Category Archives: Life & Style

What’s In A Name?

If you want to become the top dog you had better change your name to Andrew…

What's in a name? Andrew comes top for UK bosses

As the ONS announces its annual list of most popular baby names for 2015, research from workwear manufacturer Stormline has revealed that when it comes to Britain’s bosses, there’s little variety and originality, as an homogenise collection of traditionally-named boys take up their seats in the UK’s board rooms for another day in the office.

The research shows that there are more men called Andrew than there are women running the UK’s top firms.

There’s a definite lack of diversity at the top, with the following seven names – Andrew or Andy, James, John, Peter, Ian, Mark or Marc or Richard  – representing 32 per cent of all UK bosses at top firms.

Just 6 per cent of Britain’s biggest 100 firms are women with bosses called Alison (Cooper, Imperial Tobacco), Melissa (Potter, Clarks Shoes), Lindsey (Pownall, Samworth Brothers) Theresa (T.J Morris), Anna (Stewart, Laing O’Rourke) and Veronique (Laury, Kingfisher PLC) representing female CEOs.

If you’ve got your eyes on running one of Britain’s biggest companies, it might help if you’ve got a traditional Hebrew (John, Ian) Greek (Andrew, Peter) or Latin (James, Mark) name. Your odds will also increase to better than 9/1 if you are a man.

Of the names on display in the 100 top board rooms around the UK, more than half (53 per cent) were one-offs; ranging from a Merlin, Jebb, Nicandro, Zameer and Pascal to Ralph, Jason, Nigel, Norman and Bob.

Men called Andrew currently bossing it in the UK’s biggest firms 

Andrew Witty – CEO, GlaxoSmithKline
Andy Hornby – Chief Executive, Gala Coral Group
Andy Harrison – CEO, Whitbread
Andy Parker – Chief Executive Capita
Andy Street – Managing Director John Lewis
Andy Long – CEO of Pentland Group (the Chairman is Andy Rubin)
Andrew Goodsell – CEO, Acromas Holdings (Saga Group & The AA)
Andrew Mackenzie – CEO, BHP Billiton 

Zameer (Choudrey, boss of Bestway Group), Jebb (Kitchen, boss of Bibby Line), Merlin (Bingham Swire, boss of Swire Group) and Nicandro (Durante, boss of British American Tobacco) make up the pick of most original boy’s names.

And although this survey is skewed towards the UK market, we’d be interested to learn what the name game is like elsewhere in the world. Can this oddity be repeated in your country?

What does it mean to “be commercial”?

What does it mean to be commercial?

I was once in a meeting with a former manager where I was urged to be more commercial in my outlook. When I asked for a definition, the answer I got was along the lines of just be more commercial…

I contrast this with an episode earlier in my career where I was said to be too commercial in my outlook. This word “Commercial” is a word that gets thrown around with abandon, yet do we truly appreciate what it means to be commercial?

There are companies that adopt a commercial approach, as procurement professionals we are urged to be “more commercial”. I have met with people who need their Contract managers to be more commercially aware and people even have it in their titles whilst doing utterly different roles. Roads have been named after it and even whole districts!

So what does being commercial mean?

The dictionary definition of commercial has the following explanations:

  1. concerned with or engaged in commerce: “a commercial agreement”
  1. making or intended to make a profit: “commercial products”

having profit rather than artistic or other value as a primary aim:

“their work is too commercial”

  1. (of television or radio) funded by the revenue from broadcast advertisements.
  2. (of chemicals) supplied in bulk and not of the highest purity

Ignoring the last 2 (for purposes of this article), I think the more applicable definitions are concerned with commerce (i.e. all the comings and goings in a supply market) and making a profit.

But perhaps the biggest question is: How can we translate this into actionable items for us to consider?

Commerce is the activity of buying and selling. Therefore in order to be commercial in this aspect we need to have:

  • An understanding of our business and the wider business environment in which it sits.
  • Familiarity with the end product or service that we buy or manage.
  • How it fits into our organisations service provision and ultimately its Value Proposition to the wider market (those of you playing consultant bingo can cross that word off).
  • A grasp of the activities of our organisation and how your role impacts this.

We also need to have an understanding of the wider marketplaces where we interact daily and be able to:

  • Know how the major players in this particular market are performing at present.
  • Find out who is dealing with whom, and which companies have won important contracts.
  • Think about what the future will bring and what it means to you, your category and your organisation.

Profit is central to any business and should also be for those not solely engaged in the activity of making profit (i.e. public sector or not for profit). As someone in the not for profit sector once said to me, “whilst we are not for profit, we are not for loss either”.

Understanding profit and how organisations make profit should be central to any sustainable procurement strategy. Will these suppliers still be around next year, the year after etc, what are the sources of profit and how do changes in the global market place affect them (commodity pricing, changes in labour force, legislation, global catastrophes and competition).

Commercial awareness then, could be summed up as:

  • An interest in business and an understanding of the wider environment in which an organisation operates: its customers, competitors and suppliers.
  • Understanding of the economics of the business and understanding the business benefits and realities from both the organisation’s and the customer’s perspectives.
  • The need for efficiency, cost-effectiveness, customer care and knowledge of the market place in which the company operates (current economic climate and major competitors).

So how do we actually become commercially aware? Here is a 5 point plan to become more commercially aware:

  1. Keep up to date with what is happening about the future for your organisation, and the markets in which your organisation operates. Check your organisations business plan and strategic vision for clues on this.
  2. Understand the nature and structure of external supply markets, list out the things that affects them and keep a track on when they occur. (See earlier article on scenario planning).
  3. Understand any historical patterns which will help us to predict future trends. It’s particularly useful to be aware of any typical cyclical patterns, such as how wider economic conditions tend to affect a particular industry. On a smaller scale, it could be helpful to be aware of the cycle of the financial year and the effect it can have. For example, organisations may be spending up their budgets and this will have an impact on supply.
  4. Understand and map out the key strategic relationships you have with your suppliers. What is their strategic vision and do you feature? Gather data on the suppliers and supply market/s you serve and are served by and pay attention to the trends.
  5. For any piece of analysis you do, remember to ask SO WHAT!

So why is this important? I think for a number of reasons depending on where you are in your career…

According to Association of Graduate Recruiters “Skills for Graduates in the 21st Century” commercial awareness is the number one skill shortage amongst graduates.

Most “future of procurement” documents talk about the need for more commercial awareness in procurement activities and professionals.

A key deliverable of contract management (i.e. actually delivering the benefits found in sourcing) is to be commercially aware of their actions during the contract lifecycle.

So consider the 5 point plan to be more commercial and ask how you could apply it to your environment and the next time your manager asks you to be more commercial ( or less) you will have a handle on where to start.

Will Millennials Kill The Email?

Will Millennials kill email?

Millennials on the whole are not fans of email and the formal style it dictates – instead they prefer instant communication platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook chat, which they have grown up with. However, the challenge this poses for the workplace is whether the social behaviours and technological preferences of Millennials can be incorporated into a business to promote greater collaboration and engagement. With a number of new technologies continuously entering the market, the question is whether and how these new platforms can replace the email? And equally as important is if they should?

Just because a technology works in a social environment does not mean that it will successfully transfer over into the professional sphere. Instant, open communications may be the preferred method for Millennials, but businesses need to consider which tools are best suited to achieve their wider goals.

For some companies, this could well be email due to its established compliance, auditability and control benefits. For firms seeking more free flowing communications, social tools like Yammer and Slack may be more effective. In either case, the first step is to identify the company’s objectives and then implement a solution that meets these.

Businesses want order, not chaos

For most companies, regardless of how flat their organisational structures are, there remains some form of hierarchy that has senior managers monitoring and driving the performance of staff. Where email brings structure, the open nature of social messaging platforms often brings an element of chaos, with message threads becoming long unwieldy streams of unverified “chit chat”, making compliance and measurement very difficult.

There are many examples of SMEs and small teams of up to 50 people using instant messaging and social networks to share information successfully. This is because the small number of users makes this form of communication manageable. Larger businesses, on the other hand, are still communicating in the same way as they did in the 1990s; with email.

Consequently, two key elements of the daily work cycle remain disconnected from each other: the electronic communication between staff and the work output itself. For a typical piece of work to be produced, employees may have an email exchange before deciding upon a course of action, but then switch from email to a file-based working environment to edit a Word, PowerPoint or Excel document, before again returning to email in order to send the completed document for review. This is clearly a tedious process appreciated by few.

Millennials are used to a ‘followable’ environment with seamless, real-time information sharing in their social lives – so why would they want to email their colleagues with a link to a file every time they make a change? If this activity could be carried out directly in a collaborative environment, teams could synchronously work together, removing the version control issues and delays that leave Millennials feeling frustrated.

Communication must lead to work

Business communication is a means to an end, not an end in itself. There is a growing desire amongst business users for improved integration between day-to-day communication and the processes that are needed to get the work done. Getting the work done is the key point – not just talking, but actually producing something.

There is an expanding market of applications available for this purpose, from message aggregators like Slack to social document authoring tools like Quip or GoogleDocs. Millennials are increasingly trying to patchwork together a better, more social way of working that is not entirely dictated by email.

This patchwork quilt remains the preserve of the individual and the SME workplace, however. Even Slack’s high profile growth and media awareness has not established it as a pervasive way of communicating in the enterprise. The same was true of Yammer five years ago, despite being the self proclaimed “Enterprise Social Network”.

What needs to be asked is why these communication platforms are not taking hold in the enterprise. Are email and attachments persisting because work continues to be authored off-line? If so, we need a new way of working, addressing the root cause of off line working, to move forward.

The current situation

Quip is a simple social authoring tool, and its multi-platform, lightweight user interface is certainly easy and quick to adopt. But could an entire enterprise use it instead of Microsoft Office? No. And that is not its intention. GoogleDocs has been adopted by some enterprises, and with its Office style tool set, it offers enough familiarity for workers to perhaps abandon Office. However, workers still end up following their behaviour from before, only now using Gmail instead of Outlook to communicate around the files they have authored.

As an industry, venture-backed start-ups need to focus on taking the time for deep thinking, complex design and substantial build out, not speed to market or speed of growth. Until such a rigorous approach to enterprise software development is taken, Millennials will not be able to drive the change they desire and replace email with a form of communication and style of work that best suits their desires and abilities – at least not entirely.

Written by Tristan Rogers, CEO – Concrete.

Concrete is a global enterprise collaboration platform used by brands including Vans, J Crew, Gap, Kate Spade, Williams Sonoma and Marks & Spencer.

Enjoyed this article? Sign-up to Procurious for FREE and join 6000+ other professionals.

6 Sure-Fire Ways To Become A CPO

6 Sure-Fire Ways To Become A CPO

I have worked in Procurement for twenty years now (a scary thought). During that time, I have had the immense pleasure of watching a number of trailblazing procurement professionals ascend through the ranks of their companies to take the coveted position of CPO (Chief Procurement Officer).

If your professional goal is to become a CPO, there are some very simple tips I can share for how to successfully climb the career ladder leading to the ivory towers of procurement. 

  1. Build your trophy cabinet

“Make sure you have successes you can point to,” is one of the best pieces of career advice I have ever received. You need to be able to clearly and convincingly explain projects that you have personally been accountable for and how they have delivered value. Your successfully completed projects with defined benefits are your career trophies.

Put another way – to get promoted, you first need to excel in the job you have today. Ok, this seems rather elementary, but I hear from CPOs around the world that many category managers today are so focussed on where they want to be tomorrow, that they aren’t delivering on the job they are meant to be doing today!

I cannot emphasise how important the basics of professionalism are for making positive impressions on those who will promote you. Do your homework before every meeting, be on time, have an agenda, be well presented, be composed, write and distribute notes following the meeting and, most importantly, do what you said you would do and notify everyone that you have done what you said.

I can’t stress these last two points enough.

Doing what you say you will do and confirming that you have done it may be the two biggest contributors to people getting promoted. Leaders like to have people working for them who actually get things done. Leaders also need to know that the job has been completed. It’s not enough just to do what you said you would do. You need to make sure everyone knows you’ve done it, so they can get it off their to-do-list and put a mental tick beside your name as someone who delivers. 

  1. Don’t burn your bridges… EVER

No matter how old or experienced you are, if you are ambitious, you will find yourself getting frustrated. This will come in many forms. You’ll get frustrated with the lack of progress on projects; you’ll get agitated with certain decisions and actions, and you most likely get frustrated with the people who work below you, beside you and above you. It’s understandable.

In these stressful situations it is often difficult to contain yourself and maintain harmonious, productive relationships with those around you.

But it is critically important that you do.

As I shared in my blog How to Quit your Job with Style, everyone you work with, whether they are inside or outside you organisation, are invaluable long-term supporters of you and your career. As you progress up the ladder (or across your portfolio career!), you will be amazed how every person you have worked with plays a role in helping “buoy” your promotion. You need as many people as you can to endorse your capability and to recommend you for promotion. Getting ahead is hard enough – you certainly don’t need any detractors.

With this is mind, it’s clear that an invaluable skill for future leaders to develop is patience. Great leaders have an uncanny ability to pick the right time to hold back and when to push. As America’s founding father, Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that can have patience can have what he will.”

  1. Be squeaky clean – a beacon of integrity

When The Faculty developed its X Factor assessment for future CPOs, it became obvious that a key differentiator for our profession was its role in clarifying the ethical “true north” for our organisations. Procurement’s competitive advantage is that it can provide rock solid guidance on the most ethical commercial processes and decisions our businesses are involved in. Few other functions can boast these credentials.

As sustainable sourcing and the ethical responsibility of our businesses continues to draw an increased (and warranted!) interest, future procurement leaders must have an unblemished track record in conducting business and leading teams with the greatest integrity.

One of my favourite sayings is, “Know you’re right, rather than hope you’re not wrong”. With this mantra in mind, I would suggest you and your team complete the CIPS Ethical Procurement and Supply Course. Completing this e-learning program will help identify areas of ethical and social risk and will suggest how to best respond to these situations. It just might save you from a crisis. 

  1. Raise your voice, raise your profile

If you want to be promoted you first need to be noticed. As we all know, this is easier said than done. To be viewed as a leader today, you need to be seen as an influencer… someone with something to say… someone with a unique and informed opinion.

Future leaders need to constantly nurture and nourish their personal brand. In order to succeed, you need to position yourself for success. Often, this will mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Holding knowledge sharing events in your office, speaking and conferences and actively maintaining your social media presence are all great ways to get noticed and position yourself as a thought leader. It may appear difficult at first, but its vital training for your development as a leader.

The most challenging element of raising your profile is finding your audience and in this endeavour, social media is your friend. The online procurement community is enormous, active and hungry for information. By connecting into this community, you amplify your opportunities to learn and to teach.

There are procurement groups on LinkedIn with over 300,000 members. Twitter is awash with market information that can enable procurement professionals to do their jobs better and Procurious, the social media network we established to connect procurement peers across the globe and facilitate knowledge sharing.

The social media world is waiting to hear your story; it’s your job to get out there and tell it.

  1. Build a reputation for developing others

One of the most important attributes HR will be looking for in a CPO (or any leader) is their ability to develop people and build a high-performance team. No matter how junior you are in an organisation, there are always opportunities for you to demonstrate that you are focussed on others’ professional development. You can mentor someone looking to get into procurement, you can share your ways of working openly with your peers, you can suggest bringing in some training or speakers to talk to the team on a topic of mutual interest, you could even be a “millennial mentor” for one of your bosses. There are a myriad of opportunities to demonstrate that you understand the power of people continually learning and developing. 

  1. Work for blue-chip companies

Firstly, let’s remember that the CPO role itself only exists in larger companies. Secondly, larger companies prefer to hire people who have already worked at other large companies.

Why? Because it’s safer.

Great companies (on the whole) invest in developing their people, they have great values systems that, by osmosis, influence the performance and behaviour of their people. This means that you become both a technical and ethical “output” of the companies you work for. This may seem a bit weird, or scary, but it’s true; “The company you keep defines your character and your character defines your success.”

What is ‘keiretsu’ and why does it matter for supply chains?

Japanese business practices

There are numerous Japanese business terms that have made their way into the common English business lexicon. Kaizen and the 5S’s (seiton, seiri, seisou, seiketsu and shitsuke) are just a few. One that you may not be completely familiar with is ‘keiretsu’. While it doesn’t receive the same coverage as Kaizen, this practice carries significant supply chain implications.

Keiretsu occurs when a set of businesses with interlocking interests take a financial share in one another.

This practice, which is akin to a large buying organisation owning significant shares in one of its suppliers (and vice versa), is very common throughout the Japanese economy (particularly in the automotive industry). As multinational firms continue to drive towards vertical integration, we are starting to see more it in the West as well.

The successes

The interlocking structure of keiretsu is held up as one of the key factors that contributed to the immense success of Japanese carmakers through the 90’s. It was thought that by taking a financial interest in their suppliers (and by offering suppliers shares in their own business), Japanese car makers were able to diffuse the traditionally antagonistic nature of buyers/supplier relationships, allowing the two organisations to more readily reach mutually beneficial outcomes.

Acceptance in the West

Broadly speaking, the idea of keiretsu hasn’t sat well in American business circles. This is due in some part to the sense of xenophobia the term instils. Keiretsu was perceived by many in the US as a ploy by the Japanese to protect their own business interests from American competition, by only doing business with people they know.

Despite this reluctance, as western business leaders saw keiretsu succeed, they started to emulate it. In a 1997 article in The New Yorker magazine, Ken Auletta went to great lengths to point out how keiretsu practices had become common at many of the worlds leading media organisations (including Disney, Time Warner, Microsoft, NBC and News Corp).

Undoing keiretsu

Like many business mantras it appears that while keiretsu helped to solve a great number of business problems, the business practice is also responsible for creating its fair share of issues.

Concerned with some of the inefficiencies that accompany the keiretsu business practice, Toyota this year elected to unwind some of these entangled business relationships.

In April, the automaker took the bold step of instilling a former Toyota executive, Yasumori Ihara, as the CEO of one of one of its leading suppliers (and keiretsu partner) Aisin Seiki Co.

Ihara’s job… To undo some of the keiretsu practices that had formed between the two organisations.

It was feared that the close relationship that had formed between the two businesses had created lethargy in the supply market meaning that neither business was functioning optimally. Toyota was not driving the most out its supply base and Aisin’s overly comfortable relationship with the automaker meant the firm was not pursuing contracts with other car manufacturers as actively as it might.

Ihara was put in charge of the supplier and told to make the business more competitive or face losing Toyota’s business. The new CEO has also been challenged with selling Aisin’s parts into other automakers.

No silver bullet

This isn’t the first time procurement teams have reached a similar stalemate. The keiretsu vs. traditional supplier relationship discussion sounds a lot like the cost vs. value or innovation vs. price debates we often hear.

Perhaps what is most important to take away from these issues and debates is the fact that there is no silver bullet for managing a supply chain. The issues are layered; to think that a single business methodology can solve all procurement challenges is to grossly underestimate the complexities that lie with modern day supply chains. The challenge is to find a balance between co-operation, innovation and cost.

So the next time you hear of a new business methodology that’s set to change procurement for ever, I would suggest you take it with a grain of salt (or perhaps a sip of sake…)

How To Quit Your Job In Style

Breakin’ up is hard to do…

How to quit your job in style

The crooning Neil Sedaka lyric rings in my ears as I think of the last time someone gave me the news of their resignation.

Let’s face it – it’s never a pleasant situation, and it can, in the worst case, literally end in tears for the employee or the employer – or both.

But that doesn’t need to be the case if you, the employee, take a measured approach to resigning.

Just like an employer generally has to give two or three formal warnings before they can fire someone, I think it’s good practice for an employee to also give two or three warnings on their journey to resignation.

Following a structured process could increase your chance of turning around your existing job situation, perhaps even leading you to stay put. It could also maximise your chance of a civilised and potentially positive departure from your employer, with a glowing reference in hand.

OK, so you’ve decided to quit your job. That’s it, you’re out of there. Now what?

Wait two weeks.

You are probably thinking, ‘what do you mean? I want to go straight in and tell them what I think of them!’ That might be the case, but that wouldn’t be very strategic, would it?

The most important thing to remember is that you’re trying to build your career, not stick it to your boss. People often quit in anger as a result of something their boss or company has (or has not) done.

A dramatic departure typically ends up causing more trouble for the employee than the employer. It may sound harsh, but your company will replace you faster than you think. As one of my mentors says: “Leaving a company is like taking your hand out of a bucket of water … it may make a small ripple, but within seconds it’s like you were never there.” So don’t think ‘I’m going to show them’, because your departure won’t make a huge difference to the company, but it will make a huge difference to you. That’s why you need to be strategic in resigning.

If your career is important to you, take control and manage the outcomes. That same wise mentor of mine says: “The only common denominator in your career is you.” So ensure every boss you have had, no matter how bad you think they are, is an advocate of yours in some way. To be successful, you need as many people as possible in your corner, promoting you and your skills.

That’s why I recommend resigning in five smooth, strategic and stylish steps:

1.   The ‘I need more’ meeting

This is the first shot across the bow, where you put forward your personal business case for change. This is where you highlight the skills you have that you feel should be further leveraged by the company, or the experience you need the company to provide you with, in order to advance your career. You and your manager should agree on goals and a timeframe for this to happen. This is more than likely part of your regular performance review.

Now … this is where it’s important that you really reconsider whether you still want to resign. One of the big mistakes many employees make is that they assume just because their boss isn’t talking specifically about their development, that they aren’t thinking about it. There are often discussions and planning taking place behind the scenes about high potential talent – your employer may not make it obvious. Give your boss and employer the benefit of the doubt. Give them the opportunity to share their thoughts, or at least get motivated on an action plan for your development.

2.   The ‘it’s not happening’ meeting

This is when you meet with your boss to explain that the support or guidance offered in the ‘I need more’ review meeting is insufficient. This should spell out what you need, and by when. You should also ask what else you could or should be doing to help the company help you. There is a fine line you need to walk here … you need to be the squeaky wheel who needs growth, not the high-maintenance employee who needs to be placated.

3.   The ‘you need to know I’m looking’ meeting

This is the reciprocal to what an employer would call a final warning meeting. This is when you explain that you appreciate the efforts the company is making to help facilitate your professional growth, but the efforts are not hitting the mark. Importantly, your language should not be threatening and should focus on the facts about what was agreed and delivered or not delivered following previous meetings.

4.   The ‘I’ve accepted another offer’ meeting

This is the big one – the meeting when you resign. If you have done your job well in the first three meetings, this meeting will be relatively painless. You have been really open with your boss and given them every opportunity to respond to your professional development needs, so the resignation should come as no surprise. You may need to be prepared for a less-than-professional response. Hold your own and take the high ground. Remember, your goal is to be the most professional person in the room. You have followed a really transparent, structured process and given the company every opportunity to retain you. Now’s the time to stand proud.

5.   The ‘Let’s shake hands and be friends’ moment

I might be slightly optimistic about this one, but at least you should finish this meeting on the grounds of mutual respect. In the weeks that follow you will have numerous opportunities to do the right thing – getting your handover notes in order, briefing others in your team, sending the right messages to external and internal audiences about the reasons you are leaving, and the list goes on. This is your opportunity to ensure you leave on good terms, and you and your boss could be either advocates, or at least referees for each other.

In my experience, my worst bosses have been the ones that I have learnt the most from. So, if your boss was Mr Last Minute and his tardiness drove you clinically insane, you will be able to say: “In this job I learnt the importance of punctuality.” If your boss never met, called or emailed his team, you could say: “In this job I learnt the importance of communication in building employee engagement.”

Do these five steps all sound tedious and time consuming? They should, because if you do this properly, it could take up to six months. The reality is that you probably started applying for jobs at meeting number two, and even if you were outrageously lucky and expedient in the job application process, filling the role from start to finish will be three months anyway.

By following these five steps, you will have provided your employer with every opportunity to compel you to stay so you can feel comfortable that you’re making your next career move for all the right reasons.

Hold On To Your Glass Balls

Hold On To Your Glass Balls #inspiration

I used to flake off and daydream in most corporate training programs, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learnt from one speaker who likened life to juggling balls.

Obviously, the trick is to keep all the balls in the air at one time – work, family, health etc. But the important point he made was that some balls were rubber, but others were glass. Work is a rubber ball, if you drop it, it will bounce back, but others – like your health and family – are glass. If you drop them, they are difficult to recover.

This week I have to drop the work ball – and I hope it will bounce back.

I am writing this en-route to London from Melbourne. I have called short a three-week business trip to go home to my Mum. No, not because I needed a cuddle, but because she has been hospitalised. I won’t share too much here, but it’s her heart, and it’s not good.

With three businesses (two of which are on the other side of the planet), two beautiful sons and a busy husband, my scheduling capability and mental bandwidth do get stretched… but I like it that way. The only catch is – when things come unstuck – they really come unstuck – and have a big ripple effect across my family and business – such is the case this week where I have to cancel and re-schedule around 15 meetings and presentations with some of Australia’s best and brightest procurement professionals.

Before I even left for this trip, I was fretting about leaving my already-sick mother and two boys for three weeks (especially during the school holidays). My husband went into coaching mode and basically told me to “man-up” and commit myself to the business trip. He would be fine. The boys would be fine. Mum would be fine. Just go.

So let me tell you how good things were going before they came unstuck.

I hit Singapore with a bang and was thoroughly inspired and energised by the debate around the first CPO Asia Roundtable. I had some great discussions with some long-term clients and Austrade. Unfortunately, meanwhile at home my husband inadvertently gave the whole family food poisoning by cooking some out-of-date sausages. Everyone was down for the count, including the babysitter, which meant that my husband had to take his first-ever sick day off work. Not good… but, then again, nobody was seriously injured.

Next stop was Brisbane – I met with some of our long-term clients, had dinner with the Brisbane Roundtable. Sydney was next – presentations to two procurement teams, fruitful discussions with clients. Tick. Meanwhile at home, a whole series of appointments (that had dutifully been put in my husband’s outlook calendar) had been missed… maths tutoring, dinner with friends, the list went on. Once again, not good, but, once again – nobody was seriously injured.

By now you’ve probably worked out that my husband is an absolute gem. And although I’ve just teased him here, and in my speeches on social media where I refer to him as the “pale stale male who doesn’t want to be poked or linked and doesn’t give a Tweet”, he is, in fact, the epitome of the ideal modern man.

He helps carry the domestic load and he is actively involved in our son’s lives.

Let’s face it – managing work-life balance is not an exact science – it’s a daily, weekly, monthly pursuit of excellence… well maybe in my case… definitely a case of juggling balls. And my husband is right there beside me.

So when the phone rang at the end of The Faculty’s two day strategy session and it was my husband telling me how he’d helped my mother when she thought she was having a heart attack and they were on their way to the hospital with my two boys in tow… I knew that I had to be with them.

I want to thank everyone who made time in his or her diaries to meet with me this week, quickly followed by an apology for any inconvenience I have caused by heading home to London.

I also want to thank Euan and Jordan in the Procurious team in Europe for their mastery in speech and PowerPoint, not to mention Marisa and Max for co-ordinating the visit. All your work will not be in vain!

It’s about an hour until we land at Heathrow. I can’t wait to see Mum. I want to be there to catch the glass ball before it hits the ground. I know I will.

Post-script – I’m home, she’s fine, procedure on Tuesday and hopefully she’ll be as good as new.

Watch Tania deliver the workshop she took to Australia on using Social Media to win the War on Talent:

How To Get Ahead: 5 Key Skills For Generation Y

Five skills to give you a head-start  in your procurement career

5 skills to give millennials the edge in the procurement profession

If you are one of the Generation Y (born between the mid-1980s and 2000) and have ambitions to get ahead in procurement, you can expect great opportunities ahead due to the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

There’s a lot of criticism – much of it unfounded – about young professionals having a sense of entitlement, being inwardly focused and having a preference for job-hopping. Procurement people, however, mostly don’t behave like that.

Generation Y, also called “Millennials”, have the advantage of immersion in new technologies from an early age, and exposure to rapid change has made them fast learners. The challenge is to put these skills to work.

Success in procurement is not only about systems and processes; it’s about how we handle people. The so-called “soft skills” are more critical than ever.

Here are five of our suggested success criteria. They are skills you can acquire through training and experience. Some may require you to re-train or adjust your approach and attitude to your job.

  1. Data Analysis

Being able to slice-and-dice spend data will not be enough. Your manager will expect you to have well-developed financial analysis skills. You could be asked to do a should-cost-analysis, explain the implications of fixed and variable costing, and analyse financial ratios, so just be ready. There is also much talk of “Big Data”. The sheer volume and complexity of available data will require new skills. It has the potential to assist procurement professionals to make better, more informed decisions if properly understood and managed well. Advanced MS Excel skills may be required, so get up to speed by taking a course and practicing the techniques.

  1. Researching the market

A natural curiosity helps here. Supply market analysis and gathering intelligence may be hard for some, but it can be learnt. Start with an overview of the global market and industry indicators, and then consider how this applies to your category plan or sourcing event. Get to know the market leaders in depth. This includes evaluating the financial health of the main players, studying their results and their profitability. Keep updating your knowledge of the global and local market as it pertains to your job role.

  1. Negotiation skills

This is definitely a learned skill; everyone uses some type of negotiation in their everyday life. In procurement, negotiation is a process in which you and your supplier attempt to reach an agreement on a matter of mutual interest, despite conflicting objectives.

Traditionally the goal is to:

  • source the right product or service
  • at the right price,
  • at the right time,
  • in the right location, and
  • in the right quantity

Negotiation is all about compromising, on both sides, to meet somewhere that is acceptable to both parties. There are many learning resources available to ambitious young people on how to develop negotiation skills, but don’t discount practical experience. Ask to sit in or take notes in meetings to have the chance to observe seasoned professionals in a real life negotiation situation.

  1. Understand Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

TCO is a concept widely applied in procurement and strategic sourcing. It is often illustrated with an Iceberg metaphor, like in the image below. Make sure you understand the model and can communicate its importance to your internal customers and users. In its simplest form, it is “an estimate of all direct and indirect costs associated with an asset or acquisition over its entire life cycle”.

 

  1. Using social media

Be aware of your organisation’s policy on social media platforms, such as Twitter and LinkedIn. The Internet is a powerful tool when used in the right way, but fraught with pitfalls. A word of caution: manage your personal on-line behaviour as if your boss is always watching, no matter your privacy settings.

Many companies support the use of social media in procurement within certain limitations. Work out how to apply the technologies for best practice in your job, while staying within the parameters outlined in any company policies. You could look for vendors, gauge how active and knowledgeable they are, see what issues they discuss and what value-added information they offer. Through social media, you can get insights into a supplier’s capabilities and his approach to innovation.

Your confidence, ability to process and apply new ideas, and your understanding of new technologies can help revitalise an otherwise pedestrian procurement function.

If you were offered unlimited leave would you take it?

If you were offered unlimited leave would you take it?

It seems like a stupid question. You would no longer miss friends’ weddings. You could spend more time sailing, skiing, singing or whatever it is that makes you happy. Maybe you could even take that trip to Japan you promised your partner all those years ago…

On the surface, unlimited leave sounds a like a no-brainer for employees, but in recent years a number of companies have implemented these schemes and, perhaps surprisingly, they’ve tended not to work out.

Most people, myself included, would assume that an unlimited leave policy would result in workers taking more days off. However, the opposite is true. Firms with unlimited leave schemes in place have found that their employees are in fact taking less time off.

This is a worrying finding, as studies show that employees who take time off from their jobs return to work happier and more productive.

The fact is that our brains need breaks. The National University of Singapore found that “those who spent less than 20 per cent of their time perusing the Internet’s silly offerings were 9 per cent more productive than those who resisted going online.”

In the same way that watching the occasional cat video can improve concentration, taking a longer break improves people’s performance when back at work. A CCH Human Resources Management study showed that over 50 per cent of employees felt more “rested, rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal life” and that almost 40 per cent of workers “felt more productive and better about their job” after returning from time off.

So what is wrong with people?

Why don’t we take advantage of unlimited leave? The problem seems to be a matter of human psychology. Rather than seeing the opportunities and benefits that can come from the increased flexibility of unlimited leave, workers tend to focus on the negative aspects that might accompany the program.

No one wants to be seen as ‘the guy who takes the most leave’ as being thought of as ‘that guy’ can be linked to laziness or worse still worthlessness.

Mathias Meyer, of the firm Travis CI, provided the following insight into his organisation’s experiment with unlimited leave.

“When people are uncertain about how many days it’s okay to take off, you’ll see curious things happen. People will hesitate to take a vacation day, as they don’t want to seem like that person who’s taking the most vacation days. It’s a race to the bottom instead of a race toward a rested and happy team.”

Some of us want to ‘earn’ our fun

It’s a strange thing, but I think there is a large group of people who want to have worked hard and banked away their annual leave before booking a holiday. These people are looking for the sense that they have ‘earned’ their holidays. They’ve worked hard and the vacation days are a form a currency for this work that they are now entitled to spend.

The future of leave 

According to The Society for Human Resource Management unlimited vacation policies are only offered at 1 per cent of US firms, but a further 2 per cent of firms are said to be considering such programs. Tech and start-up firms like Groupon and Netflix dominate the group that has already adopted unlimited leave programs.

Unlimited leave policies, if implemented properly, certainly seem like an effective way to attract Millennials to your firm, not to mention a great way to remove annual leave accruals from your balance sheet.

I would also dare to suggest that outside of the US, where the majority of research and anecdotal evidence on unlimited leave programs has come from, the figures around staff actually using their leave entitlements under such schemes may be a significantly higher.

US employees across the board tend not to use their leave allocation. Only 51 per cent use their full allocation and 15 per cent use no leave at all. French workers, on average, take twice as many vacation days their American counterparts.

ISM2015: 3D Printing and what it means for procurement

This article is part of a series about Hugo’s visit to ISM2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.

3dprinting

3D printing has been around for 35 years – that’s a lot longer than I’d realised. I was a bit puzzled by this, as to my knowledge people have only been talking about the technology for five years or so. Eric Miller of Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies tells me that he’d been trying to get the press to pay attention to 3D printing for 20 years, but it wasn’t until “some idiot in Texas printed a 3D plastic gun that blew up in his face” that people finally started paying attention.

I’ve chosen this session to get myself up to speed about the technology basics and try to understand what it’s going to mean for the procurement profession. Miller talks about a “revolution” in prototyping and manufacturing. He says a lot of people are excited by 3D printing but warns against regarding it as a magic box. These printers aren’t the transporter from Star Trek made real, they’re not going to bring every off-shored job back to the US, and they’re not simply about pushing “print” and getting a part – there’s a lot of work that goes on before and after the print. What they are good for, Miller says, is making prototypes, low-volume and custom parts, and tooling creation. They’re a fantastic way to enable low-volume distributed manufacturing – for example, if I create a prototype plastic toy in Australia, I can simply send the computer model to my company’s multiple plants all over the world so they can print exactly the same product.

Why is 3D printing such a big deal?

  • It’s equivalent to the leap from the printing press to desktop printing. A 3D printer means we no longer need tooling or specialised machines to create things.
  • You no longer need to be a manufacturing expert or own lots of equipment to create an object.
  • The industry is growing fast: there’s been 27.3% compound annual growth in the industry over 26 years, 33.8% from 2012–14. This is counting industrial systems only and doesn’t take into account hobby printers (yes, people have hobby 3D printers in their homes).

How does it work?

First of all, you create a mathematical representation of a solid object (a computer model). Miller shows us a mathematical model of a teapot in a CAD or “faceted” (triangle graphics) file. These models can be created by the user or downloaded, then you send it to the printer to make a solid “printout” of that object. The layered manufacturing process begins – the printer takes the mathematical model, its computer slices it into multiple thin layers and the “hand” builds up the object one layer at a time. It can cut the layer, deposit the layer, glue the layer, harden the layer, fuse the layer and more. Miller encourages us to think of this in contrast to the usual way of manufacturing – forging, extruding, machining, moulding and casting.

Different technologies

This was the cool part of Miller’s presentation. In my ignorance I thought there was only one type of 3D printer, but he rapidly ran through no fewer than eight different technologies, namely:

  • Layered Object Manufacturing (LOM) – described above. This was the printer type on display at the ISM2015 exhibition hall.
  • Stereolithography (SLA) – the first commercially successful technology, involving a fairly nasty chemical that hardens when exposed to an ultraviolet laser.
  • Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) – plastic is extruded through a heated nozzle like a glue gun.
  • Binding: clear or coloured glue is printed onto a bed of powder – powder types include plastic, sand, gypsum, metal and ceramic.
  • Polyjet: prints layers of liquid photopolymer which is then cured with a UV light. Can jet multiple materials in a single print but requires constant upkeep or clogs after every use.
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): uses a laser to sinter particles together and uses powder to support. Great for large, durable parts.
  • Direct Laser Melting (DLM): like sintering, but more powerful. Uses laser to melt particles together and can use an electron beam (ARCAM). Very high uptake in the aerospace industry.
  • Direct Energy Deposition: blows powder into the focal point of multiple laser beams (very cool).

Miller notes that many executives are pushing their engineers and supply chain experts into 3D printing, and advises that you don’t just rush out and buy a printer. Do your research, get advice and find out which printer is right for your organisation.

What’s the future hold for 3D printing?

This is where it gets really exciting. Miller pictures large-scale 3D printers that could create on-demand emergency housing in developing countries or disaster relief, body parts (scaffolding for stem cells and laying down tissue) and personalised medicine such as printing orthopaedics (this could happen today but insurance companies won’t pay for it). He imagines a 3D printer in every school and one at every neighbourhood copy centre. We’ll have 3D printed clothing, 3D printed food, nano-scale devices, and more.

Advice for supply chain professionals dealing with 3D printers

Miller stresses that the first thing to remember is that it’s really no different from any other manufacturing process, with the same rules and requirements applying. This means that supply chain professionals need to establish quality and traceability standards, which can be difficult without understanding the 3D process, planning for it and controlling it. He advises that engineers may try to use this technology to bypass procurement, as parts will be made at the point of use rather than in a distant factory. Scheduling is a big issue, with time needed before the print to prepare the mathematical model and ensure the product has a professional finish afterwards. To be cost-effective, 3D printers need to be run near full-utilisation (i.e. continuously), which will need careful planning.

One foreseeable problem caused by 3D printing is the theft of intellectual property. If a company was able to steal a mathematical model of a branded product such as a Disney toy, this would be a major IP breach. You’d no longer have cheap copies of branded products on the market, but the exact same product printed identically. Miller talks about a Phoenix golf-club manufacturer who hired PADT to create the mathematical representation of a new golf club design, and sent along a security guard to watch the entire process and ensure the file wasn’t copied or leaked. Miller feels that firearms printing isn’t really an issue – it means there will be more unregistered and untraceable firearms on the market, but it’s not as if this isn’t already a problem in the US.

As the session ends I pull out my phone. One of the nifty ideas in play at ISM2015 is the use of QR code feedback cards that you can scan with your QR reader and rate the session. Miller gets top marks.

Founded in 1915, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) is the first and largest supply management association in the world. A not-for-profit association with 47,000+ members and 140+ affiliated organizations around the globe.