The Introverts Guide to Office Parties

‘Tis the season for office parties. And also the season for introverts everywhere to agonise over whether they really want to attend…

christmas parties
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There is nothing worse than the festive time of year for an introvert. All the dreaded required and implied invitations come in. It’s also the time of year when energy is lowest, you’re just amped to get out of the office for a well earned break. Not rub shoulders and trade awkward bants with office colleagues that you already see waaaay too much of.

You’re in a Social Pickle

Follow these tips to manage any social situation where you find yourself held hostage.

Parties – do your homework

Don’t ignore it, you’re going to have to face the facts that this dreaded situation is upon you. Find out who is organising the party and ask them how it’s going. You’ll likely get a barrage of problems and issues, act as a safe venting space and you’ll gain their trust. They’ll give you a preview of the rundown of how things are going to go. You can use your new found friendship to conveniently place yourself away from the scheduled office conga line.

Maths is your friend

Arrive early to leave early. Attendance and face time at an office party is about being seen, you don’t have to be there the whole time to get a tick in the box for attendance. It can also double as a great excuse to leave “yeah look I’ve been here 14 hours already helping susan prep the sausage rolls, so I really need to get home to let kid/dog/goldfish out for some air…”

Find a role

Use your new office BFF aka the party organiser to your advantage. Find out if there is anything you can strategically do to “help” to remain largely unseen with limited interaction. Hand out props to people going into the photobooth, help the band get their gear in, clear tables or fill up the toothpicks.

Size matters

The number of people at the party could have an impact on how much the dialled is turned up on your introvert richter scale. Review the RSVP list and check who is going versus who is invited. As you’re scanning the list think of any relevant projects they’ve been involved in and store away some one liners like “how did you find your experience on [x project]?”

Where’s your energy?

The labels of extrovert and introvert were created in the 1920s by the psychologist Carl Jung. In a nutshell he states that the difference comes down to whether people recharge by being around people or being alone.

In a party situation if you can quieten the external stimulus enough you may begin to see where your mind is. If it’s racing in a million different areas worrying about a million different things then you need to focus on just one thing, even if that one thing is twirling the straw in your glass.

Back-up Strategies

If the top tips don’t work then do some prep and follow these tried and true failsafes.

  • Seek Refuge. Find a safe team and stick with them.
  • Infiltrate. Call in back-up, invite some people loosely related to your team and form your own rival crew. Even better if they also hate office parties to! Think of the biggest project your team worked on during the year, are there any stakeholders that you could invite?
  • Decline, don’t go. If you really hate office parties that much then try to decline and offer an alternative like a team lunch out. At least you can limit your interaction to a small group of people.

The Best Kept Secret

The ultimate survival strategy comes down to one thing: own it.

There is no harm in being straight up with people. In fact it can be a really good conversation starter and you’ll probably be surprised how many people are exactly in the same boat.

Own your label and own your needs. Take that fresh air or break in the bathroom to recharge. The hungry extroverts have been filling their bellies with all the social antics and office banter. It’s ok to refuel by yourself on your own terms.

This article is solely the work of the author. Any views expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect official policy of the New Zealand government or of any government agency.

5 Steps to Building an Amazing Presentation

No matter what you’re doing, it’s hard to think you’ll avoid doing a presentation at one point or another. So how do you deliver thrill rather than dud?

awesome presentation
Photo by 祝 鹤槐 from Pexels

If the thought of delivering a presentation to your team, key stakeholders or even the C-suite leaves you in a cold sweat, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Presenting might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you will be able to avoid forever, particularly as your procurement career progresses. At some point you’ll be required to communicate the profession’s value-add or pitch ideas to decision-makers in your organisation. And that means it’s worth getting your skills up-to-speed so you are ready to step up to the plate in style when the time comes.

Fortunately, whether you are delivering a keynote to an audience of thousands or to two members of the senior leadership team, there’s a proven formula to getting it right every time.

One person who I always look to as a mentor in this space is Colin James, an expert speaker and facilitator who has spent the past 25 years working with senior executives around the world, helping them to master their presentation and storytelling skills.

In a recent conversation with Colin for Inside Influence podcast, we discussed the key steps to getting it right when you’re given that all-important hour to present to the CEO or CFO.

Step 1: Walk the (right) walk

The very first thing that you do on stage or in a meeting is vital – it sets the tone for the rest of the time you have. When you enter a room for your next meeting, ask yourself what the way you walked in says about you, your attitude and your intentions for that meeting.

When someone arrives with energy and urgency, sits upright in their seat and makes eye contact with others it signals something very different to a person who slops in and collapses in a chair.  The latter says “I don’t care, I’m exhausted, what am I doing here?” Incredibly, this is all being communicated without a single word being uttered.

What your physiology says about you in the first 30 seconds really counts. Colin’s main simple but effective tip (especially for people seeking to build their professional brand) is this: simply walk faster. Walk faster into the room; walk faster into that meeting or onto the stage – walk faster everywhere you go! The increase in pace will increase your energy – it will also increase the perceived urgency of your objectives.

Step 2: Start strong and finish strong

Any good presentation needs a clear concept (a title) that makes it immediately clear to the audience what your presentation is about – and what you’re trying to achieve. A misleading, ambiguous or dry title could lose your audience just as easily as a muddled or confused structure.

You can’t impress people that aren’t in the room – so first rule of thumb – get a title that’s going to peak the interest of your target market.

It’s also important to bookend your presentation with strong opening and closing statements. The reality is that information communicated at the beginning or the end of an educational episode is far more likely to be retained by your audience than the content in the middle.

The age-old advice on public speaking is useful here – “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them again. Then tell them what you’ve told them.”

Step 3: Divide (into chunks) and conquer

Colin recommended embedding three or four major themes – chunks – into the body of the presentation. These are the ideas, or principles, you want to get across to your audience.

Each chunk should have a principle, and each principle will support your overall concept. The connected detail, i.e. the stories you tell within each principle, should validate that principle and ultimately connect to your concept and title.

So as an example – what three things would your audience need to think, believe or do differently in order to take advantage of what you’re offering in this presentation?

Step 4: Tell a story

Once you have the principles in place – now it’s time to bring them to life through storytelling. Colin recommends that within each principle you need at least one story that illuminates the application of that principle in the world.

This can be a story from the past, an imagined scenario, or a potential event; so long as it is something that allows your audience to see your ideas applied in the real world. Telling a good story requires the following structure:

1. The event: The where, when, who, how and what.

2. The point: Your story needs to come to a clear point. If you’re pitching to decision-makers, this means you want someone to say yes to your idea. People are naturally influenced by social proof. If other people have done it or supported the idea or concept you are pitching – tell them! We don’t search for online reviews and testimonials for no reason – positive social proof makes us far more likely to take action.

3. The link: Your stories should be linked to the outcome you seek. In other words provide an actionable path to a desired outcome for our target audience.

Step 5: Take out 50 per cent

According to Colin, the most common mistake presenters make is to overpack their presentations with content. His advice? Design and plan your presentation for whatever time you have – then take out 50 per cent of the content.

It’s exactly the same concept as packing for a holiday. Most people going on an overseas trip over pack and then spend two weeks dragging around an enormous amount of excess stuff they neither use or wear. The same goes for presenting. Less is more.

So why is all of this important? Most presentations don’t fail because of a lack of good, valuable or important information. Or due to a lack of skill, intent or commitment from the person delivering. Most instead fail because the structure of that information isn’t compelling enough to hold our attention.

Like any exchange of energy – there is a formula we can replicate to get the right results. Once we break that formula down to its most simplistic components – and start consistently applying those rules to our own presentations – the impact takes care of itself.

Julie Masters is a globally recognised expert in influence, authority and thought leadership. She is the CEO and Founder of Influence Nation and Founder of ODE Management – responsible for launching and managing the careers of some of the worlds most respected thought leaders. Julie is also the host of the soon to be launched weekly podcast Inside Influence. An exploration into what it takes to find and own your voice – and then use it to drive a conversation, an idea, an industry or a Nation. To subscribe check out iTunes or Julie’s website.

Closing the Procurement Talent Gap, One GPO at a Time

How do you recruit and retain top talent in procurement? You need to go beyond what’s possible for any one person and leverage the power of communities and technology.

talent gap
Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

If you ask a classroom of children what they want to be when they grow up, you may get answers like “astronaut,” “football player,” “doctor,” or “ballerina,” but it’s rare you’ll hear “procurement professional.” 

Let’s face it, procurement and indirect sourcing are not exactly sexy areas, at least not from the eyes of an outsider. There are few people who know exactly how much value procurement generates for a business and want to invest further in the organisation.

From strategic sourcing and supplier risk management, to contract negotiations and risk mitigation, procurement plays an essential role in any large business.

Talent Shortages Threaten Procurement’s Function

Despite this incredibly important function that procurement fulfils, consultancy firm KPMG reports that the procurement talent shortage is real and only getting worse. Though it might be enlightening to dive into the question of why such a shortage exists, the reality is that it does and this is impacting businesses today.

Ultimately, we need to figure out how to work around it. 

If hiring more procurement professionals is not an option, one obvious procurement strategy for growth is to scale your existing procurement team’s reach as much as possible given the limited resources. There are several ways to do this, from outsourcing work to procurement consulting firms to implementing supplier consolidation strategies.

As an example, Group Purchasing Organisations, also known as GPOs, are gaining popularity as a way to increase the impact of procurement without adding headcount. 

GPOs Are Low-Cost, Low-Effort Alternatives to Adding Headcount

A GPO is an organisation built to leverage the purchasing power of several businesses to take advantage of high-volume discounts from suppliers. The idea being that utilising the collective buying power of its members creates benefits for both vendors who can grow their business and buying organisations that want to get better deals.

In consumer terms, this strategic buying is like purchasing at Costco or a similar bulk discount store. 

GPOs are a great way to centralise procurement functions and scale the impact that procurement can create without the headache of reorganising departments within a company. They allow companies to prevent spend leakage, get better terms and discounting, and outsource the risk and time associated with contract negotiation, not to mention the time saved when employees no longer have to run RFPs for all good and services.

Members of GPOs report significant savings of up to 25, 30, or even 40 per cent of their previously best-negotiated pricing agreements. 

Becoming a GPO Member May Even Help with Recruiting

An added bonus and secondary reason to add a GPO membership to your procurement solutions strategy is that it can help you attract new procurement talent. When potential candidates learn the business is a member, it tells them that cost savings, strategic buying, and risk management are high priorities for your business. A

t a bare minimum, this helps inspire confidence in the business because company leaders are prioritising ways to protect the company and better manage its spend.

It also tells a potential employee that when they come to work in your procurement organisation, they won’t be stuck in the dark ages hunting down RFPs or the latest version of a contract.

Ultimately, an investment in a GPO gives your business a competitive advantage over similar companies looking to hire that may not have considered procurement innovation a priority. And if procurement experts are in such short supply, this could be a serious leg-up. 

The Future of Talent in Procurement Is Uncharted

Even if you don’t opt to go with a group purchasing organisation, there are several ways to make your procurement organisation more attractive to potential new recruits. Investing in new procurement technology, professional training initiatives, innovative recruitment marketing, and more are all ways you can up the business’ desirability as a career driver for future candidates. 

That said, GPOs are a highly manageable and attractive way to both drive savings and efficiency in the short term while signalling to candidates in the longer term that procurement is a priority.

If you’re looking for an efficient and practical way to get the most out of every dollar while scaling your procurement organisation, a GPO is definitely worth a second look. 

Providing Feedback Across Cultures

Providing feedback can be tricky at the best of times. However, throw in cross-cultural considerations and you’re talking a completely different game.

cultural feedback
Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash

As we continue our Cultural Intelligence series, I thought it would be useful to discuss some of the different ways of providing performance feedback that is culturally aligned.

For a start, giving feedback, both positive and constructive is an important aspect of professional development. Most managers appreciate that it is a necessary requirement of their roles although in my experience, many find it difficult and uncomfortable to do it well. It becomes even more tenuous when doing so across cultures.

A client who is a senior leader, recently related an incident where giving performance feedback across cultures backfired. The client, who was in Japan, but not Japanese, was giving feedback to one of his direct reports there. The purpose of the conversation was to improve the performance of the person and their team.

However, the outcome of the feedback session was that the employee felt inferior and inadequate in their role and offered to resign. This was definitely not the intention of the senior leader. As a result, he then had to invest significant time to re-engage the employee, boost confidence and reconsider his delivery style.  

Paved with Good Intention

This is an example of how a good intention can be derailed through a lack of cultural understanding. When working across cultures, it can be useful to have a repertoire of different approaches to feedback so that the intended intentions are achieved.

I want to acknowledge one of my early mentors, Dr Asma Abdullah, who introduced me to these different models of feedback. They are somewhat tongue in-cheek but do provide some alternative ways of thinking about how to give feedback. They are:

The Hamburger

This is a long established, traditional style that most multi-nationals use. It’s where you start with a positive comment (the bun) followed by the negative (the meat) and then conclude with a positive comment (the other part of the bun). So, it’s a (+-+) framework.

This effectively buffers the negative comments with positives ones. Cultures in which this approach would be appropriate are the USA, Australia, UK and Canada.

The Open Sandwich

This style is somewhat more direct, providing constructive comments (the meat) followed by some positive ones (the bread). So, it’s more of a (-+) framework. Cultures where this style is best utilised are the European countries – France, Spain, Italy, Germany -and Nordic countries.

The Meat Only

This is a more direct approach than the open sandwich style, where only the constructive comments are given. There is no buffering and hence it’s a (-) framework. This style would only work in cultures where very direct communication is valued and appreciated such as in The Netherlands, South Africa, Finland and Israel.

The Vegetarian

This style is a rather gentle and indirect way to give feedback. Instead of being direct with the constructive comments (meat), it is hinted at  or subtly made through the use of a story, analogy, metaphor, suggestion or an example of what is expected.  It’s more of a (++) framework.

This approach would be best used in high context cultures such as India, Pakistan, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Consider Your Feedback Repertoire

Giving feedback in a way that achieves an objective and brings about positive shifts and encouragement is greatly assisted when it is done in adherence to the cultural context of the situation. Take some time to assess and consider which style or styles you use. How effective are they in your own cultural context? Would they also be effective in a different cultural setting?

What other styles do you think you may need to add to your own repertoire? Why don’t you try the different models and see what feedback you get!

7 Companies Pioneering Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

With so much written on Artificial Intelligence it’s hard to know where to look. However, there are companies from whom we can take our lead.

artificial intelligence
Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics in business right now. It’s also a bit like teenagers and sex. Everyone seems obsessed with it, everyone feels left out, few actually know what they are doing, so everyone claims they are doing it.

There is so much hype about AI we recently collaborated with Procurious on a quick AI challenge for CPOs at the Big Ideas Summit in Chicago. From their savvy answers you’ll see that many procurement leaders understand the value of AI. What we need as a community is transparency on how it affects us here and now.

The new book AI in Procurement explores many realistic use-cases for artificial intelligence within procurement. The authors Sammeli Sammalkorpi and Johan-Peter Teppala were among the first to pilot AI solutions in procurement software and scoured much of the literature available today on the topic to write their book.

Don’t worry. We won’t get in to too many details about the mechanics and jargon of AI. Before we go through the examples from procurement, there is just one thing to understand.

Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

Many people have a somewhat distorted view of AI. They may remember futuristic movies where chrome-plated androids interact in human-like ways, or computer systems that have natural language conversations.

In reality, most AI applications today are a lot more boring and inconspicuous. You’re likely to interact with AI when you search for address details on Google Maps, or look up a playlist of music on Spotify. It’s already a part of the software you use every day, but you rarely see it.

This is much the same in business. Most of the applications of AI we see in procurement come as solutions to existing problems humans have a hard time solving. They are enablers, rather than replacements to human expertise.

AI in Procurement presents the concept of “human machine collaboration” to explain how AI builds on the strengths of both humans and machines.

7 Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Procurement in 2019

Now that we’ve covered the background, let’s dive into those fresh AI examples across seven different areas of the procurement cycle.

Supplier risk management

AI can be used to monitor and identify potential risk positions across the supply chain. For example, RiskMethods identifies new and emerging supply chain risk events by handling data gathered from different sources, helping to identify emerging risks faster.

Purchasing

AI can be used to automatically review and approve purchase orders. For example, it allows employees to order office supplies without requests for approval, making the process leaner and more efficient.

To state an example, in Tradeshift’s platform a chatbot called Ada can be used to check the status of purchases or automatically approve virtual card payments, regardless of the user’s location.

Accounts Payable Automation – Machine learning is increasingly used in accounts payable automation. ML assists in identifying errors and potential fraud in large amounts of automated payments. An example of this is Stampli, which leverages machine learning to speed up payment workflows and automate fraud detection.

Spend Analysis

At Sievo, machine learning algorithms are widely used in spend analysis to improve and speed up a number of processes, including automatic spend classification and vendor matching.

For example, if you have DHL, DHL Freight, Deutschland DHL, and DHL Express in your data, the machine learning algorithms are easily able to consolidate these together as DHL for increased visibility and data coherence.

Supplier Information Management

Big data techniques enable new ways to identify, manage and utilise supplier data across public and private databases. Tealbook is one platform that applies machine learning to supplier data in order to create and maintain accurate supplier records across all systems and areas of the business.

Strategic Sourcing

AI can also be used to manage, guide, and automate sourcing processes. Keelvar’s sourcing automation software uses machine learning for the recognition The reality of AI in procurement 59 of bid sheets and specialises in category-specific eSourcing bots such as raw materials, maintenance and repair.

Contract Management

AI has many potential use-cases in contract management. Seal Software uses optical character recognition (OCR) and advanced text analytics to clean up and consolidate information contained in contracts.

We’re likely to see many more successful examples of AI shared across procurement functions in the coming years. The more we share as a community, the better we get.

If you would like to dive deeper into the topic, you can get early access to AI in Procurement as a free download before the printed book comes on sale on Amazon in 2020.

5 Ways to Stand out From The Crowd

New Year, New You. New Job? Don’t wait until 2020 to start your search or you might struggle to stand out from the crowd.

stand out from the crowd
From Pixabay on Pexels

More than half of us are planning to change jobs in 2020. So, don’t wait until January to start your job search – there will be far too much competition. Instead follow these steps to get ahead on a new you for the New Year.

Looking for a new job takes time. In fact, an average of 40 days from submitting a CV to being offered a new role.

Factor in searching for a suitable job before you even send off your application and then the wait while you work out your notice (generally at least one month) and it could be a nearly Easter by the time you move jobs.

So why not start preparing for your search now?

The Market – The Crowd

It could pay off. More than half of the 16,000 UK employees surveyed by Totaljobs and Universum say they are planning on moving jobs in the new year, so January will see a huge surge in the number of candidates on the market.

To put it into context, that could be half your workplace actively scouring job sites and that means an awful lot of competition for the best roles.

“If you also factor in Christmas bank holidays then the optimum time to start applying for jobs is mid-November,” says Nick Kirk, UK MD of recruiters Michael Page who warns: “Securing a new job can be a lengthy process, with applicants and employers needing to be sure the right person is being offered the right role.”

Where Competition is Highest

The professionals who are least satisfied in their current position and most likely to want to move jobs work in logistics, media and e-commerce so anyone working in these sectors is likely to see tough competition from colleagues who are also looking for a new role.

In contrast, auditing and accounting and legal and law professionals are the least likely to leave their jobs, because those usually have higher salaries and a lot of opportunities to up-skill. For example, an accountant could become a CPA just by passing an exam and completing the licensing process.

However, much depends on your employer. If you have any concerns about the future of your organisation you will not be alone – so start your job search sooner rather than later.

Preparation is Key to Success

Although around half of us are expecting to look for a new role, only one in ten expect to be successful.

So how can you boost your chances? Nick Kirk has the following advice:

1. Be clear about your reasons for leaving

Are you sure you want to leave your job, or are you feeling pressured to start afresh in the new year? Establish the reasons why you want to leave your current job and, if you can, speak to your manager about your concerns. Once you’ve had these frank conversations and are certain that moving on is the right decision, you will be able to make smart decisions about your next role.

Often it is not the money that’s a problem – in fact, two thirds of British workers would stay in a job they enjoyed rather than move for more money.

For those intent on shifting jobs, the biggest drivers are career progression (30 per cent), professional training and development (32 per cent) and the feeling that their current roles and responsibilities are unlikely to grow (25 per cent). These can be relatively easy to address.

For example, your manager may not be aware that you want a promotion or more training and may find these requests easier to accommodate than a pay rise – after all, if you demand a substantial salary hike everyone will want one, whereas a career development plan is tailored to the individual and it can also benefit the organisation in terms of improved productivity.

2. Think about where you want to work next

Candidates and employers are now placing more value on workplace environment and ensuring the right team culture when hiring.  It’s crucial to be sure that you know what kind of role, company, and working environment you are looking for in your next position before you start your job hunt. If you find an environment and culture that matches well with your personal values, you are more likely to be happier at work.

One of the key requirements is flexibility – often employees are prepared to sacrifice salary for the option of working a condensed week (cramming 5 days into 4), the option to work at home one day a week or an early start/early finish.

3. Keep an open mind

Adopt a positive and flexible attitude to your job search. Listen to what opportunities are in the market and remain open-minded to different companies and locations.

In keeping your mind open, you may be presented with opportunities which may be worth changing location or industry for – a real new year overhaul!

Also by narrowing your requirements, you are limiting your choice which means you could be languishing in a job you hate for too long. Today we have less of a career ladder (organisational structures are flatter) so it may be hard to move for a promotion, but that does not mean you cannot find a more rewarding role with a sideways shift.

4. Update your LinkedIn profile and CV

Your LinkedIn profile and CV are your gateway to a future position. Most employers will cross reference the information before deciding on whether to progress your application, so ensure both are sharp and accurate to avoid your application being discarded at the first hurdle.

Also make sure that all your job applications are tailored to each role.

So start with a tailored personal statement to your prospective new employer, highlight your key skills, use a spell checker and whatever you do, don’t lie.

Employers are struggling to find the right candidates, so increasingly accept that they will have to find a good fit rather than the perfect fit so you don’t need to tick every box.

5. Prepare for your interview

This may be a busy time of year, but an interview is the time to make a great first impression on a potential employer. Do your homework on the company – look at its latest news, work or any award wins. Have an understanding of where you can fit into the organisation and its culture. Anticipate possible questions and rehearse your answers too, as this will help you to deliver seamlessly on the day.

Good luck!

Procurement – Are We Our Own Worst Enemies?

We spend so long looking outwards at the wider environment for our key issues. But are we missing the elephant in the room? Is Procurement actually one of Procurement’s worst enemies?

own worst enemies
By MarinaP/ Shutterstock

For anyone who has experience working in public sector procurement, the strictures of the rules and regulations are well known and often highly frustrating. So it would have come as a surprise to many when former UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a plan that would ‘free the NHS’ from Government procurement rules.

Cue many cornflakes being choked upon around the UK upon hearing this news. And then numerous procurement professionals taking a very keen interest in where the story was going next. 

After all, if you were to speak to any procurement professional with experience of working in the public sector (and their client departments), you would probably get a fair picture pretty quickly of the key barrier, hindrance, ball and chain impacting their work. Administration, bureaucracy, paperwork, regulations – take your pick. Once you enter a public sector procurement process, it’ll be a while before you emerge out the other side. 

That’s not to say that these are bad things. The regulations help to bring openness, honesty and transparency to the process. They also make it fully auditable and able to be used as a shield against bad practice and spurious challenges. That said, there isn’t a single procurement professional who wouldn’t love to drop the regulations once in a while.

Who wouldn’t love a bit of extra ‘freedom’ to spend money in a more effective and efficient way. 

Worst Enemies – Self-Inflicted Pain 

Putting aside the UK and EU-wide regulations for a minute as an unavoidable consequence of public procurement (Prime Ministerial intervention pending…), we can turn a lens on the processes that procurement has set up for itself. Sure, the regulations are a pain, but they’re part and parcel of doing the job. What isn’t is the self-inflicted pain of all the additional administration that procurement loads on itself. 

Take a closer look at the processes in your organisation. Are they as lean as they can be? Do you have a set of toolkit documents that you can use for all your process? Or are you mired in repetitive documents that are all required, but aren’t adding any value to the process? 

This additional burden not only extends an already lengthy process, but also curtails the valuable time of your procurement professionals. Want a happy procurement team? Then it’s value and management, not process and admin. 

In previous articles, I’ve outlined both the importance of time management, but also the use of collaborative frameworks and other procurement routes that can be used to help use this precious time more effectively. What is more problematic, however, are the timescales attached to the procurement process that is specific to the individual organisation. 

Tender regulations aside, we’re talking about the additional time procurement builds into its own process that is potentially avoidable. Think internal approval processes, report writing and flurries of emails that could be taken care of with a short conversation or a really good document storage system. 

Strategies and Stakeholders 

Beyond this is a perceived acceptance by procurement of being strung along by Client department and stakeholders. Not just in taking on additional tasks for these groups, but not being strong enough to push back when things clearly aren’t progressing.

This is not an open invitation to undermine stakeholder relationships or burn bridges. But make it clear that a single stakeholder’s requirements are not the only thing that a Procurement Officer is working on, let alone responsible for. 

By having this bit of extra support for pushing back on project teams that are dragging their feet with important information or documents, and moving on to other projects that are set to go. Send someone to the back of the queue when they’re not ready more than once and they’ll get the message.

Finally, it’s worth considering how procurement chooses to set itself up strategically. Strategic structuring such as Category Management or embedding in project teams all have their pros and cons (enough for another article entirely). But stick too rigidly to any structure and it can cause issues. From imbalances in work levels across a department, to pigeon-holing your team members into one area or commodity, they’re all things that need to be considered on an on-going basis, not just once every 2-3 years. 

Adapt and Survive 

Not to get too Darwinian, but if procurement continues down some of these paths, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that we could see the profession as we know it cease to be. Market environments, technology and even organisations continue to grow and adapt organically. So why does procurement keep tripping itself up with rigid structures and tying itself up in bureaucracy and red tape? 

While I don’t advocate a ‘free-for-all’ approach to procurement, or believe that fully unstructured departments can work effectively all the time, there are changes that could be made to aid the survival of procurement in the long term. 

As a hero of mine once said, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Quit being part of the problem.” 

Let’s stop ignoring the elephant in the room and take a long, hard look at ourselves. Procurement has enough challenges to contend with without adding more on itself. It’s where platforms such as Procurious are such a valuable tool. By talking our problems out, we can find collective solutions to the benefit of everyone. I, for one, am trying to do better and I’d love to work with you all to do more. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and others on the challenges facing public sector procurement. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

Adventure, Exploration and Gold – Why Supply Chain is the Career of the Future

Time to step out of your silo, get your body and brain ready for the future, and find your inner gold. Catch up with Career Boot Camp to get yourself on the track for the summit.

supply chain career
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The supply chain profession attracts some of the best minds and biggest thinkers around. Are they drawn to the chance to travel the globe, have diverse experiences and learn lessons from a myriad of people? Are they energised by the idea of finding a role that gives them a broader perspective and makes them a more well-rounded person?

Or maybe it’s the chance to enact real change, set bold personal goals and aim high?

It is, in fact, all of the above. Don’t just take our word for it – these are the thoughts and experiences of the fantastic trainers from Career Boot Camp 2019. Here are just a few of the insights from this podcast series:

Change Your Career Trajectory to Aim Higher

The strange thing our trainers all had in common this year was that they weren’t initially directly involved in supply chain, or didn’t set out for a career in it. But, far from falling into it, three made active choices to change their careers to supply chain.

Dr. Alexis Bateman, Director MIT Sustainable Supply Chain, started out with a degree in Environmental Management Planning and then gained a PhD, but wishes that she had found a supply chain earlier in her career. This view was echoed by Supply Chain Executive, Steve Day, who, after starting out in Engineering and Telecoms, found that his supply chain career was some to “feel energised about”.

And Ron Castro, Vice President, IBM Supply Chain, didn’t gain qualifications in supply chain, but has found that supply chain has opened doors for him around the world, giving opportunities he may never have had otherwise.

Cultivating the Common Habits

All five of our trainers picked up on some key habits from their careers and experience that they have cultivated to reach their own summits. Could you do anything differently in your career in the future?

  1. Be curious – don’t tell yourself you can’t do something. Replace limiting thoughts and see what’s possible.
  2. Don’t believe that you only need training in one area – broaden your perspective, and then bring this perspective into new roles to enhance your expertise.
  3. Be a more holistic thinker – get a rounded experience, have a passion and set ambitious personal goals that allow you to aim high.
  4. Take the chance when it’s presented – it might seem like random chance or something out of the blue, but you won’t know unless you try it.
  5. Keep current but also talk about broader topics than just your area – it will show a broader knowledge that could change the trajectory of your career.

Learn from the Past, Look to the Future

Dr. Karen Darke MBE believes that we should learn from the past, but not to let it define us. Your behaviour and emotions in the moment can actually shape your future, through the power of your mind.

The way you think and feel can impact your own reality. Study of the mind was also part of Professor Moran Cerf’s podcast as he discussed why the human brain might still surpass AI and machine learning. The brain is still one of the most power muscles we have and we should still be training it, just like our other muscles when we, for example, go out for a bike ride!

Whatever trajectory your career is on right now, know you have the power to change this. By applying yourself, training hard (your body and your mind) and setting your sights on what you want to happen, you can be the master of your own destiny now and in the future.

It’s not too late to catch up on all the Career Boot Camp podcasts and access all this great thought leadership. Sign up here now!

A New Skillset for Procurement Leaders

Procurement leaders of tomorrow will need to combine highly refined soft skills, a broad business understanding and digital literacy to elevate their function and put it at the centre of business change in the years to come.

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Procurement has never had a better opportunity to be the value adding function that it has always aspired to be.

The exponential technological advancements of the last decade have lowered entry barriers across markets. Procurement functions that successfully invest in and work with these new innovators will give their businesses a competitive advantage. Technology has also vastly improved the handling of large data sets.

Sitting at the intersection between the supply chain and the business, procurement is awash with data, and technology means it can spend less time on data acquisition and analytics and more time on deriving strategic insights from that data. Crucially, that helps the business to make more effective decisions, faster.

In recent years, we have also seen a spike in companies outsourcing key elements of their business. This has led to an increased number of strategic suppliers that need to be efficiently managed in order to ensure consistent high quality of product and service.

These two factors combined generate the perfect environment for procurement to move from its traditional role of “price negotiator” and “process policeman”, to strategic partner of choice, leading business transformation.

However, to do that, it will need a new skillset.

The ‘Right’ Skills

Efficio’s recent 2019 study, “The Human Factor: Strategic procurement and the leaders of tomorrow”, asked 500 senior procurement and operations leaders across the globe what their current top priorities were. The top answer, with 29 per cent of votes, was access to the right skills.

It received 60 per cent more votes than the next top priority, maximising efficiencies in the supply chain. Moreover, nearly half of respondents (44 per cent) put access to the right skills in their top three.

Organisations clearly recognise the need for a new skillset, but what are the right skills? In our view these can be categorised into three pillars: soft skills, broad business understanding and digital literacy.

Procurement Leaders – Influencing & Leading

The study showed 78 per cent of procurement executives believe soft skills are either essential or very important for the procurement leader of tomorrow. By drilling deeper into the results, we can find some interesting insights about how these executives see procurement in the future.

The single most desired soft skill quoted was the ability to influence and lead. This is indicative of a procurement function that is setting the agenda and leading stakeholders to make more effective decisions. Interactions that procurement has with stakeholders will be just as important, if not more so, than those it has with suppliers.

By understanding the business requirements and having a deeper knowledge of supplier capabilities, procurement will not only drive cost savings but also influence the business to select solutions and partners that best align with a company’s strategy.

The second most sought after soft skill is the ability to challenge conventional thinking. As well as challenging the way the business thinks, it needs to re-evaluate and challenge the way it has operated itself for so many years, with the goal of defining what it can do differently in order to move from a function that most organisations try to bypass.

It needs to become more customer centric and challenge itself and the business to move from a savings focussed, to a value-adding function.

Involving Your Suppliers

Thirdly, respondents recognised a need for innovation, creativity and problem-solving skills in the future. This hints at an expectation that procurement activities will go beyond traditional one-size-fits-all RFX approaches to every problem.

It will instead work in a more project-based manner with an agile approach that more effectively meets business needs. An example of this could be involving suppliers in the solutioning, to help define those requirements in the first place.

Although soft skills are generally not part of the current procurement training curriculum, they can still be learnt and developed. But critically, these don’t need to be learnt solely from being in procurement roles.

By positioning procurement on the career path of high-flying and ambitious individuals, it can benefit from people who have honed these skills in other functions but can apply them in a procurement context.

A Broad Business Understanding

To be truly accepted at the top table, procurement needs to communicate in the language of its peers in the business. Specifically, that means avoiding defaulting to a narrow focus on savings and process and rather seeking to define itself by what is important to its business.

That is not to say savings related activity is not important, but it needs to be put into context of the wider objectives of the organisation.

For example, a strategic lever for a business might be to grow revenue in a sector by bringing an innovation to market. Procurement should recognise in this case that it can best provide support by approaching the supply market with an investor mindset, trawling the globe for new start-ups to invest in and collaborate with in product development.

Going to those start-ups with an onerous RFX to fill out will unlikely result in any strong partnerships because those start-ups don’t have the capacity or knowledge to put themselves through such an approach.

Digital Literacy

Finally, the future of procurement will need to have a strong technology element to become a more effective function. Whether procurement leaders go for an end-to-end solution or a best of breed approach by building an ecosystem of tools best suited to their organisation, understanding at a basic level how technology is built, and how it integrates with other tools, is essential in being able to make good long-term investment decisions.

Historically, procurement leaders have never needed to be digitally literate in this way, however this will need to change as businesses become ever more reliant on technology and need to make long-term decisions on what to purchase.

It is therefore incumbent on the procurement leaders of tomorrow to educate themselves on the digital terms they use, latest trends and not to just limit themselves to the procurement sphere in the search for that knowledge.

Looking at other functions and sectors to understand how new technologies are being applied can help develop digital procurement strategies and roadmaps that are a step ahead of the competition.

Hone these Skills to Thrive

To become a more effective function and to elevate itself in the business, procurement is going to need people with a different skillset from today. A strong focus on soft skills is essential, but so too is an understanding of business more broadly than procurement’s traditional priorities of savings and process.

Being able to successfully digitalise the function will require people who understand not only how to use technology, but who are also able to make long term investment decisions. Procurement functions that recruit, train for and retain these skills are likely to find themselves at the centre of business change in future.    

Download our research report, “The Human Factor: Strategic procurement and the leaders of tomorrow”, here.

Navigate Global Trade in 2020 and Beyond

Digitisation, automation, and the shifting state of global trade are the three macro-trends predicted to affect Procurement and Finance the most over the next few years.

global trade

According to ourworldindata.org, global exports today are 40 times larger than 100 years ago. Much of this due to long-term relentless focus on developing free trade – across the world, but especially between the three powerful nations or nation groups: The European Union (EU), The United States of America, and China.

Albeit with the global commerce climate changing daily, there are growing concerns, as highlighted by a recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that explores why geopolitical issues are dominating.

Free trade is the heart of modern business

The free market has thrived for decades. So much so that the young generation of business professionals haven’t experienced the closed alternative. But due to shifting trade dynamics, the free market we have grown accustomed to may be threatened, and not everyone is prepared.

According to the survey report from the EIU, only 35 per cent of respondents are confident in their organisation’s ability to adapt to global trade trends and have secured alternative market sources or suppliers.

Anyone in Procurement and Finance would agree that a free market and mutually advantageous regulations have made business easier. Cross-border shipping, VAT handling, cross-border invoicing—all of which are more straightforward when governments cooperate with one another. All that mundane work and those non-productive tasks required to move money, people, and goods between countries is decreasing.

As a result, businesses can:

  • source materials where they are the most accessible,
  • produce goods and services where it’s most economical,
  • and sell final products in the markets where the profit can be maximised.

An European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) report has estimated that by 2030, the amount of trade between USA and China will grow by 80 per cent, and over 85 per cent between EU and China.

Given these numbers, free trade must surely be part of the recipe for growth. Or will it?

EIU highlights global trade concerns

In the recent EIU report sponsored by Basware, we interviewed over 400 supply chain and finance professionals to find out how they’re preparing for the future.

Almost one in four of the respondents believe that the post-Brexit climate of trade will have the greatest effect on global commerce. 21 per cent believe that the impending US-China trade war will pack the biggest punch to global trade dynamics.

Overall, survey respondents revealed that they’re generally quite concerned. The most common impacts expected from these changes are:

  • An increase in procurement costs (35 per cent);
  • Greater supply-chain complexity (29 per cent); and
  • A decrease in business opportunities (22 per cent).
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And these professionals are justified in their worries.

Questions regarding international trade post-Brexit and the customs introduced between the USA and its trading counterparts make even the most experienced supply chain experts raise questions.

Discussions of the current and future geopolitical landscape have become a permanent agenda point in board meetings. The competitive nature of businesses is no longer merely determined by the typical factors of economies of scale, product differentiation, switching costs, or access to distribution channels. Instead, it’s also determined by businesses’ abilities to manage ever-increasingly fragmented supply chain for goods and services and respond to changes outside of their control.

According to Ernst & Young Global Limited (EY), one in five executives say that there is “too much uncertainty” to predict the full effects of the trade actions instated this year by the US government.

As products and services become more and more dependent on tangled interdependencies of businesses and therefore subject to trade restrictions, the chances of non-compliance increase. As the probability that these sanctions hit your supply chain increase, so does your business risk.

Steps to prep for the future of trade

How can procurement and finance professionals embrace change to make sure that they are a part of the solution and not the problem?

Participants in the EIU report state that reviewing internal controls and procedures, forecasting costs through simulations, and developing end-to-end supply chain visibility measures are all ways they are prepping.

Here are three steps you can follow, to future-proof your organisation’s global trade strategy:

1. Move to digital flow of information

Move away from paper and email-based orders and invoices and adopt electronic commerce to take advantage of digital financial supply chain and its economies.

2. Consolidate financial and supply chain information to identify risks

Combine information regarding your supply chain from different sources to learn more about your supply chain. Develop alternative sourcing options to diversify supply chain risk.

3. Automate where possible

Automation is required in order to move people around from transactional duties into business advisory and forecasting. Develop and train staff to adapt to change.

It may seem like a lot of work. But, it’s worth it. In fact, many companies may not be able to face the consequences of not doing it. In 2014, The US Department of Justice fined more than $1.5 billion in violations of US rules and regulations collectively.

But in 2019, just a single sanction for a non-compliant company exceeded $1.1 billion. Businesses must apply increased internal controls and procedures to continuously monitor their compliance and the compliance of their supply chains.

Make a plan for your team

Following the three steps (digitising, consolidating, and automating) are three overarching concepts that will future-proof your organisation amidst global change. But there’s more to it and it’s covered in depth in the EIU report, ‘What’s now and next for finance and procurement‘.

Learn more about automation, digitisation and the future of the global trade, and download the EIU report, sponsored by Basware, now. Learn how finance and procurement executives are preparing their organisations – and get additional tips on how you can do the same.

Questions? Contact Basware – we’re here to help you simplify your operations and spend smarter.