pursuit. Stimulate your brain by doing small creative exercise daily. This might be a little sketch, writing a blog, or making a video. Share your habit daily on Twitter or Instagram – it builds accountability. Check out #yearofcreativehabits for inspiration!

Silence

Silence!!

The constant stream of chimes, pings, flashes and emails, Whatsapp and Facebook alerts is impossible to ignore – it’s designed to be that way!

Schedule at least 3 x 30 minute sessions into your day where you close Outlook, shut all your browser tabs and turn off your mobile phone.

It might sound scary at first, but it will help you power through those difficult tasks without interruption and at the end of the day, you’ll feel real satisfaction knowing what you’ve completed.

Harness the Power of Habit

We know that social media can eat up hours in the day. How often have you kicked off with a valid Google search, but end up aimlessly clicking through old school-friends’ baby photos, or reading click-bait articles like 21 Life-Changing Lessons From The Dalai Lama’s Twitter Account”. 

At Procurious, we talk about establishing a ‘social media daily habit’. This isn’t only to limit the time you spend online, but to ensure you spend it wisely.

We suggest you dedicate approximately 20 minutes every day to ticking off value-adding tasks:

  1. Build your network: Expand your global contact network by connecting with stakeholders or peers you’ve met at conferences. Or find colleagues who look after similar categories in other geographies or industries.
  2. Scan the news: Using Google Alerts or Twitter hashtags, find out if your company, your category, your suppliers, or even your competitors, have been in the headlines. Login to Procurious and check out what’s happening.
  3. Share the intelligence: If you find something interesting, chances are someone else will too. Share the URL on Twitter, Procurious and/or LinkedIn.
  4. Ask a question: Scan the Discussion Board on Procurious and share your knowledge. If you’ve got a burning question, post it and make the most of this global brains trust!
  5. Learn something: Brush up on your skills and challenge your thinking by watching a 5-minute eLearning video, or listening to a Podcast,

And Before You Go…

Rather than working frantically right up until the last minute of the day, slamming your laptop shut and dashing for the train, stop working 30 min before you need to leave.

Use your last half an hour to review your day’s plan, transferring items that are still relevant, and adding any new priorities that have emerged during the day.

Categorise these tasks according to the Eat the Frog principles so that your first task tomorrow is ready and waiting to go.

And, unless you’re fortunate enough to have a Personal Assistant, review your calendar and print out any documents that you may need to review ahead of meetings. Spending the first 30 minutes of your morning fighting with a printer is not the way to productivity!

Social Enterprise Creating Oases in Food Deserts

The concept of food deserts is nothing new. However, it’s presenting ongoing opportunities for social enterprises to make a real difference.

Food Desert Store

Food deserts are not a modern phenomenon – the concept has existed for the better part of 20 years. However, efforts to eradicate these deserts have stalled somewhat, and there are now calls for more work to be done to eliminate them entirely.

The food desert concept was first introduced by the UK Department of Health in 1999. They defined it as, “areas of relative exclusion where people experience physical and economic barriers to accessing healthy foods.”

Put simply, these deserts exist where access to affordable, healthy food is either restricted or non-existent for consumers. This would be due to the lack of stores or supermarkets in the area, within convenient travelling distance.

A report by the US Department of Agriculture in 2009 estimated that 2.3 million people in the USA were living in food deserts. This is the equivalent of 2.2 per cent of the entire population. However, it’s difficult to fully gauge the impact of food deserts, as global figures are less well documented.

Measuring Food Deserts

Food deserts have traditionally been measures as the distance from households to their nearest supermarket. The original measure, still used by the US Department of Agriculture, is for low income households living more than 1 mile (urban), or 10 miles (rural), away from their nearest supermarket.

The map below shows how that looks across the USA today:

Food Deserts in the USA Based on Traditional Measures (Source: USDA Economic Research Service)
Food Deserts in the USA – Source USDA Economic Research Service

However, there is little consensus on which measures should be used to define food deserts. Some studies have used the measures of the type and quality of food available to purchase, while others have focused on the ability or inability of consumers to purchase them.

Other issues lie in the categorisation of stores. In parts of the USA, small retail outlets that sell food are classed in the same category as larger supermarkets. This is done even when the retail outlet in question sells limited, or predominantly junk, food. This has led to concerns that some food deserts are being missed entirely.

Access Only Part of Problem

Controversy also surrounds the simplification of food deserts as an issue over access to low-cost, healthy foods. Critics have argued that proximity alone would suggest that nearly all of rural America would be classed as a food desert.

In one study in Flint, Michigan, even when a local grocery store was introduced to a food desert, community attitudes and practices didn’t change. In fact, the amount of prepared and fast foods consumed during the 17 month study period actually increased.

Other factors that experts have argued for the inclusion of include poverty (it’s widely acknowledged that low income and poor nutrition are directly attributable), and education or attitude to foods (the fact it’s often cheaper to buy chocolate than an apple).

In the UK particularly, there is still a perception that healthy foods are more expensive. There are also concerns that as confidence and skills in creating meals from scratch decrease, junk food habits will rise further.

Social Enterprise Solutions

Definitions aside, it’s clear action needs to be taken in order to combat the issue of poor nutrition.

There are a number of small businesses and social enterprises in both the UK and USA helping to bring affordable, healthy food to communities.

Fresh Range

Bristol, in the UK, is one place affected by food deserts. Although the city has been awarded a silver ‘Sustainable Food City‘ award, there are still areas suffering from a lack of access to healthy food.

In light of this, in 2015, small company called Fresh Range was formed. Fresh Range sources directly from producers, enabling them to charge lower prices for fruit, veg, and meat. It even offers doorstep delivery for £1 on orders over £20.

On top of this the produce is all locally sourced, meets sustainability and the highest animal welfare standards. The company also re-uses and recycles packaging in order to keep running costs down.

Fare & Square

In the USA, the baton for combatting food deserts has been picked up by social enterprises. The two which have received the most support and airtime are Fare & Square in Chester, Pennsylvania, and The Food District in Columbus, Ohio.

Both are non-profit organisations, however they offer slightly different services.

Fare & Square is a crowd-funded grocery store operating in a food desert. It has committed to charge 8-10 per cent less for produce than other stores. It also offers a further 7 per cent discount for customers meeting poverty guidelines.

The Food District also offers access to affordable healthy food. As well as creating jobs and ensuring that produce is sourced locally, the Food District offers community education and training programmes to overcome all the causes of food deserts.

Time for Action

There are plenty more social enterprises around the world helping to tackle the problem of food deserts. However, the issue of food deserts is still on the rise. And it’s clear that more needs to be done to help everyone in the world have access to healthy, affordable food.

Why not have a look into what’s happening in your local area? You could help out with, or donate to, your local food bank. Or help local charities who are delivering food to people who can’t get out themselves.

If you have a social enterprise in your area, contact them and see what you, or your company, could do to help? If we all take action now, collectively we stand more chance of eradicating food deserts for good.

Talented New Mothers – Please Don’t Quit!

Are you a new mum? Thinking about starting your own business? Tania Seary lays out the benefits for new mothers of staying employed in the corporate world when children arrive.

New Mothers

The wait leading up to our launch of Procurious was killing me.

It was like re-living those last few weeks waiting for a baby to be born. There’s not much I could do other than hope and pray for a safe delivery. Fortunately we launched successfully and have had some great traction so far.

This waiting period, in conjunction with my eldest son’s 9th birthday (yikes!), and the daily juggle between work and family, gave me cause for some reflection on the whole topic of motherhood and career.

Australian procurement superstar Georgia Brandi recently posted this very thought-provoking article on LinkedIn written by Sramana Mitra. Dramatic opening paragraph aside, the rest of the story covers just about every tricky point of this highly political debate. To stay at home, or not? To work for someone else, or yourself?

Career Super Women to Working New Mothers

I’ve had some flashbacks of those awkward first days transitioning from career super woman to working mummy. Highlights of which mainly focus around breastfeeding, but, given we have a mixed audience here, I’ll save some of those stories for another forum.

I could write a book about my journey as a working mother. But in the interest of brevity, I would like to put forward my thoughts on the benefits of staying employed by a company, vs. opening your own business, when women become new mothers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love owning my own business, I have had a fantastic time, working with, and for, some great people. But it hasn’t been easy. Also, my business was a few years old when I had my first child, so I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch when I first “went on maternity leave”.

Employee vs. Mumpreneur

I had a lot of reasons for wanting to start my own business. Primarily I had a strong vision of what I wanted to create – I wanted to create a specific workplace culture, more than a specific company. And twelve years on, I’m happy to say that culture is alive and well.

I also wanted to do my own thing, be free of the corporate hierarchy which I found very frustrating. I was tired of being judged by peers and leaders I didn’t always respect. This of course was a very naïve reason, as you will always be judged – when you’re in your own business, your clients/customers are the ultimate judge!

I also wanted to have children and travel with my busy husband. So there were lots of forces driving me to do my own thing.

But of course, the path I chose took a lot of hard work and perseverance. It took a year before we won our first big client, so I had to fund the business (and myself) during that period.

And then we needed to (and still do!) keep proving ourselves and winning new business, while we’re working on producing quality outcomes. When I had my children, I asked different people to help run the business, with varying degrees of success.

But in the end, it has all worked out. And if you’re feeling an affinity with all the above, I fully encourage you to pursue your dream.

However, I can also see many benefits in remaining employed by someone else during your child-bearing years.

Here’s my top 5 reasons to work for an employer when having children:-

  • Do it for the Sisterhood

Australia (and the wider world) still has an appalling lack of female representation at the highest levels of business. The more women that actually stay in the workforce will provide us with the greatest chances of increasing the number of women in the senior ranks.

  • Do it for the Money

How much money you generate from your own business in the early days totally depends on the business model. However, in my case, I had to fund the business for at least the first 12 months of operation. You need to be prepared for this loss of income.

On the flipside, if you stay with a corporate employer today there is more financial support than ever before. When you return to work, you will continue earning at the same rate as previously, and hopefully continue on your career trajectory, which will be compensated with salary increases.

  • Do it for the Recognition

I am going to make a broad assumption that most corporate women have reached their late 20’s, mid ‘30s when deciding to have children. This means you have reached a certain level of success and have built a reputation within your internal stakeholders, suppliers and other third parties.

Starting a new business is very humbling (I’m trying to be positive here). You will have many setbacks on your journey to success..and when you do achieve success, it will be only you and your team there to recognise you.

In a corporation, you will be recognised and rewarded (well, not always, but more so than working for yourself!).

  • Do it for your Development

There’s no doubt that you learn a great deal running your own business, but nothing as formal (unless you organise and pay for it yourself!) as the quality and frequency of training you receive in a large organisation.

Think about it. Companies train you on everything – from Microsoft office, to the latest legals, compliance and your professional training. And there’s maybe even the odd corporate off-site or incentive travel.

  • Do it for your Sanity and Self-Esteem

Really, this is a point in favour of either working for yourself or someone else.

If you’re the kind of gal that finds domestic life a struggle, just knows she needs to work, or has the all-important financial imperative – then you will no doubt need to get back into the workforce in some capacity.

I’ll never forget those early days going back to work. Buying a cup of coffee from my favourite barista, then sitting at my desk in a zen-like state for at least five minutes soaking up the serenity.

That was heaven. It saved my sanity and definitely kept my struggling self-esteem somewhat in tact.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Have I been too harsh on the entrepreneurial option? We’d love to hear from all the new mothers (and any career super women who are also supermums) on how you made the choice.