Good people more effective than processes, say SM 100

6 June 2007
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07 June 2007 | Paul Snell

The human element involved in buying is still more valuable to effective procurement than having good systems.

According to the latest SM poll of 100 buyers, 81 per cent believe having good people is more useful than having good processes, which was cited by only 19 per cent of respondents.

For most buyers, having the right staff means they are able to put in place the systems necessary for their business. "Good processes need to be put in place by good people," said Clare Smith, purchasing manager at construction firm Varla. "The managing and running of established good processes can achieve good results, but you need to have good people in the first place."

Others argued good people are able to work with bad processes, but the reverse is not true. "You can have a good process but if someone doesn't follow that process then it is useless," said one buyer.

But for many the central problem of finding good buyers remains. "Processes can be quickly established, but good people can be hard to replace if lost," said Devron Cariba, procurement and contract co-ordinator at the London Development Agency.

Other buyers complained the human element of purchasing was sometimes neglected in favour of systems. "The current trend is for procurement people to get their process maps out like modern-day 'top trumps', rather than focusing on what the process should achieve," said another buyer. "Focusing solely on 'process management' is an over-simplistic approach - it is people's behaviour, values, moods, motives and passion that are key to high performance."

But some buyers disagreed. "Good processes will help you get results from poor people, good people cannot always get results working within poor processes," said consultant Tom Woodham. "They can get frustrated and leave the organisation."

But many said the answer would depend on what was being purchased. Marianna Zangrillo, vice-president of indirect sourcing at Finnish chemical manufacturer Kemira, said: "Good processes and tools may be enough for purchasing - insert the data in the template, click the send button and the order is out. However, if we are discussing strategic sourcing, people are the ones that will make the difference."

Richard Owen, procurement manager at New Zealand dairy firm Fonterra, agreed: "It depends on the category being purchased and the type of relationship needed between supplier and purchaser. If you are buying a raw material for a food product that can vary in quality and availability from day to day, people are more important than the process."


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