Tag Archives: srm

Three Technical Terms Procurement Pros Should Stop Using Now

Do these technical procurement terms have a place in today’s organisation?


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Technical procurement terms. Whether you love ’em or loathe ’em you’ll probably have experienced definition disagreements and C-suite confusions. And that begs the question, do they have a place in today’s organisation?

For Nick Dobney, Former Global Head of Procurement – Puma Energy, procurement terms is the one thing that really gets under is skin. “There are terms that my C-suite won’t understand, my stakeholders won’t understand and, frankly, in procurement we spend a lot of time debating them as well.”

Nick believes that all the time and effort spent defining and redefining technical procurement terms is distracting procurement professionals away from delivering on behalf of the business. At Big Ideas Zurich last year, he outlined three of the terms causing him the most grief.

1. Tender

“My team know full well to never come to me and talk about tenders,” Nick jokes. He argues that “tender” is such a broad word, open to so much interpretation, that it has actually become meaningless.

“What do you want to do?” he asks. “Are you selecting a supplier? Are you exploring the market? Are you benchmarking your costs? If those are the things you’re doing, let’s say them. Let’s not wrap them up or hide it into the word “tender.”

2. Direct/Indirect

In procurement we constantly talk about direct and indirect spend.

“I’ve been in procurement for 25 years and I’ve never worked in a manufacturing company.” In a manufacturing company it might make total sense to use these terms and easy to understand the difference between direct and indirect spend. But the same can not be said for service companies.

Nick worked for an airline, where the distinction is unclear. “We bought aircraft, we bought fuel, we bought engineering services, we bought food and drink, we bought ticketing systems, we bought call centre operations. What’s direct and indirect?”

“In my world when I talk to the C-suite I need to talk about impacting operating expenditure, capital expenditure or the cost of goods sold.” Whilst it might be ok to reference indirect and direct spend amongst procurement professionals Nick advises not to waste energies trying to explain the terms to the wider business.

3. SRM

Some call it Strategic Relationship Management. Others say Supplier Relationship Management. “I don’t think [a room full of procurement professionals] could come together with a single definition,” says Nick.

“I know I’ve never used the words SRM in conversations with the CEO. The fundament of SRM means getting the best performance I can out of the suppliers I choose. So let’s talk about it as performance. Let’s talk about it as a means by which I get the performance I require in my business from my supply base and from my suppliers.”

Speaking in these accessible terms makes the procurement function accessible to business leaders and that’s what procurement professionals should be striving for. “We want to break those doors down. There’s lots of talk about getting procurement a seat at the top table and the first thing we have to do is make sure these terms we’re talking about – we only use amongst ourselves!”

Impacting the business

“The terms we use with our business leaders has got to be the terms that they understand,” Nick explains. “Can you explain simply and straightforwardly the impact you are having on the business?”

Leaders in your business want to know:

  • Are you taking assets of our balance sheet so we can free up resources to invest in product development?
  • Are you improving our margins?
  • Are you getting a better return on our investments?
  • Are you reducing our net debt?

And as Nick says, “the language we use is fundamental to how we can move away from being seen as a very technical function into being a function that really does contribute to the business.”

Nick Dobney speaking at Big Ideas Zurich 2018


As You Sip Your Delicious Morning Cup Of Suppliers’ Blood…

Is supply management really full of psychopaths? Why do members of Gen Next want to change jobs so frequently? How can managers retain top procurement talent? We put all these questions and more to ISM CEO Tom Derry.

Psychopaths in the profession?

A few years back, a researcher approached ISM CEO Tom Derry and wanted to survey the ISM membership to build a psychological profile of people who go into supply management. A few months later, Tom opened the newspaper and was appalled to find a headline stating “The majority of procurement professionals are psychopaths!”

“That was then,” says Tom. “In those days, there was an expectation that your job was to sit across the negotiating table from your supplier, have zero empathy with that person, demand cost reductions, and extract the pound of flesh. Sure, I can see how those could be seen as psychopathic tendencies. But you’re never going to succeed in supply management [these days] with that kind of approach. The emphasis on supplier relationship management in particular is so critical. That [old] profile is never going to be successful in the profession today.”

The days of the blood-sucking, empathy lacking hardball negotiator are over, but we still have work to do to reinvent the profession’s image – and that’s where fresh, new talent is going to help.

Time to Jump?

Last year, Procurious’ “Gen Next” survey revealed that just under 50% of supply management professionals intend to change roles within the next two years, and 34% intend to leave their current organisation entirely within the next 2 – 5 years. We asked Tom if it’s unrealistic these days for employers to expect their employees to stay anywhere for more than five years.

“Not at all. I think it’s realistic for them to expect longer tenure, but there are a few key things that matter”, says Tom. These include:

  • Training on the job – people really value skill acquisition.
  • Challenging and new assignments giving people a chance to grow.
  • Giving them exposure to other functions in the business via a rotation program.

Retaining Top Talent

But how can a head of supply management retain their top talent? In Tom’s view, we need to be realistic. “Don’t be too defensive about talent”, he says. “It’s a wonderful thing for a leader to be known as a discoverer and developer of great talent, which inevitably means that some people are going to move on, but that’s attractive. If I’m looking for a place to work and I know someone who has a reputation for identifying and developing people who want great new opportunities, I’m going to want to work there. Develop a reputation that will work to your advantage.”

Tom also stresses the importance of making people feel valued. “You can’t overvalue how important it is for a manager to just walk around and talk to people. Take an active interest in what they’re doing. They’ll be happy to know that you know what they’re working on, and that you find it exciting and interesting, and that means a hell of a lot to anybody when a leader comes around and shows interest. It drives results for the company.”

“As a leader, you have to be aware of the profile and external reputation of your team, within the company and externally in the industry. You need to be forward-looking as a leader in creating an environment that’s always compelling and interesting. The best CPOs that I know are focused on where the business is headed in the next 3-5 years, and what kind of team they need to build to optimise the business that we’re going to become. If you’re looking backwards and focused on efficiency, you’re missing the point. You need to be thinking about where you need to take the procurement team to deliver on the future vision – and that is what will make you an attractive leader to any talent.”

In our 10-part “Tuesdays With Tom” podcast series, Tom Derry discusses a broad range of critically important topics that every supply management professional should be across.

Listen to the full podcast here.