Why You Should Encourage Dissent In Your Procurement Team

Think you’d prefer an easy life when it comes to managing your procurement team? Think again! If you truly want your organisation to flourish and cope with the unthinkable events coming your way, you need an organisation that’s rife with dissent!

From Brexit to the election of President Trump;  from numerous terrorist attacks to Spain’s crisis in Catalonia, unthinkables have been occurring at an alarming frequency throughout the past few years.

Unthinkables such as these disrupt everything that we presume to be stable and constant, they create an unthinkable environment and, unfortunately, they’re not letting up as we approach the end of 2017.

We’ve heard from  Nik Gowing, BBC Broadcaster and Visiting Professor at King’s College before on the importance of managing what he decribes as “the new normal” and preparing for an uncertain future.

If procurement needs to change the way we do business, how should we be managing our teams and who should we be recruiting to help the function, and wider organisation, face the uncertainties of the world today?

Say no to the conformists

“Leaders need to be liberated from that conformity which guaranteed their career progression. The challenge is how to achieve that” says Nik.

As much of the research conducted for Nik Gowing’s and Chris Langdon’s 2015 report Thinking The Unthinkable reveals – leaders are still extremely reluctant to embrace dissenting voices within their organisation.

“We tend to dismiss dissenting voices as cranks or extremists or whatever they are, which I think is dangerous. It’s very difficult within the system to fix this”, said one former top official.

But the alternative is blind conformity and fear of speaking out about key issues and unthinkables. What our organisations don’t need in the age of uncertainty,  is an army of “yes men” who, no matter what their ability or potential are restricted and confined by an ingrained workplace culture of conformity.

“You can take the best analysts in the world, and if you don’t demand outstanding advice from them, you won’t get it.You’ll just get dross”, said Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford.

Say yes to the mavericks!

A welcome alternative is to embrace mavericks and dissent in the workplace. As the Unthinkable report suggests, “rigorous conformity must be seen as at best a neutral qualification, but in reality it is more a negative.”

“If your policy options are all risk averse, then you tend to end up with indecision. If your policy options encompass and embrace the concept of managing risks, then you’ll take a managed risk in the context of the policy frameworks”, said a leading academic specialist in risk-management.

Our procurement teams should  encourage and reward maverick thinkers in their teams because they are the unique thinkers, the innovaters and the ones best placed to predict and cope with unthinkables.

But is this shift in workplace attitude achievable?

How to encourage dissent within your procurement organisation

  1. Stop hiring people like you

One surefire to fail in your attempts at nurturing a team of mavericks, is to employ a non-diverse team.

Diversifying the C-suite whether it’s by skill-set, age, gender, sexuality, outlook or race opens up enormous potential for innovation and different points of view.

A cyber-security specialist [said] “We are guilty of introducing people that are like us into the C-suite as opposed to somebody who is nothing like me but who may well have a different lens, a very different lens …We are recruiting people into our C-suites because they’re like us.

Creating new roles is another way to improve diversity within an organisation. The unthinkable report notes how organisations have employed, for example, a Chief Digital Officer, to manage and prioritise the massive amounts of company data, and Political Scientists who are hired, sometimes for the long term, to advisory boards and management teams of US companies including some in the US Fortune 500.

The ultimate aim is ensuring that all voices are heard to guarantee a range of opinions and input.

Most of us who are chairman or chief executives actually very consciously hire at least one person onto the board, who, by their very nature, is not conformist, is the awkward squad.

2. Build systems that ensure dissenting view find their way to the very top

Rigid organisational structures have a part to play in restricting innovative thinking.

One way to address this is to blur the workplace hierarchys  and encourage open discussion at all levels of the business, giving junior employees a platform, and the confidence to share their opinions and ideas with those at the very top.

They are leaders who encourage open, non-hierarchical debate with unambiguous signals for change that confirm an overarching intention to secure change of behaviour, culture and attitudes. One example is a principle adopted at one major investment bank. In staff meetings there is no longer a visible hierarchy with a chairperson sat at a top table. Attendees stand with a clear expectation that, “Everyone can speak about what they think might happen”.

This approach removes any fear of a “career penalty” for speaking out of turn or sharing a particularly obscure idea.

Part of this process demands that leaders encourage their team to be intellectually and morally courageous.

“They encourage their team to take some risks. They don’t punish you if you don’t succeed every time. I think that is the hallmark of real leaders.”

BBC Broadcaster and Visiting Professor at King’s College Nik Gowing will update delegates at the Melbourne Big Ideas Summit on why business and political leaders are struggling to prepare for unthinkables, and what needs to change.Grab a ticket here to secure your seat!