Tag Archives: procurement culture

Procurement Across Borders – Understanding CQ

In the first of a series of articles, Tom Verghese introduces Cultural Intelligence (CQ), what it means and why it is so important in business today.

By StepanPopov / Shutterstock

Last year, one of my clients returned from a holiday to India. She expressed to me her dismay at the different entrance prices at various monuments and tourist site sites that she had visited. She believed that the different pricing structures for locals and tourists was unfair. and that there should be one price for all entrants, regardless of their status.

I reminded her that she was a visitor and that what she considered to be fair pricing was reflective of what she was familiar with. For example, in countries like the US and UK the pricing structure tends to objective, and having one price for all is considered to be fair and equitable. However, in many parts of the world pricing is subjective with many variables influencing price such as how well I know you, the relationship we have, the company that you represent, the links and connections that you have, and even what time of day it is.

This example serves to demonstrate how ‘culture’ can play a part in even the simplest everyday situations at both a personal and professional level. In this story, the conflict of one set of cultural norms over another highlights how cultural differences can create conflict and misunderstandings.

Let’s take a look at some of the defining features of culture so as to better understand how we interact with culture. Culture is the lens through which we view the world.

  • Culture is subjective. That means we use our own culture as a reference point. The practices in our culture are what we use as norms and we use these to compare other cultures
  • Culture is deep. Culture is mostly transmitted through stories, which provide a history of that culture. When we look at tensions or animosity and hatred that passes from one generation to another, it’s because those stories are passed on and perpetuate a view that may no longer be accurate
  • Culture is biased. This means that each one of us interprets and makes judgements by the standards inherent to our own culture
  • Culture is tacit. That is we never really consider or think about our culture until we are outside of it. Culture is important because it essentially impacts the way we think and behave and impacts our worldview.

Most people believe that they have some degree of cultural awareness. This may mean they can identify the languages, foods or traditional dress of certain countries, or other defining characteristics.

However, in our increasingly interconnected and globalised world, as organisations are being required to source talent and conduct business across multiple countries with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, a broader understanding of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is necessary. Having an understanding of what CQ is and how to practically apply it can make it easier to navigate different cultures. For specialists in procurement, the ability to use CQ is particularly relevant. One of the biggest challenges when working across cultures is that we have expectations that people are similar to us and operate according to the same rules. This is a grave error.

What is CQ?

CQ is the capability to work effectively in culturally diverse situations. It goes beyond existing notions of cultural sensitivity and awareness to highlight a theoretically-based set of capabilities needed to successfully and respectfully accomplish your objectives in culturally diverse settings either locally or globally.

CQ can be broken into four components. These components can be both inherent and developed. These four components are:

  1. CQ Drive – The interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic (i.e. meaningful work) and extrinsic interests (i.e. financial rewards) and the drive to learn and understand cultures, their norms and behaviours
  2. CQ Knowledge – Understanding cultural similarities and differences. This includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultural settings
  3. CQ Strategy – Awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions. It incorporates how we apply our CQ Knowledge insights
  4. CQ Action – The ability to appropriately adapt verbal and non-verbal communication in cross cultural situations, including how well we can adapt when things don’t go according to plan

Over the next 12 months we will be discussing each of these components, what they are and the ways in which you can further develop your own CQ and make improvements on your performance when interacting in cross cultural situations to obtain better outcomes.

Attention Roosters: Don’t Cock Things Up In 2017

HELP! 2017 is going to be an unlucky year for me – the Chinese Zodiac says I’m going to cock things up. 

As a rooster, I’m in deep trouble for 2017. It’s taken me almost 36 years to grasp the fact that in popular Chinese belief your birth sign year is considered unlucky, rather than lucky. Looking back on my last two Rooster years, this makes a sad kind of sense.

If I could, I’d go back in time to visit the pubescent, socially awkward 12-year-old blundering from one disaster to another in 1993. “It’s not your fault!” I’d yell. “It’s all due to the ancient Chinese Zodiac – events are way beyond your ability to control!” I don’t even want to talk about 2005, where I was essentially the same socially-awkward child in a 24-year-old’s body. Again – not the best year for me, but now that I’m aware of it, I can happily lay the blame at the feet of long-dead Han-era astrologers.

Looking into the characteristics of Roosters, and the wider Chinese Zodiac, has been enlightening – firstly because it’s all way more complex than I thought, and secondly because I’m now aware of my own cultural ignorance in this area – but more on that later. First, let’s look at the attributes of a Rooster.

Rooster characteristics

I was hoping to find a quick list of characteristics for Roosters, but the real story is much more complicated than I assumed. It depends not only on your zodiac sign, but the element associated with your year. Here’s a handy guide from www.chinahights.com:

Type of Rooster Year of Birth Characteristics
Wood Rooster 1945, 2005 Energetic, overconfident, tender, and unstable
Fire Rooster 1957, 2017 Trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work
Earth Rooster 1909, 1969 Lovely, generous, trustworthy, and popular with their friends
Gold Rooster 1921, 1981 Determined, brave, persevering, and hardworking
Water Rooster 1933, 1993 Smart, quick-witted, tender-hearted, and compassionate

I was born in ’81, which means I’m a Gold Rooster – determined (kind-of), brave (sometimes), persevering (I’m finishing this article, aren’t I?), hardworking (yes boss), and good-looking (I may have slipped that one in). Interestingly, only Wood Roosters have the characteristic I’d most associate with actual roosters, which is (pardon the pun) “cockiness”.

To complicate things further, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals), by day (called true animals) and hours (called secret animals). Which means that as well as being a Gold Rooster, I’m also a Rat internally, a Goat truly, and a Tiger secretly. Confused? Blame the astrologers.

Should Roosters ask for a promotion in 2017?

Well, at a macro level, it’s an unlucky year for you overall, but perhaps if you get the details right using the list below, you’ll be fine. In short, when you meet your boss to have that all-important career discussion, make sure you pick the month and day carefully with reference to the Chinese lunar calendar. Ensure you’re wearing gold, brown or yellow (NOT red!), pin a gladiola to your top before the meeting, and try to manoeuvre yourself so you face south or southeast during the conversation.

Lucky stuff for Roosters

  • Lucky numbers: 5, 7, and 8
  • Lucky days: the 4th and 26th of any Chinese lunar month
  • Lucky colours: gold, brown, and yellow
  • Lucky flowers: gladiola, cockscomb
  • Lucky directions: south, southeast
  • Lucky months: the 2nd, 5th, and 11th Chinese lunar months.

Stuff Roosters should avoid

  • Unlucky colour: red
  • Unlucky numbers: 1, 3, and 9
  • Unlucky direction: east
  • Unlucky months: the 3rd, 9th, and 12th Chinese lunar months

On a serious note – I’m culturally ignorant

How did it take me this long to find out that Chinese birth-sign years are unlucky rather than lucky? I’m ashamed to admit it, but what I’ve displayed is a lack of cultural curiosity. According to Cultural Synergist Dr Tom Verghese, curiosity is one of the attributes that makes for a culturally intelligent leader. Leaders without this attribute lack the motivation to find out more about the cultures they’re working with by asking lots of questions to develop their CQ, or cultural intelligence.

Dr Tom writes, “I believe curiosity should drive each of us in our own inter-cultural explorations. Understanding the values of other cultures and what their celebrations represent is certainly an important step we can all take towards representing and appreciating diversity and inclusion in our communities.”

Lesson learned. This year I’m going to do two things:

  • Make an effort to display more curiosity as I seek to improve my cultural intelligence, and
  • Tread carefully in what may be an unlucky year.

In short, I’ll try not to make a cock of myself in 2017.

The Business of Procurement’s Cultural Evolution

The business could benefit from seeing procurement’s value in a new light. The challenge is getting people to accept the change.

In my previous article, I discussed the struggles procurement faces with the perception of its value. One of procurement’s key issues is that, in most cases, the cultural focus is on cost savings.

This driver is linked to the four key stakeholder groups that procurement must answer to – the CEO; business leaders; the supply chain; and the CPO.

Because culture is handed down from the CEO, the culture of savings flows down through the business and the supply chain. This can lead to business leaders and the supply chain attempting to bypass procurement. This is where the perception of value of procurement is critical.

However, all is not lost! With the stakeholder requirements in mind, we can propose an alternative cultural model that will drive benefit for all four groups, plus procurement itself.

Procurement’s Future Culture

The key change in the future culture, from the culture we have now, is that it turns the key drivers on their heads.

  • In the new structure the number one driver for procurement is the supply chain.

Procurement focuses on collaboration, innovation and becoming a customer of choiceThe relationship is built upon mutual benefit and trust. It involves procurement becoming a business partner and promoting the suppliers capabilities and successes.

  • The number two driver is the business leaders.

Procurement brings new ideas and opportunities into the business from the supply chain, resulting in procurement being recognised as a trusted advisor to the business. The business supports procurement’s focus on mutual success, collaboration and becoming a Customer of Choice.

  • The third driver is the CPO

The business leaders complement the CPO on the great value their team brings into other business areas. The business leaders desire procurement’s involvement in their areas of business and identify them as trusted advisors.

  • The final driver is the CEO

The CEO has heard about the added value procurement delivers into the business and the success it is achieving. The CEO’s main focus for procurement is to retain the value they are bringing into the business from the supply chain.

The Procurement department is still a cost centre, but cost takes second priority to the value being generated for the business.

By re-aligning priorities, we have created a culture that meets the needs, and addresses, all four groups. The new culture also takes procurement away from the perception of being price focused, to becoming a value add for its stakeholders and customers.

It is what, for many, has become the nirvana of what they desire procurement to become.

Where’s the Evidence?

The next question you may have is, how do we know this is the right direction?

Some of you may already know of Johanne Rossi who won CPO of the year 2016. In an article posted on Procurious website in June, Johanne talks about what she did to make her Procurement department a major success within the business.

Here are a few extracts from the article for you to think about:

  • “re-structuring…teams in new ways to better partner with stakeholders and supply partners” – we are seeing the first evidence of partnering with the business
  • “A procurement innovation manager has been hired to achieve benefits…such as finding new, mutual value with supply partners through innovation and efficiencies.” – the key word is mutual
  • “Building internal and external relationships, and developing stronger business and commercial skills.” – a focus on developing procurement’s commercial skills
  • “The entire focus for us is to become the customer of choice for our suppliers” – this is the killer quote. It underpins a model of building trust, collaboration and promoting joint success.

Johanne’s full article on Procurious can be found here.

Re-aligning Attitudes to Change

We have outlined a culture where many procurement individuals find themselves trapped today and offered an explanation why it occurs. We have gone on to provide an alternative model for driving culture and value, one that could bring significant benefits to both procurement and the organisation.

To undertake this re-alignment, it may require attitudes to change and potentially re-building supplier relationships. For some people this may be a step too far.

An alternative path is for procurement to remain as it is, but then don’t be surprised if your department becomes fully automated and you’re out of a job. You were warned!

To undertake this journey requires a re-assessment of procurement principles and drivers, with a greater focus on the desired outcomes from the engagement with all stakeholders.

Procurement has a magnificent opportunity to become a critical business function for an organisations success within 21st century markets. The question is, do you want to be a part of it?

“It is never too late to change. The issue is deciding if you want to.”

POD Procurement is a consultancy and advisory for Procurement Transformation. For more information, and to read more about the POD Model, visit our website.

The Evolution of Procurement Culture

Procurement often struggles with the perception of its value. But could the issue be traced back to the culture expected by its stakeholders?

Kevin Renes/Shutterstock.com

What is Procurement’s business value? Is it doing a great job and does the business agree? If the perception of procurement is less than we desire, it is possible to change it?

These are the tough questions we explore within this article. Warning…this article may offend some people! Yet, if we are to make progress, it’s time to be honest.

Procurement’s Perceived Value 

If you ask a procurement person if they are doing a great job, most will agree. They might say they are working to tight deadlines, complying to complex processes with limited resources and information, they do the best they can. Generally, it’s a fair assessment.

However if we ask the business the same question the response can be brutal, “No, they are not.”

The feeling is that procurement is driven by price, that they are reactive, and that procurement never brings new ideas into the business. Frequently procurement are used out of necessity, but their involvement is not desired.

This revelation can be upsetting to many within Procurement, especially when their is a clear desire to be considered as a trusted advisor, pro-active and a business capability that adds value.

If a negative perception of procurement is something you face within your organisation then we have some good news! It isn’t your fault, and it is possible to change it. 

Stakeholders & Customers

“Why is there such a disconnect?”

To help us identify what might be going wrong with the perception of procurement, we need to identify the main business areas involved.

There are four main groups that are important customers and/or stakeholders to procurement:

1. Head of the Business/CEO/CFO

This individual is responsible for budget approval, business strategy and might even decide if there is a procurement department. Their ability to decide Procurement’s future makes them a critical stakeholder for the function.

2. Business leaders/Budget Holders

This group are responsible for bringing requirements to procurement, and procurement needs their business. Losing the support of the business leaders could see a drive to outsource/automate the procurement department.

3. Supply Chain

The suppliers provide the solutions to the business leaders requirements. No suppliers means no business solutions.

4. Head of Procurement/CPO

This individual is responsible for employment, pay rises and promotions within the procurement team. As this person holds the career of the Procurement Practitioner in their hands, they are a key stakeholder. 

Procurement’s Culture Today

If we accept procurement’s culture largely remains focused on price, then we need to know why. Even will all the evolution in procurement, it’s clear that this is still prevalent. Here’s why:

  • The number 1 driver for the current procurement culture is the CEO (or CFO or equivalent)

Traditionally, to this individual procurement is principally a ‘cost centre’. The greatest value procurement offers them is keeping their costs to a minimum.

  • The next driver for procurement is the CPO

The CPO wants to ensure they meet the needs of the CEO/CFO. This is critical in ensuring they retain the support from the senior stakeholders.

Therefore maximising cost reductions are critical, realised through contract savings. This culture is amplified further by attaching procurement salary bonuses for achieving contract savings.

  • The third driver for procurement culture is business leaders

The culture is already firmly established on reducing costs/price to achieve a procurement agenda. The business leaders can struggle to identify any real business value in procurement engagements, resulting in a strained relationship.

  • The final group driving procurement culture is the Supply Chain

The culture of the engagement is based on a drive to reduce supplier margins. With no real focus on collaboration, promoting success, or becoming a customer of choice, it is a one way relationship focused on procurement success. This results in an engagement with little or no trust.

To recap, because the culture is coming down from the CEO/CFO it creates a culture focused on savings, which continues to flow down into the business and the supply chain and can result in the business leaders and the supply chain trying to by-pass procurement.

Culture From the Top

But all is not lost. In the second part of this article, we’ll propose an alternative cultural model that will drive benefit for all four stakeholder groups, plus procurement.

This will also help optimise procurement practitioners’ individual value, an aspect critical for attracting the best talent and talent retention.

“Perceived value can be in response to how you engage, which is a result of your culture, and is influenced by your drivers.”

POD Procurement is a consultancy and advisory for Procurement Transformation. For more information, and to read more about the POD Model, visit our website.