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Accelerate Your Creative Potential: 6 Tips For A More Innovative Career

Innovation is everyone’s business. Accelerate the potential of your career with these tips on building your creative potential


Innovation isn’t just about Disruption with a capital ‘D’. It’s not just about the next big product out of Silicon Valley. It is about making improvements to our business models, supply chains, ways of serving customers and manufacturing processes.

Not only that, but innovation is also a mode of thinking, a way of being, and a journey we can all go on in our day to day work and life to improve our career prospects, productivity and even our wellbeing.

In this article, I will share some of the practical steps you can take to accelerate the potential of innovative thinking to transform your career and enhance your effectiveness at work.

These tips don’t just apply when you’re working on an obviously innovative project, but to every challenge you face. Go forth and innovate!

Why innovate at all?

Innovation is about supporting growth and looking for new opportunities to meet the needs, desires and expectation of customers, employees or other stakeholders.  Innovation enables people to harness their own and their teams’ creative potential to solve real-world problems.  If harnessed correctly it can improve employee engagement, customer satisfaction and bottom line revenue.

Not in A Creative Job? You Need To Be An Innovator Too!

Creativity is not the end game.  Creativity is an enabler to help you to overcome a challenge or meet a need from your end user.  It is a tool to help you move forward when you might be stuck.  Every role will face problems that need to be solved. Every job involves processes that can be improved. Every career requires innovation to progress.

How to Be More Innovative

Be expansive in your thinking

We all make assumptions about our world and the problems we encounter. These assumptions can help us make lightning quick decisions that enable us to take action.

However, when you are faced with a problem or challenge, there is always the potential to do things better. This is where Innovation comes in.

To be expansive in your thinking, you need to suspend your judgement and forget your assumptions.

Say to yourself: how else could this work?

Then, when ideas comes to mind, ignore the voice  that says, ‘this is a crazy idea and it won’t work’. Instead, ask yourself “under what circumstances could this be possible?”.

Most importantly, just because it hasn’t worked first time, don’t dismiss the idea – think like a start-up, find the learning and improve your idea.

Be Curious

Don’t accept the status quo; be a restless provocateur.  Be curious to understand how others try and solve problems similar to yours, both within your industry and outside it.  Look for stimulus to hope you see your problem from a new angle. You might find the solution somewhere, but more often, you will find principles that you can build on to develop your own innovative ideas to solve your specific problems.

Have some structure

Innovation can get a bad rap because it can seem woolly.  Google say, ‘Creativity Loves Constraint’ and they are one of the best examples of an innovative organisation in the world!  So, ensure you create a process to follow, map your stakeholders, agree draft timescales and use a methodology such as Design Thinking to help guide you from first observation through to launch.

Prototype

Build a rough and scrappy prototype and test it with your key stakeholders.  Give them a sense of the experience or the product and actively get them to tell you everything that is wrong or doesn’t work.  Often, new innovations fail because the pilot only tested if it the idea could be operationalised – not if there was a genuine need or desire from the end user.

Be A Risk Taker

In uncertain times we will encounter so many unknown unknowns – we cannot possibly plan for all the challenges we will face.  We will all have to think differently and invent new solutions to problems we don’t yet know about.  By Prototyping and Testing with your end user you can mitigate risk.  

The Biggest Tip For Innovation

Have Ideas not Thoughts.  So often when we are asking for blue sky ideas we end up with non-specific Thoughts.  An Idea is succinct, actionable and can be understood quickly by someone who was not in the room when it was created.  A Thought is an intention but there is no clear path to next steps.  Keep asking yourself and others ‘what’s the idea? What would we actually do? What would our end user experience differently’?

Ask yourself ‘can someone take this idea and do something specific with it?’ if they can, then it’s a good idea that’s ready for testing. If they can’t, go back to it and build it some more.

This will ensure your innovative thinking delivers results, which will enable you to stand out from the crowd and enhance your career prospects.

Catch Mok talk all things innovation in our highly anticipated Career Bootcamp with IBM Sterling Supply Chain. Register here.

Job Cuts: Is There Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

COVID-19 creates new career opportunities for procurement and supply chain professionals, despite recent job losses and pay cuts.


COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the job market. The most recent U.S. analysis reveals that 21.5 million Americans remain unemployed. In the European Union, 397,000 people lost their jobs in April, according to the EU’s June report. Globally, Citi projects that 44 million people around the world, excluding China, could lose their jobs due to the pandemic.

The procurement and supply chain function is not immune. Our research, which was conducted between 4/28 – 5/12, found that 20% of supply chain and procurement departments experienced job cuts due to the crisis. Diving deeper into those numbers:

  • Nearly half (48%) said the job cuts were limited to about 10% of the team
  • 15% said their teams experienced cuts of 50% or more

Similarly, 23% of respondents said they were forced to take pay cuts. Of these:

  • 38% saw pay cuts of about 15%
  • 32% saw cuts of about 25%
  • 10% saw cuts of about 33%
  • 19% saw cuts of 40% or more

Millennials took the most pay cuts (32%), while Boomers took the least (18%).

While these numbers are alarming on the surface, they may not be as severe as they appear. A recent U.S. survey from the Census Bureau found that 47% of adults said they or a member of their household had lost employment income since mid-March. This may indicate, on a comparative and anecdotal level, that procurement and supply chain practitioners have somewhat been spared.

The harsh reality: Given the magnitude of job loss across the world, it was always a matter of how much, not if, procurement and supply chain functions would get hit. Across many industries, it simply did not matter how talented you are, or the results you produced. Many organizations saw revenues drop by nearly 100%, which naturally (and unfortunately) affects employment.

The good news comes in what’s next. Our research found that the majority of organizations are valuing procurement and supply chain like never before. More than ever, procurement and supply chain leaders play a critical role in organizational resiliency, recovery, cost controls and business continuity.

Go-forward job confidence reflects this thinking. On a scale of 1 – 5, weighted job confidence for the next 12 months is 3.96—meaning procurement and supply chain practitioners are more confident than not. Nearly half (43%) said they were extremely confident they would have a job 12 months from now, compared to only 5% that said they were not confident. We see this confidence mark as an incredibly positive sign considering the employment turmoil around the world.

Could this confidence – along with the newfound appreciation for procurement and supply chain – lead to more promotions? While it’s safe to assume most organizations will take a tepid approach to compensation and spending for the foreseeable future, we believe this crisis will create fresh career and financial opportunities for Generation Next. If anything, this crisis – and the strong performance of teams across the world – crystalizes the importance of investing in people, technology and the overall function, which should open up more (and new) doors.

Building on this dynamic, the majority (73%) of organizations we surveyed are planning seismic shifts in supply chain and procurement strategy post-pandemic, including supply base expansion, inventory management changes, and reductions in supply chain globalization. These changes represent fundamental shifts to traditional approaches, and will require substantial smarts, experience and an immensely committed and results-driven team for success. All of this points to higher demand for great people. 

There’s no escaping the chaos caused by COVID-19, especially when it comes to jobs. But for procurement and supply chain leaders, the light at the end of the tunnel is bright.

Big changes ahead for supply chain and procurement strategy. What are they, and how do we get ahead? Find out now in our ‘How Now?’ report.

How To Train Your Brain To Cope With Covid Strain

As we emerge from lockdown and leave the safety of social isolation, we will need to drain what’s left of our almost empty resilience reserves to return to – or look for – work. Feeling anxious? Well, you are not alone … but the good news is that resilience is a learnable skill and boosting it could help you cope with the current crisis in confidence caused by the coronavirus.


If your resilience reserves are running low, you are not alone.

Mental health issues were already at epidemic levels before the coronavirus pandemic – and Covid-19 has only made them worse.

So, if you are worried about losing your job (or no longer have one), are feeling isolated and unsupported or are fearful about your health or that of a loved one, you will inevitably be feeling stressed – in the UK alone, half the population say their anxiety levels are “high”. 

In the USA, 33 million Americans have already lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, and although 8 in 10 are hopeful they will be re-hired, the coronavirus crisis has left 9 in 10 stressing about finances.

While in Australia, 1 in 4 say they are overwhelmed by loneliness when working from home, -with half of those economically impacted due to reduced hours or loss of job and stressed about job security.

So, this is a global problem – and one that affects professionals across all sectors. Those working in procurement and supply, which have seen dramatic shifts in supply chains as well as working practices, are not immune and are understandably feeling the strain.

Accept that this is the ‘new normal’

Right now, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. So, it’s important to be kind to yourself and understand that the coronavirus crisis will inevitably take its toll on your mental wellbeing.

This is not a sign of weakness. It’s biology. In response to high levels of stress and anxiety, cortisol and adrenalin will pump through your body and your brain will start to function differently.

Blood flow will be directed to your flight or fight system priming you to run way from danger and, as a result, you will become more reactive and emotional and make decisions that are less rational and logical. No wonder we are all feeling unsettled.

Awareness of your mental state is key

So, the first step is to understand that there are physical – as well as psychological affects – of the coronavirus crisis.

To really understand how this is impacting you, use the heart rate monitor on your fitness tracker (if you use one) to see when your pulse spikes. Is it just before those chaotic conference calls where everyone is clamoring to be heard? Or does it spike when you wake up, check your emails and realize that you face yet another day of uncertainty?

According to Track Record, which uses Olympic training techniques to teach execs about stress, the key is to look at your heart rate variability not just the heart rate itself.

A sleep tracker is another useful tool. Poor sleep is a key indicator of high levels of stress and also shows that your body and mind is not getting a chance to recover from the pressures of the day. Recovery is key to boosting resilience but it is hard to find time to “get away” from the Covid crisis particularly as news of the latest infection rates and deaths is streaming 24/7.

Accept that your mental resilience important

At the same time track your mental state – many of us are hooked on fitness right now logging our times on the running machine etc. So just add this to the list. Note your feelings and what triggers you to feel stressed and anxious.

This will help you to monitor how your resilience is fluctuating. As with any exercise program (mental or physical) it is important to know where you are starting from so that you can track your progress as you build your mental toughness.

That’s why The Road to Resilience: Mental Toughness leadership series for The Faculty Management Consultants starts with self-awareness, to measure your MTQ (using a mental toughness questionnaire).

The Faculty (which works with Australia’s leading procurement teams and – like many of us – has adapted to the “new normal” by running everything online), now has a special focus on emotional resilience, in addition to technical skills, because it’s so important as we navigate this period of uncertainty.

So why does it matter? Well, being aware of where you sit on the resilience scale enables you to not only improve your score, it enables you to be more emotionally intelligent.

“You can become more aware of how tough or sensitive you need to be in any given situation – when to flex the toughness muscle, or give it a rest,” says Sally Lansbury, memberships director at The Faculty. “Remember, there are circumstances where having mental sensitivity is required… particularly right now.”

In addition to being self-aware and adapting your mental toughness to different situations, it is important to be risk-aware – something that the intrepid explorer Charlie Walker talked about in Procurious’s recent Virtual Future Leaders Roundtable in the UK.

Called “Rapid, Risk Aware and Resilient”, Charlie talked to procurement professionals about training to have fast reactions and training to deal with moments of risk. And while procurement professionals are not facing the challenge of a 43,000 mile bicycle ride across 60 countries (just one of Charlie’s many feats of endurance) they can train to boost their 3Rs, including resilience.

…and that you don’t have to struggle

We all know that some people are more resilient than others. However, what you might not realize is that you can change where you stand on the mental toughness scales – that’s because resilience is a plastic personality trait which means it can be developed.

So, in addition to being aware of how mentally tough you are – and how tough or sensitive you need to be at any given time – you should also understand that mental resilience can be learned and that now is the ideal time to start boosting your MT score.

The first step is to understand what it really is:

Mental Toughness describes the quality which determines, in large part, how we respond to stress, pressure and challenge … irrespective of the prevailing circumstances. – Dr Peter Clough.

Much of what we do is habit and that includes our response to stress and pressure. In the definition of MT “how we respond” are the three key words.

As part of your awareness exercise – which will help you to identify when you feel less resilient and when your stress levels spike – also take a note of how you respond to change and challenge.

Do you feel hopeless? Or overwhelmed? Perhaps you are angry or anxious?

Once you are more aware of your default setting in terms of “how you respond”, then you can start to change these automatic behaviours to the ones you want to adopt.

Changing any behaviour pattern takes time, but right now you can start with the first step: awareness.

This year’s Career Bootcamp is designed to ‘Power Your Mind’ and set you up with the skills to innovate, play to your strengths, and be more resilient. Register for your digital ticket here.

You Ask All Of Your Suppliers For A 5% Discount. What Can Possibly Go Wrong?!

What does best practice supplier relationship management look like? Not like this…


With sales at her company in freefall due to the Covid-19 crisis, the pressure was on for Sally’s* procurement team to reduce costs. In a desperate pitch to do what she could, Sally decided to issue a letter to all suppliers, asking for an overall price reduction of 5%. In exchange, Sally dangled the carrot of ‘to-be-determined’ commitments that the business would fulfill post-Covid. These could include, she thought, accelerated payment terms, additional volumes, or contract extensions.  

What could possibly go wrong, she thought, as she hastily finalised the letters and forwarded them on. Even if most say no, some might say yes and procurement will be lauded as heroes. 

We’ve all been in Sally’s position – or if we haven’t, we certainly can imagine being put in it. When faced with the pressure that a crisis brings, isn’t it always the best idea to at least try to reduce costs by asking for a discount? On the surface, it seems like a logical approach – all you need is for one supplier to agree and your effort pays off. But is it possible that taking such a black-and-white approach can end up costing you more than it saves you? 

Issue 1: Vague notions of success can’t be measured 

In Sally’s situation above, you could argue that ‘success’ looked like one supplier agreeing to discount. But what if they agreed to a 1% discount, would that suffice? Or if they agreed to a 5% discount without complaint, would you ask if you had done more? 

The problem with a strategy of ‘doing something and hoping for the best’ is that there really is no benchmark for what ‘the best’ is and whether it has been achieved. This leads to issues with measuring success internally, and naturally, the same question is always asked: how has procurement added value here? 

Issue 2: No discount is as simple as asking – negotiation will be required 

If achieving a 5% discount was as easy as sending a letter, then procurement would likely be out of a job. Herein lies another problem with Sally’s strategy – it’s unlikely that vendors would respond with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ leaving her to need to negotiate for whatever she could get. 

And these negotiations would not be simple. Those suppliers who may be inclined to agree would expect more clarity and certainty on any future commitments from the company, which could turn discussions sour, quickly. 

Those on the other end of the spectrum, however, may feel the need to explain why they can’t offer a discount, and may enter the conversation feeling defeated or exposed. 

Whichever way these discussions transpired, they would certainly be time-consuming. In an environment where time is money, you have to ask yourself what the small percentage gains you might secure are really worth. . 

Issue 3: Your supplier is in a crisis, too 

Supplier Management 101 tells us that we should treat our suppliers like we’d like to be treated. But is sending out a generic request the way we’d like to be treated, especially if we’re in crisis too? 

The answer is a resounding and obvious no. Any suppliers that Sally is dealing with would also be deep within this crisis, and may in fact be considering a price increase to save themselves. On top of this, a lack of personalised correspondence could be perceived as insulting to the relationship. The request might net a discount, but it would cost far more than that in future relationship capital. 

If Sally’s plan wouldn’t work, then what would? 

Step 1: Shore up your fundamentals 

In times of crisis, and indeed, in ordinary time procurement must have a clear goal and an execution plan for what is needed for the business operations to continue undisrupted (or minimally impacted) and more importantly, for creatively increasing value to the organisation. 

These are essentially the fundamentals required to maintain a strong supplier base and elevate procurement. From a pure supplier relationship perspective, engaging strategic suppliers to assess their crisis preparedness and ability to continue to serve the organisation is the first step. 

Step 2: Creatively and empathetically engage your suppliers

Once you’ve got your fundamentals organised, you need to engage your suppliers in strategic conversations about how to creatively increase efficiency, optimize processes quickly, reduce waste (of time, resources and costs), and where possible, decrease costs and deliver additional value. 

Beyond this, you also need to discuss with them what value is added,  how much, for how long, what are the contingencies. This will help you establish a win-win approach with short and long term impact. 

The idea is that a continuation of a growing partnership will drive the right behaviours, not just during this crisis but in the future. Supplier-driven innovation should always be a top priority to both procurement and the entire organisation. 

After you’ve finished your initial discussions (and note, these type of discussions should always be ongoing) use learnings from them across all other supplier segments. The behavior you want to drive here is ensuring suppliers not only want to continue doing business with you but are eager to strategize with each other during the crisis.

Going back to Sally’s situation, this approach works for a number of reasons. Even if suppliers couldn’t immediately offer reductions they will be clear on expectations and will be committed to perform at a high level and produce ideas for the company, while increasing supplier engagement and value as a byproduct. Suppliers will be willing to explore solutions to avoid disruption, which is exactly what the business needs. In addition to this, the effort expended is targeted so no time will be wasted and in fact, the time spent may even produce market intelligence that can be brought back to the business to refine their own mitigation strategies. 

Also, finally and perhaps most importantly, the role of the procurement will be elevated to a truly strategic function (with lasting impact) to the organisation.

Continue supplier relationship best practice? 

For procurement professionals that realised early that Sally’s approach wouldn’t work, none of the advice here on how to rectify it should come as surprise: it is, quite simply, supplier relationship best practice to treat your suppliers in this way. 

In fact, for organisations that already implement supplier relationship best practice, they may not even need to take these steps – throughout this crisis, their suppliers may already be knocking on their door with creative mitigation strategies. They may even be using this crisis to bring the relationship to the next level. 

But for those who are yet to establish supplier management best practice, this example provides the perfect reason why you need to. Supplier relationships are a key enabler to business success, and when they are strong, the risk of business disruption is greatly reduced. 

What have you done to strengthen supplier relationships throughout this crisis? Let us know in the comments below. 

Is The Secret To Change And Successful Innovation A Matter Of Timing?

Innovation and change – we know we need to do it but taking the first step is always hard. However, waiting until change is forced upon us could lead to even more pain.


“Execution is all about timing – people don’t want to do things differently…until they have to”

James Varga, CEO – DirectID

Change. It runs against our very nature to accept and embrace it, even when we know it’s for the best. People will rail against it, undermine it, challenge it or be completely apathetic to it. That is until something forces them to accept it and the need to do something differently.

That’s exactly the issue facing global procurement professionals at this very moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced each one of us to reconsider the how our jobs are done and how we help our organisations. Fortunately, we have a group of leaders whose first thoughts on change are how they can make it happen, to rely upon.

Procurious is one of those organisations considering how to provide its service in the current climate. Faced with not being able to have CPO Roundtables in person, we grasped this opportunity to connect our leaders virtually, ensuring that our CPOs still had the chance to gather and share their ideas and experiences. Because at times like these, as Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Pragmatism over Pomposity

Although the Roundtable took place against the backdrop of COVID-19, the discussions on the day had a far greater focus on the future than the present. Procurement not only faces the challenges of global supply disruption while ensuring that employees can operate in a safe environment, but also ensuring that the profession is well prepared for what comes next.

Part of this preparation is bringing innovation back into the everyday conversation about how procurement looks, feels and operates. This is not innovation as a management buzzword, but as a practical concept that helps realise real change and sets procurement up to face any and all future challenges. As one of our speakers, Gareth Hughes, Director of Property and Procurement at Whistl noted, “We need pragmatic procurement, not pompous procurement terms”.

Innovation here is about finding the areas where change can make a lasting difference. It’s also about ensuring that, even though the timing may not seem quite right, having the tenacity to make ideas a reality is critical for procurement’s future success.

With that in mind, we’ve picked out our three key messages from the Roundtable for you to take back to your organisation.

1. Supplier Innovation – Fit for the Future

“We need to focus on the positives that have arisen from the COVID-19 experience.”

Ian Thomson – Regional Director UK and Nordics, Ivalua

Innovation is a fleeting concept. A brand new, imaginative and forward-thinking idea one day can quickly become obsolete before we even have a chance to do anything with it. The trick is to keep challenging the idea that things need to be done in a certain way and not to ignore the ‘hard’ challenges for fear of rejection.

This is the mantra of Ian Thomson of Ivalua, who chose to look for the positives for procurement in the challenges posed in the current global climate. What is striking, according to Ian, is how traditionally adversarial relationships – competing organisations; buyers and suppliers – are changing for the better as people pull together.

This not only provides an amazing opportunity to develop long-lasting leadership and trust, but also opens the doors to supplier-led innovation. This can be achieved by having greater pragmatism when it comes to new ideas, as well as increasing our appetite for risk to embed real change.

2. Volatility requires flexibility

“Businesses are operating in massively changed contexts. To use foresight, we need to develop multiple long-term strategies.”

Jessica Prendergast, Freelance Foresight Consultant at Future Insights

An organisation’s appetite for risk is one key to successful innovation. Being too risk averse can stop worthwhile ideas in their tracks but failing to fully plan for future risks can be just as bad. That’s why Jessica Prendergast, a freelance Foresight Consultant, believes that the one-dimensional continuity plans that most businesses have belong in one place – the bin!

According to Jessica, in order to innovate and predict the future, organisations need to develop multiple scenarios to cover all possible eventualities. ‘Foresighting’ is how the thought process for this starts, helps us to understand the role of automation and technology and how we can learn and apply today from these techniques.

Jessica used the example of our changing ways of working recently. At the beginning of the year, widespread Working from Home would have been unthinkable for most organisations. Now it is the ‘new normal’. Good leadership and community spirit have made these changes easier to implement, and has highlighted how organisational planning can be helped by taking a broader view.

3. Timing is everything

“An idea isn’t great until you prove it, an idea can be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

James Varga, CEO – The ID co.

Planning multiple scenarios, being more accepting of risk and working more closely with suppliers to innovate is only half the battle. Getting people to accept an idea at the best of times will always prove tricky due to people’s natural aversity to change. Even the most innovative idea ever may struggle to gain traction if the timing is wrong.

However, there are ways to tips the scales in your favour. James was able to share his top three with the assembled group:

  • Be tenacious – make the most of issues facing the organisation to highlight innovation and make change happen;
  • Don’t assume – not everyone will think your idea is great, you’ll need to test and measure to prove its worth;
  • Accept a bit more risk – moving smaller suppliers and accept more risk in our new normal, you never know where it will lead.

The underlying key to these three points is removing the blockers to innovation by focusing on adoption of ideas. Then your focus can be coming up with one great idea and making it work, rather than lots of ideas that may ultimately deliver less for your organisation.

Collaboration is King

However, your organisation is approaching the current situation, it is always worth remembering that there will be life (and work) on the other side. Taking time to focus on the future at a point when many of us have the time to do this could make a critical difference to how procurement looks and operates at the forefront of public consciousness.

Not every problem can be solved. Sometimes it’s about mitigating the impact, which can be helped by planning out your multiple scenarios and accepting a bit more risk to be open to new ideas that can have a positive impact.

And, no matter what you do, it’s important to remember that you are not alone – there are thousands of procurement professionals tackling the same issues who are willing to share their thoughts and approaches. As the world changes the way we work, it’s time to collaborate as much as we can and become the leaders who are facing change head on.

If you’re interested in accessing market-leading industry insights and networking, express your interest in joining Procurious’ Roundtable Program here.

Working From Home Is Resilient, But Is It Sustainable In Procurement?

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted Procurement in unimaginable ways. Running Procurement from home is possible, but is it sustainable?


The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the workforce in ways we have never experienced, affecting also Procurement departments and Procurement Outsourcing (PO) providers. Shared service center locations first across Asia and then the rest of the world became hot spots, leading to a rush of company initiatives to enable procurement professionals to productively work from home. IBM was successful in moving 99% of its Procurement Outsourcing teams from 60 centers across 40 countries into a home office environment in only 10 days without service degradation (1), proving that running a Procurement business working from homeis possible and productivity can be maintained when a business can react quickly, but is it sustainable? Have critical activities just been postponed or is this is the new business as usual? Three considerations for sustained resiliency.

#1. Make regularly working from home part of your team’s DNA

While many of us are used to working from home in some capacity, over 80% of our procurement professionals have never done so on a regular basis.  And just because our workforce can work from home does not mean they are able and willing to do so long-term.

But returning to the office means finding the balance between safety and productivity for our teams, and deciding whether to aim for a quick return to the office or a more comprehensive re-modeling toward “borderless workplaces” where staff works from a combination of office, client site and/or home. Returning to the office is based on smart, quick and simple fixes: social distancing, mask wearing, and setting up sanitation protocols, such as rethinking where and when we eat and gather, how we open and close doors and use elevators. Re-modeling more fundamentally looks at how we work and defining what the worker’s purpose and intent is inside the office. Buildings become much more purpose-driven; deliberately sought out for team meetings, new employee onboarding, and collaboration sessions, with more hot desks and larger shared spaces, instead of being the default place to go for work.

But no matter in what capacity we return to the office, working from home regularly or even primarily will have to become part of our DNA going forward, as future infection waves are likely to force us out of offices again multiple times over the next few years.

Achieving this will require us to focus more than ever on internal communication. We have already seen a personalization of written communication over the past few months, with people expressing genuine care for each other, but we need to also listen to our employees and keep an eagle-eyed focus on engagement. By taking time for one-on-one discussions, acknowledging everyone’s individual challenges, ramping up appreciation and recognition, and ensuring we create virtual spaces for socializing we can maintain a sense of belonging and feeling of pride. On a collective scale, short pulse surveys can be a simple way to gauge the team about how they feel and adapt measures for greater engagement and productivity.

Ultimately our teams and their willingness to be flexible will be the first line of defense for sustained productivity in the new world.

#2: Bootstrap adjustments in operating models to accelerate your digitalization journey

Just a few months of working from home on a large scale have successfully increased the sense of urgency for digitalization and more intelligent end-to-end workflows. IBM and our clients have already seen an explosion of home-grown dashboards and trackers, aimed at gaining more visibility into procurement operations, allowing for more granular insights and daily views of the business. In the spirit of agility, we should initially allow for the creation of these “quick and dirty” data collection and visualization tools, even if it is manual and there is duplication. As we learn more about what our post-COVID-19 world will look like and the effort required to maintain a plethora of semi-manual tools becomes a burden, we can start distilling down to only a handful of tools and a new operating standard, creating the enablers for a broader roll-out of “no touch” procurement solutions, including traditional tools like catalogs, as well as newer solutions like marketplaces, chatbots, guided buying assistants, robotic process automation, and analytics to accelerate speed to insights and decision making.

Even more delicate and trust-based processes like Category Management and Strategic Sourcing can benefit from digitalization, for example by running “Virtual Sourcing Bootcamps” with business stakeholders using a series of video calls to map out purchasing plans, identify additional addressable spend and define more robust category wave plans for the year.

Additional incentives can be created for those internal clients or BPO customers who are resistant to a more permanent work from home delivery environment by redistributing real estate charges and differentiating expected employee productivity to create a price differential between home- and office-based setups.

#3: Learn to build trust virtually as a buyer and a seller

Until recently, meeting face-to-face was a non-negotiable prerequisite for the signing of large contracts, which we at IBM have experienced both as a supplier of Procurement Outsourcing, but also a buyer agent with our own and our customer’s suppliers. Finding a way to make customers comfortable pulling the trigger on multi-million-dollar contracts with little to no human contact is going to be a key success factor for our new future.

In the outsourcing world, visiting one or more delivery centers is a staple in every sales pursuit, but with increasingly distributed teams and a desire to reduce non-essential business travel, we are now showcasing our teams and their capabilities virtually. Using a mixture of live and pre-recorded videos, online whiteboarding tools and virtual roundtables with practitioners we have been able to create an authentic virtual delivery experience to aid in the sales process.

Experiment with virtual collaboration tools not just internally, but get comfortable using them with clients and suppliers to co-create, or hear from experts and practitioners that wouldn’t otherwise have been flown in. Focus your travel dollars and effort on one key meeting or workshop and augment it with a few virtual “visits” to round out the picture.

Summary

Leading a borderless workplace Procurement team is possible and can even deliver superior results if employees are engaged, but ensuring sustainability requires active shaping of your team’s DNA, a more digitalized operating model and the confidence to build trust in a virtual environment. Sometimes creativity requires constraints to really flourish, and let’s use the existing restrictions as an opportunity to emerge from this crisis stronger than when we entered it.

By Matthew Bounds & Martin Esser. For more information about operational resiliency, read:

·       Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Services for business continuity and resiliency ibm.com/bpo

·       Building operational resiliency for anytime, anywhere and any situation

Footnote: (1) IBM Services blog, “Building operational resiliency for anytime, anywhere and any situation”, May 4, 2020, https://www.ibm.com/blogs/services/2020/05/04/building-operational-resiliency-for-anytime-anywhere-and-any-situation/

Coronaphobia: Have You Got It?

Businesses across the UK who are making efforts to get back to business are facing a new uphill struggle – employees claiming stress and anxiety or are simply requesting outright to be furloughed for another 3 months.


Workers who were furloughed back in April are being gradually invited back to work, although some are being asked to work from home. However, many small businesses are reporting major issues in getting staff back to their roles, after 3 months being at home.

“It’s crazy to think that after all this uncertainty and worry – that happy time arrives when you can invite staff back to work and that they don’t want to actually come back!”, says Jonathan Ratcliffe who runs office space company Offices.co.uk

Reports from SMEs across the UK include:

  • Workers being too scared to come back to work and are being signed off due to anxiety
  • Staff not wanting to come back to work, who would rather be furloughed for a bit longer
  • Employees deciding to have a change of career

“Those struggling mentally you can well understand and have my sympathy, but we have seen first-hand staff simply asking if they can stay on furlough for a bit longer, it’s crackers, I couldn’t believe my ears”, adds Ratcliffe.

Businesses must tread carefully and understand the employee’s rights. Employers now face the daunting challenge of rebuilding businesses across a wide variety of sectors with a lack of motivated staff due to the long spell of lockdown.

The issue is complex, and the situation is unique for every type of business and every employee. However, as companies see demand for services increase over the next month, the issue of reintroducing staff from furlough into a routine of work is going to be a challenging one.

“I totally sympathise with everyone who has been furloughed, it’s a tough time, but we must realise the scheme cannot go on indefinitely. We want to welcome employees back with socially distanced open arms and build our way back out of this mess”, Ratcliffe from Offices.co.uk concludes.

Out is In: an Outline of the Outlook for the Outsourced

There are ample opportunities for savings in outsourced services implementing the right models for balanced success.


Just over six months ago, I left my role in a well-established procurement advisory firm to take a deep dive into the outsourced services category. My spend management sense told me this category was still untapped by procurement. Now, amidst an unexpected crisis affecting nearly every business in the world, my instincts have been confirmed.

As a baseline, it’s important to understand that indirect service categories tend to get less attention than direct categories or indirect goods, which tend to be more visible. Many indirect services happen in the background, while we’re off at night, despite filling an important need.

To quantify the gaps, we’re running a study on the capabilities and outcomes procurement teams are using in services categories. It’s still open for a few weeks more, so please click here to benchmark yourself in areas like analytics, talent, category management, and value delivered across services categories. I look forward to sharing detailed results with participants as we all try to focus our efforts where we’ll have the most impact.

Outsourcing as a spend category

Specifically, what do we mean by outsourced services? Over the last 30 years, both non-core and core activities have been shifted outside of the organization. While the original goal was cost savings through labour arbitrage in lower cost regions, objectives broadened as provider capabilities developed and companies served increasingly global markets. These days, outsourcing projects are as much about digital transformation as they are about cost cutting.

Many industries rely heavily on outsourcing partners. For example, a typical financial services organisation could spend 5 per cent of its revenue on business services, and more than half of its IT spend could come from services, not software or hardware. That shift means business processes, engineering services, and IT sourcing make up hundreds of millions of dollars of spend for organisations.

As a procurement advisor and consultant for the last 15 years, and a practitioner and services buyer for many years before, I know how tightly procurement has squeezed savings out of every spend category possible. The whole concept of category management is predicated on the idea that savings will flatten over time, and procurement must become a trusted advisor to enable stakeholders in delivering higher forms of value from the supply base. For most categories, price benchmarks are hard to come by, RFPs across multiple suppliers drive pricing down, and relationships can be transactional for all but the most strategic items.

Outsourced services are different. There may only be a couple of suppliers to choose from, and switching costs are high. Service providers are serving as extensions of company operations, sometimes in customer- and employee-facing roles with sensitive information.

At Everest Group, an analyst firm focused on the global services market since 1991, we see untapped opportunities for procurement to better manage outsourced services categories. More suppliers than buyers are accessing the wealth of information on service providers, best practice contract terms, and cost models. The components for strong category planning exist, but procurement teams are just starting to access them. Price and contract benchmarks are readily available, and most projects reveal double-digit opportunities to improve costs. Like many other strategic categories, these are dynamic relationships that benefit from strong category management tactics: quality market intelligence, collaboration with stakeholders, well informed negotiations, supplier partnering, and risk management. There’s so much opportunity for value in these categories as buyers become more educated about the market.

Global services during the COVID-19 pandemic

Of course, we can’t have a conversation about global services in 2020 without talking about the impact COVID-19 is having on the world. My colleagues and I have been busy speaking with service providers and buyers, and crunching the data to help companies emerge from this crisis stronger and better prepared. Check out our COVID-19 resource center for ongoing posts, reports, and even a dynamic tracker to see impact to global service delivery by country.

Optimising costs and modernising value delivery

There’s never been a better time to address cost improvement opportunities in outsourced spend. In our upcoming webinar with Procurious – “5 Cost Levers To Pull Right Now With Your Outsourced Services” – we’ll talk about opportunities to optimise costs and modernise value delivery.

This is not about pushing suppliers to the brink to cut costs while compromising their ability to survive and sustain good services. In fact, as a thought leader focused on driving procurement organizations to create higher value, it pains me a bit to allude to cost savings in the webinar title. As a function, we need to resist the urge to revert to 2008-style high-pressure cost cutting. This is about working with service provider partners to ensure we have the right models in place for balanced success. Our success post-crisis is dependent on having the technology, service levels, and terms in place to operate in a digital world. In fact, service providers prefer to work with educated customers, and, so, prefer small adjustments every few years rather than large corrections when an uninformed customer learns they were wasting money throughout a five-year contract.

During the webinar, we’ll talk in depth about the following improvement levers:

  1. Paying the right price – market rates in services can be quite dynamic; it’s important to understand cost drivers and adjust rates regularly.
  2. Understanding total cost – it’s never just about rates: there are hidden cost drivers everywhere and we need to know where to look.
  3. Deal structure – there are several ways to structure an outsourcing engagement; none are right or wrong for all situations. We’ll talk about what to consider and what to avoid.
  4. Innovation – Innovation and digital transformation is becoming a priority in outsourcing, but we often miss this while focusing on costs.
  5. Financial engineering – there are creative ways to fund productivity. We’ll give a few examples of recent deals that shift the paradigm for buyer and supplier.

Whether you manage a small amount of outsourced spend or multi-million-dollar contracts, or are just curious to learn about a new category, please join us for an interesting and educational conversation.

Assistance for services buyers

During the COVID-19 crisis we are offering pro bono assistance to services buyers in the procurement community:

  • Complimentary price checks on up to three standard roles in three different locations – a pulse check to see if your rates are in line or out of line with the market.
  • A service provider risk profile covering four key parameters (finance, governance, operations, reputation) –  find out if there are underlying concerns with your provider beyond the immediate crisis.
  • A conversation with one of our analysts on any global services related topic – ask questions, test your strategy, or get feedback on what others are doing from our senior team.

Our team at Everest Group is excited to be working with Procurious, and we look forward to helping members create value for their organizations.

Amy Fong

Vice President – Strategic Outsourcing and Vendor Management
Everest Group

To find out more about these cost levers, and to access expert advice on how to use them, register for the Everest Group sponsored webinar 5 cost levers to pull right now with your outsourced services, to be broadcast on Thursday May 7th 2020 at 2:30pm GMT. To find out all the information you need, including how to sign up, visit the Procurious website or click here.

What A Two Year Old Taught Me About Emergency Procurement

Think parenthood and COVID-19 have nothing in common? Think again. Read on for 5 lessons that parenting a toddler has taught me and how these apply to emergency procurement situations.


It is pretty difficult working from home with a toddler at any time, but even more so during a lockdown.

I fell into despair last week.  The pressure was on. Two phones were ringing off the hook from an emergency situation, when my toddler ripped off their pants and became the entertaining backdrop for my video call.

COVID-19 lockdown is one of those moments that will be earmarked in my time capsule. It seemed to hit at once across all fronts. Work and home life were hurled into turmoil.

But rather than spiralling into a work/life balance death spiral, I called on some of the valuable lessons I have learnt as a parent.  Rather than being a distraction, they have been my secret to success in managing myself and my team through a series of emergencies bought on my the COVID-19 crisis.

Emergency procurement

COVID-19 has been impacting business both domestically and internationally for some months, requiring rapid action from commercial teams. My role is to provide support, to draft contracts, create requirements, obtain pricing and negotiate. It’s a team effort, but a mammoth amount of energy for each person involved.

Take on board these 5 simple lessons from my time dealing with emergency situations.

1. Set your pace and do so carefully

Just like parenthood, the COVID-19 pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the adrenaline that comes with working on critical and time pressured projects makes you want to sprint. In fact you tell everyone you’re fine and can take on even more work! Foolish. This is a recipe for burnout and one I learned the hard way.

During a recent time pressured day, I drew on the parenting experience of trying to be an octopus. The dinner is about to boil over the kid comes running in with a live grasshopper and someone is knocking at the door.

I had 20 minutes to review 6 contracts and make a determination about next steps. The only thing you do in these situations is scan the most important details that you need to check and be a speedy risk mitigation machine! It pays to have your manager on stand-by to ratify your decisions.

2. It’s practical not technical

You can read all the parenting books you like, but it’s not until you have sole accountability for a human being that you really know what the job is all about!

In procurement, getting the call to undertake an emergency project can be quite unnerving. My first thoughts were to start questioning all my technical knowledge, but I needn’t have worried. Commercial acumen in practice can look like asking the obvious questions and checking the basics. It is surprising in the pace of the environment and the revolving door of personnel what is not pieced together. Back yourself to ask the tough and difficult questions no matter what your title or rank.

Questions that should be asked when delivering goods overseas at speed: what happens if the recipient country situation changes in transit? When should ownership and transfer of assets kick in? Check warranties, support and training. How useful is it if the helpdesk is in a different time zone?

3. Don’t forget the day job

Parenting is a 24/7/365 day job. It never ends. Managing a procurement team during an emergency situation is not much different.  During the COVID-19 crisis, the biggest thing I’ve struggled with is providing quality leadership and management to my team. I hold myself to high standards. When I answer the call on a Sunday to work on the next emergency situation it is hard to find the time to run the day to day. Being honest with the team and sharing what I’m working on helps them to contextualise their work. Leaning on management and peers to share the management load relieves a lot of pressure for me. I had to know when to stick my hand up and utter those difficult words “I’m at capacity”.

4. Pants are optional

When emergency situations have arisen in the past, I tended to try to shoo away the other aspects of my life. This is pretty difficult to do with a toddler in my bubble in lockdown. Particularly when they have taken their discarded pants and walked into my zoom meeting with their pants on their head. This is a leveller.

It reminded me what is most important. When I started opening up about this and other life necessities like going for a walk or going to the supermarket I found a willing and supportive environment ready to cover me.

Negotiating with two suppliers for two separate but interrelated contracts with different time zones will not be done in an hour. Looming press conference announcements weigh heavily and it is easy for anxiety to set in about securing signatures quickly. I learned that my butt in the chair is not going to speed the process up any faster. I needed to go out for walks and prioritise what self-care I needed.

5. Protect your space

When you’re working from home the environments can bleed into one another. It is important to have a separate workspace that is away from other areas. For me it caused confusion about when I was working and when I was not, I defaulted to work mode and learned the hard way that I hadn’t switched off.

Working in a different space changed my habits and it caused me to make a mistake in my work. I didn’t pick up on something in a contract before it went for signing. I realised that it’s because I usually print a hard copy off first before signing.

I realised my “work self” identity needed to change during lockdown. I can’t hold myself to the same standards when the game has entirely changed – mistakes will happen when working at speed. It’s called being human.

I showed kindness to myself and it caused me to think more deeply about the others in my team. It’s taught me to be kinder and patient.

Play it forward

I’m determined to keep these lessons front of mind for the transition phase of returning to work. We’re all likely to be in limbo mode for a while and must be mindful of the ongoing impacts that the lockdown will have and how these can play out.

Kindness and compassion for yourself will invariably lead to more kindness and compassion for others. Put yourself first.

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 the official policy of the New Zealand government or of any government agency.

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How To Set Your Supply Chain Up For Coronavirus Recovery

How should you set your supply chain up for coronavirus recovery? Find out the steps here.


With the majority of the world still in lockdown, no detailed blueprint for economic recovery, and no vaccine in sight, the end to the coronavirus pandemic still seems a while off. But reassuringly, there’s signs that we may now at least be in the recovery phase, with many European countries contemplating easing restrictions, and the US announcing they may do so in May. With these reassuring steps, supply chain managers the world over, many who felt blindsided by the speed and force of coronavirus disruptions, are keen not to make the same mistakes again. So they’re now asking themselves the critical question we all need to know the answer to: How do we set our supply chains up for coronavirus recovery? And when we do enter the recovery phase, how do we ensure it’s successful and ideally, fast? 

Step 1: Ensure your cash strategy is fit for purpose 

Early on in the crisis, many optimistic leaders predicted that our economies would simply bounce back in what they called a ‘V’ shaped recovery. But as the pandemic has unfolded, it’s become clear that this is most likely not going to be the case. Economists now predict that we’ll have more of a ‘U’ shaped recovery, where business and consumer spending slowly return over time, although activity is still expected to be significantly subdued until a vaccine is found. 

This leaves most companies, and as a result, most all of us in a tight spot. The uncertainty of it all means that you may need to adjust your cash strategy to ensure it’s fit for purpose. 

Adjusting your cash strategy may take many forms. One strategy is to try to ensure you have more cash available by adjusting your accounts receivables strategy, for example, trying to get invoices out and paid more quickly, and removing barriers to debt collection. 

Another method is to adjust your accounts payable strategy, although if you do so, ensure you do it strategically. Take this opportunity to analyse your suppliers. Who provides the most strategic value? Can you strike a more favourable deal? If you can, ensure you negotiate, for example, perhaps you will give more business to a certain supplier in exchange for favourable payment terms? Analyse everything and strike the delicate balance between looking after suppliers and maintaining your business’s cash reserves. 

Step 2: Identify and assist at-risk suppliers 

Conserving cash is the first critical step in coronavirus recovery, and the key one when it comes to pure business survival. But recovery, when it comes, will be about much more than that. 

By now, most of us have realised how resilient – or not – our supply chains really are. Hopefully, we’ve all had time to look deeper into our supply chains, and map the manufacturing capabilities of each of our suppliers, looking into exactly what part is made in what location. Beyond that, hopefully we now understand – if we didn’t before – the exact dependencies of our products and what needs to happen when, and from where, in order to give our customers what they need. If you haven’t yet undertaken this analysis, now is the time to do so. 

Assuming you have, though, you may have encountered suppliers who are now struggling, or who will be struggling in the near future. Even if your suppliers may not have told you as much, signs that a struggle is indeed present include incomplete or delayed deliveries, changes in debt covenants, or sudden changes in your key contacts. 

As any supply change manager would know, protecting your suppliers is key, and now, more than ever, you may need to do what you can to help. If you’ve identified a supplier who is struggling, try to help by committing to orders or even exploring credit options, such as lending against future orders or applying your company’s credit to loans. In extreme cases, you may even need to look at an equity investment scenario if that supplier is critical to your production. 

Step 3: Look after your people

Cash and suppliers may be fundamental to our day jobs. But what would those look like without … us? 

As any seasoned leader understands, your people are critical to just about anything you want to achieve, and especially a ramp up after a prolonged period of stress and uncertainty. And while, with the current job market, you’re not likely to lose staff if you don’t make an effort right now, when recovery is in full swing, the difference in productivity between disengaged and engaged and motivated staff (which can be up to 22%), can be monumental. 

But what’s the best way to look after your staff right now? Experts recommend: 

  • Be realistic, kind and flexible: With the current crisis affecting the lives and livelihoods of most of the world, now is an extremely stressful time for all of us. Be clear about what you need from your staff, but also be kind and realistic about what you expect them to achieve, and be flexible about when you need it. 
  • Offer mental health support: Right now, the WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates that one in four people are experiencing new or heightened mental health issues due to the crisis. If you can, offer your staff counselling support or direct them to government resources so they can seek help, if needed. 
  • Give upskilling options: While having a high workload right now can be stressful, so too can not having enough to do. If your team isn’t that busy, do your best to reassure them that their jobs are safe (if possible). Beyond that, endeavour to offer upskilling options. These options don’t need to cost a lot or even take long – here are ten critical skills your procurement or supply chain team can learn, for free, for a $0 budget. 

Step 4: Look after your customers

How you treat your staff during a crisis will determine whether or not you’re able to retain them in the recovery period and beyond. Likewise, how you treat your customers is just as important. 

With significant disruptions to supply chains, freight and logistics worldwide, there’s a high chance that at some point, you may disappoint your customers. There’s two key ways you need to manage this: through communication, and through prioritisation. 

For the first, communication, you need to do your best to determine, far ahead of time and with your own suppliers, what delays might exist or what changes in orders you foresee. Once you know, let your own customers know and keep them regularly updated on progress. As always, it’s better to give a worst-case scenario and then delight them when orders do come through faster than expected. 

For the second, prioritisation, if you’re facing considerable shortages and you can’t find an alternate supplier, you may need to prioritise your most valuable customers. Look at factors such as profit margins and key customer segments when figuring out who to prioritise, or alternatively, look at allocations to certain customers if required.  

Get prepared – now 

Recovery might seem a while off, but it’s closer than you think. Make sure you take these steps, now, to ensure you’re in the best place. 

Is there anything else you’re doing to plan for recovery? Tell us in the comments below.  

Want to keep up with the latest coronavirus and supply chain news? Join our exclusive Supply Chain Crisis: Covid-19 group. We’ve gathered together the world’s foremost experts on all things supply chain, risk, business and people, and we’ll be presenting their insights and daily industry-relevant news in a content series via the group. You’ll also have the support of thousands of your procurement peers, world-wide. We’re stronger together. Join us now.