Have you ever been guilty of presenting fake news or “alternative facts” to your CFO? Integrity is a cornerstone of the procurement profession, but benefits realisation is one area where supply managers sometimes play fast and loose with the facts.
It seems everyone is talking about fake news at the moment. The term came to the fore after the U.S. election, when Hilary Clinton called out fake news as a contributing factor to the Democrats’ defeat. Since then, President Trump’s team have wholeheartedly embraced the term, regularly branding unfavourable reports as “fake news” and even describing selected media outlets (such as CNN and Buzzfeed) “fake news organisations”.
After Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference contained provable falsehoods about the size of the inauguration crowd, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway came to his defence by saying that Spicer was simply presenting “alternative facts”, much to the delight of Twitter users who immediately converted the term into a hashtag.
Fake news can be dangerous – putting aside whether or not it influenced the U.S. election, the phenomenon has inflamed racial tensions, led to at least one shooting (the “Pizzagate” gunman), while more recently the two nuclear powers Israel and Pakistan exchanged tense words over a news report that proved to have no verifiable source.
The good news is that solutions are popping up all over the globe. The BBC is setting up a “fake news” team, Italy plans to establish commissions of experts to rule on the veracity of news, while Germany has threatened to fine social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook for spreading fake stories.
How does fake news apply to procurement? Let’s look at two examples – firstly, the CPO’s role as the organisation’s trusted advisor and arbiter of facts, and secondly, the risk of feeding “fake news” about cost savings upwards to the CFO.
The trusted advisor in times of crisis
When a disruptive event takes place, procurement needs to be known as the calm centre of the storm. Let’s take Brexit as an example. After the shock result in June last year, a rising sense of panic took hold of markets while business leaders worldwide were rattled. Media organisations began to speculative on the potential fallout of the Brexit vote, leading to the danger of knee-jerk reactions from CEOs and other decision-makers.
It was gratifying to see that one week later, the CEOs of the world’s two biggest professional bodies for procurement and supply management released statements that contained essentially the same message of reassurance. Importantly, both statements emphasised the procurement professional’s role as the suppressor of speculation and the guardian of facts.
ISM’s Tom Derry spoke to Procurious about his organisations’ decision to release a supplementary Report on Business revealing that the impact of Brexit on US CPOs’ buying decisions was negligible. “There has been an enormous amount of speculation about the impact of Brexit, fed by a sense of unease and uncertainty”, said Derry. “ISM was in a position to gather real data and put the information out there so businesses can make informed decisions based on facts, rather than fear, concern or emotion.”
Similarly, the late CIPS CEO David Noble urged procurement and supply professionals to “act as the suppressor of panic, not the creator”. Noble said that how supply managers behave “is fundamental to how the business manages these coming weeks and months. Supply chains can emphasise or exaggerate concern, which can then be magnified all the way down the chain.”
Benefits realisation – procurement’s very own “fake news”
While the Brexit example demonstrates how procurement can either supress or endorse speculation originating in the media, there’s one area where CPOs are guilty of generating fake news themselves – the realisation of negotiated savings and other benefits.
In a report commissioned by members of The Faculty Roundtable entitled Making it Stick, researchers found that 50% of contracted savings are not making their way to the bottom line in leading Australian organisations. Without effective contract management to realise the full value of savings and other benefits, procurement professionals risk damaging the integrity of the function. Eventually, the falsehood will catch up with them when the CFO calls them into their office and demands: “Where’s the money?”
That’s why, to avoid being a purveyor of false data, CPOs must address the fundamental shortfalls that are costing organisations hundreds of millions in unrealised savings.
Five ways to turn “fake news” into real, bankable savings
Procurement teams are adept at finding the money, but it takes a whole organisation to keep the money. Given the uncertain business climate facing organisations internationally, driving savings and other value to the bottom line is an absolute priority facing the C-level today.
- Encourage enterprise-wide ownership and alignment with Procurement’s targets (shared targets).
- Bust silos through true cross-functional collaboration, particularly between procurement and finance.
- Work to eliminate maverick spend and other non-compliance that undermines procurement’s gains and damages supplier relationships.
- Establish crystal-clear benefits definitions, measurements and validation processes, agreed upon across the organisation.
- Create a cost-conscious culture to enable CPO-level efforts to expand the value that procurement contributes.
In short, as a CPO you’ll need integrity to win the trust and respect of your team, your peers, and your suppliers. Your willingness to accept or even endorse fake news, such as panic-driven speculation or unrealised savings, will very quickly erode this respect and lose the confidence required to run an effective procurement function.