The pandemic thrust supply chain management and risk mitigation into the limelight. What happens to the procurement folks?
This article was originally published on Supply Chain Dive on October 22 2020 and is republished here with permission of the author and website.
Bonnie was quiet at dinner, and her father asked what was wrong. She said in school today, her 6th grade class was talking about careers and what their parents did for work.
Bonnie said her mother, Monica, was a senior buyer at a local electronics manufacturing plant. Other parents were small business owners, electricians, plumbers, teachers, members of local police and fire departments, and even a professional surfer. Bonnie’s friend Tyler’s father was a supply chain manager for an online marketplace, and the class voted his job “coolest and best.”
“Why can’t you get a cool job like Tyler’s dad, Mom?” asked Bonnie.
And that is one of the core problems in the procurement profession these days. The identity of the profession is changing, once again.
Pandemic-related disruptions in consumer and industrial supply chains are making headlines, pushing the once relatively obscure work into the limelight. How companies manage their supply chains has become as important to a company’s success as financial health, market share and customer relationships.
And that is why many companies have reshuffled leadership, appointing managers from other functions to run supply chain operations. These managers often have limited or no procurement, planning or logistics background. The logic is that if the talented finance or marketing manager is now in charge of the supply chain, it must be important.
In many companies, this expanded universe of supply chain management, with leadership from finance or marketing functions, is swallowing up the somewhat independent procurement function. Rather than actively driving the supply side of the business, the function may again be relegated into a subservient support role.
But we can change that.
Acknowledge the change in the business climate
Companies have finally discovered the importance of the supply chain and are adding resources to shore it up. Supply chain management is also more customer facing these days, so adding an existing customer-facing leader may actually be the best thing for the business.
Some procurement leaders may feel they have lost influence or leadership. But the increase in importance and scope of the supply chain function should lift all participants. Consumer-facing businesses must address questions and concerns about the origins of their products. Are they sustainably sourced? Free of forced labor? Fair trade? Procurement holds the answers and can shine here.
Procurement professionals are a resilient bunch. Embrace the change and get ready to contribute in an expanded scope with certainly higher visibility.
Own procurement’s core responsibilities
Sourcing, supplier performance and managing supply chain risk are procurement responsibilities that aren’t going away. If anything, these critical functions are becoming more important.
Those new to supply chain management, or in existing functions like planning, distribution or transportation, may not fully comprehend the complexities of the procurement process and how tough it is to manage a full range of global suppliers.
This is a perfect time to reinforce our reputation in an evolving organization by doing our jobs very well and teaching others about the nuances of supply management.
2020 needs a reboot! Read on for tips on how to reframe the year from hell into a strategy to launch your career into success in 2021.
2020 – the one we all want to forget. It’s the year where we want to phone the universe’s IT department and ask if they can please push restart and download the new update, cos this ain’t working.
It’s a year of meme gold and one for the history books.
It’s been a year of heart warming collective connections and soul crushing defeats on a personal and global scale.
The highs were hard fought and the lows had you banning sweat pants on a weekend as they were reclassified as office wear.
The end of the year is fast approaching
Typically at this time of year we begin to reflect on the year we’ve had, what went well and not so well. Plans start to form for the year ahead. What’s different about this year is that everyone is looking forward to seeing the back of it, like 2020 was some awkward uninvited guest.
Well this guest doesn’t have a curfew, it won’t just leave because we want it to. There seems to be a collective wish that if we just push through, when we wake up on the morning of the 1st of January 2021 everything will be different somehow.
2020 is not dirt on your shoulder
You can’t just brush it off.
If we see 2020 as some embarrassing ex that we want to forget about, then we risk falling again. Because the truth is that this new place we find ourselves in is here to stay and by that I don’t mean the cliche of “this is the new normal”, but living with relative unpredictably and having things we took for granted (like being able to travel) still being out of our reach.
2020 offers us a chance for growth. When people say “can we get rid of 2020 already! Am I right?” I actually struggle to join in with the 2020 beat up. It had definite lows, but 2020 offered a chance to work differently, innovate products and undertake self reflection and learn new resilience skills. There was no rhythm, predictive analysis or scenario planning that could prepare anyone for this.
I noticed the people pushing through where the ones that were asking “what can I learn?” and “what is this bringing forward?”. As a team we found ourselves discussing how we can work with more heart and how can we stay connected.
Resilience used to be about dealing with change. Traditional courses had an underlying agenda that if you prepared enough then you could handle anything, well how do you prepare for an international pandemic? Resilience is now about vulnerability. Vulnerability is the only thing we have left when everything else goes out the window. It doesn’t mean you become weaker by opening yourself up to be picked apart (a fear response) but rather it’s the fuel for innovation.
A rebel mindset is important, one where we throw out the rules we’ve built for ourselves because heck – COVID has thrown our sense of security out the window so why stick to office platitudes and tired ways of doing things?
Try these tips to take the best lessons from your 2020 into the future:
Try something new and see how it goes. If an inner critic raises it’s head, banish it
Explain what motivates and drives you, shift your perspective from focusing on the details and the what and began to ask why and how
Don’t be afraid to pick a passion project and call it that, share it widely and recruit people to your cause
Open up to your colleagues about your struggles or blockages in your work and you’ll be surprised how many can relate
Stop thinking about all the things you can’t control or the things you can’t do and start thinking: if there are no rules and the shackles are off, what can you challenge, change or make?
2021 is going to be much like 2020 but hopefully we’re all a little bit more prepared. Rather than leaving 2020 in the dust, what can you thank it for?
Marketplace solutions will drastically improve end users’ experience, increase our own efficiency and revolutionise how suppliers and buyers engage with one another – so here’s what to look for in a Marketplace Platform.
Over the past two decades, we have seen an outstanding increase of B2C e-commerce platforms, now representing 30% of total trade1. As a result, it is no surprise that B2B e-commerce is also seeing significant growth in popularity built upon B2C e-commerce platforms’ success. Until recently, B2B e-commerce platforms have been limited to a small number of indirect categories such as MRO or Travel & Transportation. However, we are now seeing companies expand their use of marketplaces across indirect categories due to an understanding that the path forward is to transform the Source-to-Pay process to allow end users to self-service their requirements.
Marketplace solutions will transform the overall Source to Pay (S2P) process in three ways:
1. Improve the end-user experience from search to buy, allowing budget holders to buy “in three clicks” as they are used to in their personal B2C shopping experience, thus increasing client satisfaction
2. Drastically reduce procurement teams’ time and effort responding to tail & tactical needs so they can focus instead on value-add activities and strategic supplier relationships
3. Improve the way suppliers and buyers engage with each other, with a focus on small and medium businesses — a move from “off-line” to digital offers via the marketplace reduces the visibility gap of products and services offered by large and small suppliers.
In this blog, I outline the transformation journey to prepare for a marketplace approach, as well as identifying how to select the right marketplace platform for your needs.
Transformative journey for end users, sourcing team and suppliers
The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated S2P digitisation and the need for CPOs to propose new approaches that satisfy both end users and suppliers. These include improving end user satisfaction through self-sourcing, focusing the sourcing team on value-add activities, and complying with preferred supplier strategies.
Improve end-user satisfaction through self-sourcing
For a certain level of need, under a certain spend clip threshold, it can be onerous for end users to follow company guidelines, be trained on ERP or e-sourcing platforms and to try to find the products or services they want. The risk of this burdensome process is that end users may go “off-line” (outside of Procurement’s visibility), select their preferred vendor, then issue a retrospective PO to their organization.
Whereas, embedding a marketplace platform into the company’s ERP or e-sourcing platform will transform the “procurement end-user journey,” giving the power of sourcing and selecting vendors to the end-users to suit their needs and leveraging the natural “best buy” environment of the marketplace platform to improve savings.
Focus the sourcing team on value-add activities
Once the traffic of spot buy and tactical needs is funneled through a marketplace environment, the sourcing team can focus on the strategic needs of the organisation. They will also gain visibility to the tail and tactical needs of their organisation thanks to the analytics capabilities embedded into the more advanced marketplace environments. With this view, they can analyse the marketplace traffic and supplier revenues and consider switching some relationships from tactical to strategic.
Comply with preferred supplier strategies
In an “off-line,” non-digitised environment without means to track spend, it can be difficult to push tail and tactical spend to preferred suppliers such as minority vendors, corporate social responsibility (CSR) suppliers and small to medium suppliers.
The degree of supplier digitisation and ability to offer products and services “on-line” clearly allows procurement organisations to put those highly digitised suppliers and offerings in front of their end-users more easily than suppliers who are not as digitised. Marketplaces level the playing field for smaller suppliers. And, marketplace ranking capabilities linked with supplier performance (such as EcoVadis ratings, on time delivery, minority spend, etc.) gives Procurement Sustainability Managers the ability to build preferred supplier lists directly into the marketplace environment and funnel end-user demand to those suppliers.
As companies decide to invest in marketplace capabilities, there are some key criteria to consider before selecting the platform that best fits your organisation’s needs.
How to select the right platform
Public vs. private B2B marketplaces
Public B2B marketplaces are the most developed solutions across the platform industry today. They follow the same principles of the B2C environment where suppliers and their associated products, services and pricing policy are fully managed by the platform owners. Platform owners may decide to provide their own products vs. those provided by suppliers invited into the marketplace, with limited visibility to alternative suppliers for the procurement organisation. Consider the following key benefits and limitations of public marketplaces:
Public Marketplace benefits for Procurement organisations:
· Content is fully managed by the platform owners
· Onboarding of vendors is driven by the marketplace
· Integration within current procurement platform is easy
Public Marketplace limitations for Procurement organisations:
· Limited categories are available
· Limited ability to integrate with legacy supplier base to offer products and services that the organisation has a history of buying
· Payment process is often managed directly in the platform and control of spending is more difficult
· Inability for an organisation to monetise their own supply chain
Given the limitations of public marketplaces, we are seeing a rapid rise in private marketplace platforms. In some industries, the use of private marketplaces is quite natural. The hospitality industry, for example, was among the first to build procurement private marketplaces to propose to their franchisees and agents the ability to leverage their combined buying power, thanks to the digitisation of their needs both on the product and service side.
Before deciding to build your own private marketplace, a procurement organisation will need to size the effort required to build and maintain such an environment. Consider also the following key benefits and limitations of private marketplaces:
Private Marketplace benefits for Procurement organisations:
· Procurement organisation is fully in control of the suppliers onboarded
· Historical vendors and associated content will help end-users buy-in
· Fully aligned with internal procurement process including vendor payment
· Organisation’s ability to monetise their own supply chain
Private Marketplace limitations for Procurement organisations:
· Content critical for marketplace adoption is managed by the procurement organisation
· Potential lack of supplier competition on the marketplace
· Time and effort required to set-up the environment vs. a plug and play public marketplace
Other critical aspects to consider when evaluating marketplaces
Products and services
Marketplaces are developed and implemented mainly to reduce the effort of managing tail and tactical spend. Within that spend remit, services are often as important as products. However, if a marketplace environment is optimised for products, it can be a challenge to add services. Customisation and specification refinements are typically required to handle both.
Today, some platform providers have dedicated their platform to services while others to products — the end-user has to select one or the other environment based on his or her needs.
When selecting a private marketplace, if the procurement organisation has a say in the functionality, be sure to look at the platform’s collaboration capabilities between the end-users and suppliers. Collaboration bots can refine user needs and are a key enabler to self-source.
One of the first objectives of a marketplace is to control tail and tactical spend. But next, we can expect the marketplace environment to manage much larger spend. To be successful in with larger spend and to differentiate further from e-catalogue providers, marketplaces need to increase the average spend clip levels while keeping a “best-buy” environment. Having “three quotes and a buy” capability within the marketplace will allow end-users to manage small RFQs directly for both products and services and will push upwards the level of spend transacted on the platform.
Analytics capabilities are important for both the sourcing team and the suppliers. It will bring to the sourcing team a clear view of the organisation’s needs and potential missed savings reporting (such as when end users do not select the best available prices). For the suppliers, it is equally important that they understand how they are positioned in term of pricing, but also that they understand the most popular products and services to continue providing them and increase their revenue while participating in a “best-buy” environment.
With all of their benefits, whether public or private, we can expect B2B marketplaces to continue their rapid expansion into procurement organisations. Marketplaces can dramatically improve user experience, enabling end users to self-serve when buying. They can free up procurement staff to focus on more strategic activities. And, marketplaces help connect buyers and suppliers and give more visibility to SCR suppliers and their offerings.
(1) Brohan, M. (Dec 1, 2020). Gross sales on B2B marketplaces will finish strong in 2020 Digital Commerce 360. https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/2020/12/01/gross-sales-on-b2b-marketplaces-will-finish-strong-in-2020/
As 2020 comes to a close, let’s take a moment to reflect on the year that changed everything and prepare for what comes next.
Close your eyes. Breathe in… breathe out. And again: Breathe in, breathe out.
The chaos of 2020 is nearly over.
Back in February, we knew that COVID-19 would represent a watershed moment for procurement and supply chain professionals everywhere. But little did we know just how severe and lasting the impact would be. Our own research found that 97% of the world’s supply chains were disrupted. Fast-forward nine months, and procurement and supply chain management has changed forever, and so has our world.
2020 was, simply put, difficult, stressful and disruptive. Everything we did and experienced was in the backdrop of a global pandemic – which affected how we think and interact, to how much we work and see our friends and family. But amidst the craziness, the pandemic also created new opportunities for our profession to shine, make a difference and get the recognition we deserve. And we delivered, in a big way.
Regardless of how you are feeling right now, there’s no turning back. The new year is around the corner. As 2021 approaches, what matters is how we adapt, move forward and chart our next course.
Unfortunately, and despite our best hopes, the first half of next year likely promises more of the same stress. But if we’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s that we are remarkably resilient, capable and in many cases, supernormal. We have everything we need to thrive and rise above the challenges, regardless of what is thrown our way.
Procurement Reflections on 2020: Super Heroes and Change Makers
While it’s easy to harp on the chaos of 2020, we prefer to think positive – and you should too. Consider all that we accomplished. In less than a year, our profession:
Digitised and modernised the way we operate and collaborate
Helped our colleagues make connections and find new jobs
Played an essential role in helping our organisations navigate the financial crisis
We also experienced a crash course in supply chain risk. We got knocked down, picked ourselves up and made seismic changes to the way we think, plan and operate. In the process, we created a more secure, reliable and sustainable supply chain than ever before.
As a profession, we should be proud. Sure, we have battle scars, but those scars make us stronger and prepare us to tackle whatever is thrown our way. That’s key – because 2021 promises to be another watershed year. Along with the ongoing financial crisis, many procurement and supply chain leaders will be tasked with protecting and accelerating the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain – and all the supporting elements that come with it. For those that play a role, whether big or small, it will be one of the most important initiatives they ever take on. Thankfully, after the year we have just experienced, we can be confident that our profession is ready and prepared.
Your New Year’s Resolution: Gratitude and Reflection
If you’re like me, there’s a million things you want to do next year. There are goals to set and plans to make. Everything can and should be made better in 2021.
Instead of obsessing about all the things you want next, give thanks for what you have right now. Be proud of what you have accomplished. Celebrate with all those who helped you along the way.
I’ll go first. I am profoundly grateful and appreciative of our entire community. Thank you for reading and contributing. Thank you for sharing your strategies and experiences. Thank you for lifting each other up and lending a helping hand to your peers in need. Our community was all-in in 2020 – and we helped thousands of people and companies along the way. For that, I am both grateful and amazed.
Now it’s your turn. We have another big year ahead of us. But before we get caught up in it, let’s take the break we deserve. Let’s reflect on all the good we have done. Let’s spend more time with friends and family. Let’s celebrate our successes.
And let’s remember to breathe. In and out. Over and over again.
Worried that your job may be on the chopping block? How to play offense & save your job!
“The best defense is a good offense.” No doubt you’ve heard this phrase. It’s been attributed to many different leaders, Michael Jordan, Knute Rockne, George Washington. But it’s an adage that’s just as old as war. This idea is also shared in business. Get out ahead of the problems. Anticipate. This is a great idea, especially if it’s starting to look like you might get fired or laid off.
First off, I think it’s fair to share that employers don’t always do an excellent job of firing people; they wait too long, do a really bad job at documenting reasons that would lead to firing people, look at emotional rather than rational reasons for letting someone go. HR is usually the fall guy – giving the manager an excuse for doing something they’ve likely wanted to do. Supervisory or management training doesn’t always include how to make good hiring decisions or how to provide constructive feedback in a way that encourages a good employee to improve or help them make a graceful exit if the position isn’t a good match for the employee’s skills.
Yet, even knowing all of that, it doesn’t make it any better to feel like your job is on the line. Even if you really don’t like your job.
What choice have I got?
Most people I’ve talked to about this had a bit of a fatalistic attitude about it – much of the advice was preparing for what’s next: get your things together, fix up your resume and start looking for another opportunity. And honestly, take it at face value: this may be the chance you didn’t realize you were waiting for!
Which, let’s be honest, this may be what your organization is hoping you’ll do (if they are planning to fire you). Firing someone is hard. It’s uncomfortable. People are upset. Most leaders don’t like doing it and will do almost anything to avoid it. It’s not much different if you are going to be laid off.
But what if your job isn’t that far gone yet? Let’s talk about things you can do NOW to protect your job. Go on the offense so you aren’t looking for that “hail Mary pass” in the final seconds of the game. For those not familiar with American football, this is a long-shot pass, with very little chance of success. But it doesn’t stop teams from trying it, or fans from rooting for it.
First, let’s review my last post on how to make yourself indispensable. Do something better than others in your organization: be reliable, share information, be curious about your role and your organization. By making yourself indispensable, it will be harder for them to find a reason to either fire you or lay you off.
Share your successes
Keep track of your successes. Share your successes with your manager. Don’t assume they already know. Learn how to tell your story, and tell it often. Help your supervisor be able to tell your story to those higher up. Your success stories will confirm to others that you belong with this organization.
Explore all avenues
Maybe you are seeing the signs of a layoff. The economy, especially in America, is in a recession and lots of people are losing their jobs. If your job is at risk due to a layoff, you can still use being indispensable and successful to help you keep your job. But if it’s bigger, maybe your entire department is about to go! What else is available in your organization? Talk to your boss about opportunities to use your skills in a different area of the organization. Most skills have a level of transferability and if you are at a large organization, there may be a chance to try out something new. The healthcare organization I work at offered staff the opportunity to reskill into an area of direct patient care. Think about what else you can do.
Losing your job sucks. And I’ve been there – fired, laid off and on both sides of the coin! But the work you do now can help you keep your job, assuming that’s the end goal. Or, the work you do now, can help prepare you for that next, awesome opportunity. Good luck!
It doesn’t matter if you usually lurk in the corner at networking events. Or if the word ‘networking’ makes you break out in hives. You were built to network – even during a pandemic.
That’s because you’re already a natural at creating partnerships across supply chains and stakeholders, said Tania Seary, Founder of Procurious.
“Procurement professionals are united by the need to be agile, to be savvy, to be bold,” Seary said. “We can do that alone, but we can do it even better by reaching out to colleagues and contacts to fill the gaps.”
So pour yourself a glass and enjoy a good virtual mingle. Or keep watching “The Crown” on Netflix. Your call.
There’s no question 2020 was a hard year in our industry. We saw first-hand how a crisis can bring out the ugly side of supply chain.
But mostly, we learned how procurement can change the world for the better.
As Supply Chain Revolution CEO Sheri Hinish put it: “We can come from different backgrounds, different parts of the world but at our core, we fundamentally want the same things. So, it’s real and when you think about collaborating within a global context…this is what wakes me up every morning – to create a world that’s bearable, viable and equitable.”
After 2020, it’s back to the drawing board as far as career advice goes! Our expert sources reveal their top career tips moving forward.
As procurement evolves as a profession, so too does the career advice associated with it. Most years, we learn a thing or two more that we’ll need to implement. This year though? Not so much. 2020 has been the year that career advice has not just evolved, but changed entirely. It has been the year where we have redefined what ‘success’ might look like, grown an appreciation for the small things, and valued the people around us even more. It has been the year where we’ve challenged assumptions about not only how we work, but also where we work and why we do what we do.
So what, exactly, has 2020 taught us about our careers? Given the now monumental importance of the supply chain and procurement profession, many experts have weighed on what the very best career advice of 2020 has been. Here’s a round up of the five most important things we’ve learnt this year:
1. We don’t need to be ashamed of being laid off
It’s one of most people’s greatest fears for good reason: no one wants to get laid off. Being laid off (especially in this economic environment) can feel overwhelming, frightening and humiliating. But what is perhaps even worse is contemplating how to explain being laid off to future employers. Won’t they think that it was a problem with you?
No they most certainly won’t, says Imelda Walsh, Manager at The Source Recruitment. Even before the millions of redundancies that happened this year, it was always best practice to be honest with a future employer about why you left your last role.
And especially this year, Imelda says, the stigma around being laid off has all but been put to bed. Being honest about what has happened helps protect your personal brand:
“If you’re honest, it shows you have integrity. If you’re not, it casts doubt over your whole personal brand. It takes an entire career to build a positive personal brand, but only a few minutes to destroy one.”
2.Looking after your people is integral to your success
In the past, many have thought of a career as an individual pursuit. In fact, in days gone by, an autocratic management style and having sharp elbows were considered a requisite to success.
But not anymore.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that if our team doesn’t succeed, neither will we. Being a gracious and empathetic person (and leader and team player) has never been more important. In fact, if you want to succeed, this is the exact advice that Ian Holcroft, Director at Murphy, gives all aspiring CPOs:
“No matter the technological advancements we have now and into the future, people will still be at the centre of everything we do. In strange and challenging times, it’s even more important to look after your people – understand what drives them, what challenges they have outside work and the status of their mental health.” `
Usually, a combination of training, experience and a great mentor can help us develop these leadership skills. But a curveball that 2020 has thrown us is that these aren’t the only ways to develop leadership skills. In fact, a crisis can be fundamental in helping us to develop the ability to lead through uncertainty, which is an essential part of leading.
Mark Holyoake, founder of Holyoake Search, believes that 2020 has provided us all with a unique opportunity to lead, and this is something that companies look for when hiring senior procurement professionals:
“Leading through uncertainty and adversity has certainly been required of late. As a CPO, you’ll always face uncertainty – so leading in this way is a great skill to be nurturing now.”
4. Connect inside – and outside – of your industry
For as long as we’ve been offering career advice, we’ve said one thing to all procurement professionals: building your connections is key. In fact, building connections is the reason we created Procurious in the first place.
But this year has made the need to connect with others – both inside our team and industry, and outside of it – even more important. With the nature and complexity of some of the supply chain disruptions we’ve seen, connecting and collaborating with all manner of people is now not just a nice to have, but a need to have in order to problem solve and keep our organisations functioning.
Ian Holcroft, Director at Murphy, believes there’s been no better time to remember one particular old, yet critical adage:
“It isn’t about what you know, but rather who you know.”
In procurement, we like to think we’re excellent problem solvers. We’re also (usually) excellent risk managers, organisers, and creators of seamless processes.
But this year basically obliterated our assumptions about almost everything we do. It is no longer possible to use old solutions and to solve the new problems we’re experiencing.
They key to solving for this, says Mok O’Keefe, Chief Officer at The Innovation Beehive, is to be expansive in our thinking. He says:
“To be expansive in your thinking, you need to suspend your judgement and forget about assumptions. Say to yourself: how else could this work? Then, when ideas come to mind, ignore the voice that says ‘this is a crazy idea and it won’t work.’ Instead, ask yourself: ‘Under what circumstances could this be possible?’”
It’s fair to say we all need to be a bit more innovative with our careers this year. Mok’s got a great formula for this, which you can read here.
2020, the year careers as we know them changed forever
Like most things after 2020, our careers will never be the same. But could different mean better? Many experts think so. Let’s head into 2020 with a fresh set of advice, a renewed way of looking at things and even higher aspirations for ourselves and our profession.
Wherever you sit within retail – essential v non-essential, online v offline – and wherever you sit in procurement – GFR v GNFR, strategic v tail spend etc., your experiences through the Covid-19 pandemic have been unusual, and challenging. It’s a good time to compare notes.
It looks like there is going to be plenty to talk about at the next National Retail Federation shows, so much so that they have organised one (virtual) for January and (fingers crossed) a second live event in June. There were already some interesting exchanges at a recent network virtual roundtable discussion we organised on surviving the current situation between procurement leaders in the United Kingdom. There was a lot of chat on the need to be agile and adaptable, to mitigate risk and to build resilience in supply chains, all as you might expect. It was a cross-industry affair but some of the liveliest exchanges took place between representatives from the retail sector.
It is not difficult to understand why. Whereas in most sectors it is easy to say what the overall effect of the pandemic has been, ranging across a spectrum from “catastrophic” to “beneficial” passing through “hmm, OK”. Retail, however, has experienced the full gamut. It’s been the worst of times for many, and the best of times for a few.
For high street department stores and many fashion brands – anything that falls under the definition of “non-essential” or “discretionary spend” in these Covid-19 times – it has been at, or near, the catastrophic end of the scale, with lockdowns and other restrictions. Debenham’s, one of the UK’s most famous department stores, faces administration (analogous to going into Chapter 11 in the United States). The Arcadia Group, which includes iconic brands such as Burton, Dorothy Perkins, TopShop and Wallis, is also in a desperate situation. The companies that are somehow hanging on in this sub-sector have had to focus on careful cost management and cost retention and reorienting the business around online sales; something the Arcadia Group has struggled to do.
A participant working in procurement with a high street chain underlined that it really does come down to a Darwinian struggle: “The pandemic has been all about survival of the most adaptable. We are trying to come out the other side of that with a viable business. But trying to be agile with changing customer needs and changes in government direction in what had been an extremely tough environment for us anyway has been very difficult. We had to take some tough decisions to ensure that our business remains viable for the future.”
Maintaining procurement’s profile after the downturn
For companies that are struggling but just about keeping their heads above water, it may seem like quite a good time to be in procurement, because in a recession, all of a sudden the business is all about cash retention and saving money. That’s all very well for a few months or a couple of years but how will you stay on the executive agenda when things pick up again? There is an opportunity to become a more commercial organisation and present yourself as a business partner. A trusted advisor. It’s not just about negotiating a contract. There’s a bunch of suppliers that you really need to manage, and a few, probably very few, that fit within SRM. One of our contributors offered the following advice: “Don’t miss the opportunity. Look at these suppliers as an investment, as an asset to your business bringing innovation, first to market, exclusivity or whatever.
“It is also worth considering alliance programs. For example, you might consider a marketing alliance with one of your strategic suppliers: ‘We’re an important client of yours, how about investing some of your marketing dollars with us?’ Or, ‘How about making your next product launch exclusive to us for a week or two?’ Alliance programs are one of the ways you will maintain procurement and supply management visibility when the economy revives.”
At the more positive end of the spectrum, grocery supermarkets have seen an uplift in sales but their supply chains were severely strained. Back in March and April their shelves were cleared of toilet rolls and staples such as rice and pasta. Plus there was the scramble to secure Perspex screens, sanitisers, and extra security personnel. When it came to the second wave, they generally managed to stay on top of things, but procurement was again under pressure, and there was some regret that little had been achieved in terms of automation. They were being forced to do more with less. A procurement director at one of the UK’s leading chains commented on why retail is behind the curve. “Supermarkets are a very high volume, very low margin business. This means that whenever we apply for an investment, we must show a very compelling ROI and I have not yet been able to do that for procurement software. They totally understand the benefit it brings in terms of better sourcing decisions and the indirect benefit of knowing where your money is spent, but the feedback you typically hear is, ‘That sounds like jam tomorrow’.” Yet when the Coronavirus hit, it could have provided greater agility and efficiency.
Online retailers have seen an uplift, of course, but they too have faced unexpected challenges, and in particular the problems of securing facemasks, PPE etc. to carry on with business as usual in logistics centres and offices, as well as issues around supply chain resilience in the short term. But questions have also been raised as to whether the business model is fully fit for purpose in the longer term as competition from new entrants forces management to look at possible business transformation projects.
GFR and GNFR should talk
One area of concern for procurement, and in sub-sectors such as fashion in particular, is the split between goods for resale (GFR) and goods not for resale (GNFR). “Procurement” tends to be responsible only for the latter, and “buyers” or “merchandisers” for the former. Trying to bridge the gap and create a conversation that both can learn from is challenging. They tend not to talk the same language. Literally. Fashion buyers tend to reflect the demographic they serve, i.e. overwhelmingly younger people, while the procurement folks tend to be older and focused on driving down price. A participant on the call told us that his company’s buyers are often 19 and 20-year-olds straight out of fashion school, with no formal procurement training. Yet they are sent off to places like India and Vietnam with £20 million in their back pockets to buy clothes. They tend to see what they do as an art, intuitively knowing what pair of jeans will look good on someone next year. Our contributor said he tells them, “Yes, but selecting factories, managing suppliers, understanding materials and negotiating price requires a more studied and scientific approach’.”
So they set up a procurement academy with a view not only to educating the GNFR crowd, but also making common cause with the retail buyers’ team. Some progress has been made. But a cross-discipline project like this needs executive sponsorship.
Across the entire retail spectrum, it seems relatively hard to get investment in procurement software. In a large enterprise in a non-retail environment, where there are hundreds of people in procurement and they are making double-digit margins, it is far easier to reach for automation Nirvana. In a business where the focus is on high volume and small margins, it is difficult to grab executive attention. Yet the reality is that at most retail companies there is considerable tail spend, so there are opportunities to take the first steps on the automation ladder, such as shifting to purchasing from catalogues, using p-cards etc. This will enable procurement teams in retail to look at the more strategic and big-ticket buying.
That said, some point out that there is a real capability issue. It is not easy to tell someone who is used to wallowing around in price negotiations to go and “talk to stakeholders strategically”. You need to think about your operating model as a department. You may need to move away from strict category structures. Before making investments you need to think about the unique needs of your business and not try to force things on people that are not going to work in your environment without significant change management effort and won’t get the advocacy of senior decision-makers.
Here’s 5 ways to make yourself indispensable to your organisation.
Indispensable. I’ve never been a big fan of that word, particularly when talking about the workplace. Indispensable employees can never take uninterrupted time off. Indispensable employees don’t move into new roles. When indispensable employees leave, we try to find their duplicate who can “hit the ground running” so our organisation doesn’t miss a beat. And many times, that replacement ends up disappointing us because we see them as the replacement and don’t look at what they are bringing to the table. That’s because we don’t see indispensable as someone important and needed, but as irreplaceable.
But what if we relook at indispensable to not mean irreplaceable and look at every employee as indispensable, as a needed, valuable part of the team from the moment they walk in the door?
If you felt you were a needed, valuable part of the team, would that change how you walk into work each day? Because here’s the reality: everyone is indispensable. Everyone brings something unique to the workplace. Even the low-skill, skilled trade positions that we sometimes think of as easily fillable. If we start looking at each employee as an individual, we can create a more positive workplace, focusing on the strengths of each employee and what they bring, rather than trying to turn each employee into a clone of each other.
“No one thinks like you. No one has your background. No one has had the experiences you’ve had. No one has your unique talents. There’s no one like you.”
I think there are 5 ways to take advantage of this thought process in your day to day work to not just become indispensable, but to enjoy your work more.
1. Do one thing better than most.
Everyone has something they are good at. Yes, even you. Find that one thing at work that you want to be the go-to person for and share it.
Many times in the workplace, we tend to focus on our weaknesses: where we need to improve so we can be a well-rounded employee. To be indispensable, you can’t be just like everyone else. You need to stand out from the rest. It can be tempting to want to just blend in with the crowd. But I want to encourage you to stand out and share where you shine.
Become the go-to person on that subject or process. In doing this, you will find the other go-to people to partner with and get the job done.
2. Be reliable.
Do what you say you will do. You need to be trust-worthy. Communicate clearly on deadlines and expectations. Follow-through is key. One thing I’ve learned is that you also need to update, even if you feel like there’s nothing to add. We need to get out of “no news is good news.” Get in the habit of providing regular updates to let those on the team know what’s happening – even if it’s just to say, “No updates at this time, but everything is progressing as it should.
When people know they can count on you, they will bring you new, interesting things to do because they know you will get it done.
3. Share information.
Create information channels. Many times people will keep knowledge to themselves; but this isn’t about being indispensable, this is about being irreplaceable.
“Indispensable employees are the jacks-of-all-trades, and they do not necessarily want to hold all of that information in. Instead, they desire to share institutional knowledge with coworkers, and gain an understanding of their coworkers and their organisation by doing so.” (Lifehack.org)
While this may seem to contradict the first recommendation, it doesn’t. Sharing knowledge creates a stronger team.
You want to be able to take time off, undisturbed, so the truly indispensable employee ensures others have the information they need.
4. Know the business.
Understand the big picture. Every industry is different, just as every profession is different. Many times, you can work across many industries if you are good at your profession. But you will find that hiring managers like it if you know the industry. Understanding not just what your organisation does, but the purpose of the industry and how your role fits into the industry will help you find your niche to better articulate your indispensability.
Become a student of the industry and find out what sets your organization apart. Share with others.
5. Be curious.
Find creative solutions. Most breakthrough discoveries happen because of curiosity. Great things happen when someone asks Why or What If.
“When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions. In addition, curiosity allows leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more-trusting and more-collaborative relationships with colleagues.” – Francesca Gino, Harvard Business Review
There you have it: 5 ways to make yourself more indispensable at work. Each person can take a few steps to not only improve your career personally but also within your organisation. If we start to think about being indispensable about being needed, wanted in the organisation rather than the idea that you can never be replaced, we’ll also have a healthier organisation.
Keeping up with work can be hard enough during lockdown but earning your CPD points can be even trickier. Fortunately, there are still plenty of options available to you.
Given what’s happened over the past 12 months, it might take more than a stroll down memory lane to remember what you were doing at the beginning of 2020. ‘Pandemic’ was a fun board game to play and the only corona that most of us knew of was the popular brand of beer. But perhaps you were one of the many procurement professionals who made a New Year’s resolution to gain their CIPS Chartership.
Even if they had lasted that long, by March most resolutions had been cast aside as people adjusted to a ‘new normal’. Working from home became a way of life, work largely turned to the digital side and chartership may have been put to one side to come back to once things had settled down a bit.
However, once again people are keen to push on with personal and professional development, gaining the skills and knowledge to help them progress. After all, the perfect role may not wait for normal service to be resumed. This is where a digital profession comes to the fore and shows how to turn the new normal to its advantage.
Your CPD ‘New Normal’
We’ve discussed previously about the chartership journey that people will choose to undertake. Previously, gaining and maintaining chartership was a challenge in itself. But without the CIPS Central and Branch events, procurement conferences and industry networking that would normally form the basis for annual CPD hours, maintaining chartership was only going to be harder.
And this is where CIPS have stepped in to provide its global membership with the knowledge, resources and learning that it needs to start earning those hours. And the best thing is, it’s pretty much lockdown proof!
If you are setting out on your chartership journey, or are looking for a way to hang onto your hard-earned qualifications even without being able to travel outside of your hometown, you need these five CPD hacks to help boost your learning and development during lockdown.
1.Attend a CIPS Event
CIPS usually has a wide array of events available to its members for attendance during a year. Even though people aren’t able to attend in person, there is a plethora of events still available on the CIPS Events hub. There is a mix of Central and Branch events and there is a good chance of finding something in your area.
These events are a great way to network and the advantage of them being virtually run is that members have a chance to attend some events they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. Plus, each event comes with 1-2 CPD hours for attending.
2.Do Some Online Learning
If you find yourself with some spare time, why not head over to the CIPS eLearning Portal and do some eLearning. There are courses on Ethical Procurement (key for your Ethics exam) and CIPS Qualification modules to help you brush up before exams. On top of this there are over 250 hours of courses, varying in length and topic, but all great ways of boosting your procurement knowledge.
Each hour of your eLearning can be counted towards your CPD, and CIPS will even credit you for eLearning done on other platforms too. So if – and it’s a big if – you finish all the CIPS courses, you can continue to log your CPD using applicable courses elsewhere.
3.Attend a Conference
We might not be able to attend in person, but there are plenty of procurement conferences available to attend as a digital delegate. If the conference has a theme related to the procurement profession it can be counted towards CPD hours. From CIPS to Procurement Leaders, there are plenty to choose from.
If you missed it, why not go back and revisit the Big Ideas Summit 2020 if you didn’t get the chance to attend ‘live’ on the day. Even attending a conference after the day has passed counts – all you need to do is log the hours you spend at it!
4.Give or Receive Coaching or Mentoring
Exhausted the events calendar but still want to connect with other procurement professionals? What better way to do this than linking up with your team at work, or your peers, for some coaching or informal learning. Think about procurement topics you think you could do with some help with, or maybe something work-related that you could do with some advice on.
In the digital setting, it’s even more important to keep up our connections. Use the digital tools that are available to you, or a platform like Procurious to meet up with like-minded people, and set up some training sessions. Not only do you get a chance to help your fellow professionals, but you can log CPD hours at the same time.
5.Books, Podcasts and Webinars
If virtual conferences aren’t your thing, and you’ve had plenty time sitting in front of your computer recently, you can earn CPD hours by reading a book, magazine, industry journal or published report. Or, if you prefer, listen in to a procurement podcast or webinar.
There some excellent podcasts available in the procurement sphere – here are just a few for you to try:
Even if you can’t get out and about to do it, you’re now armed with the tools to boost your CPD hours. But there are a few things you need to remember.
Firstly, there is more that you can do to earn CPD hours than you might think – all we’ve picked out here are some of the most common ones. If you’d like more information on the CPD process and how to earn your hours, CIPS has an easy to follow guide right here.
Secondly, to make sure your time counts you’ll need to complete the CIPS Ethical Procurement and Supply eLearning and Test. You can’t be Chartered without passing this on an annual basis. Plus, it has the added bonus of making sure you’re up to date with the latest ethical procurement regulations. Finally, remember to log your CPD hours. You can do this by completing a log and updating this on your ‘My CIPS’ account online. All that’s left now is to decide how you want to earn your hours!