Culture and procurement: uneasy bedfellows yet vital

7 October 2011

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7 October 2011 | Adam Leach

Procurement departments must understand the culture of the organisation in which they operate if they are to achieve maximum value, according to Apple procurement head, Adrian Turner.

Speaking at the CIPS Conference 2011, Turner, European Head of Corporate Procurement, Apple, highlighted the importance of understanding the wider impacts changes can have on businesses and how, when done right, it can provide huge benefits. Turner, said: “Culture and procurement are uneasy bedfellows but get it right and it adds value.”

Drawing on his past experience as a procurement consultant, Turner told the audience about a pitch he was giving to a head of trading at a large bank. He and his team gave their pitch on how they could cut the trading arm of the banks operating costs by 15 per cent. After listening politely to the presentation, Turner was invited to walk across the trading floor to where a trader was sat at a messy desk facing five computer screens. The head of trading told him: “You've told me you can save me 15 per cent, which by the way I don't believe you can. Well that guy can make me that by lunch time and I'm not going to do anything that interrupts that.”

This, according to Turner, was a prime example of what happens when you don't understand the culture of a business. Since then, he has changed his approach to factor in the principles of the Culture Web, Johnson & Scoles 1992. The web breaks down organisational culture into six components including organisational structure, power structures symbols, including logos and branding, and power structures. By analysing an organisation across all these aspects, according to Turner, buyers can identify the obstacles and problem areas that might stand in the way of a procurement programme before it's too late.

“As procurement you've got to understand the organisational culture, the culture of the countries you're operating in and the culture of the marketplace,” said Turner. He added: “The inability to meld facts and data into the cultural appreciations (of an organisation) robs so many projects of full value.”

Referencing a presentation he attended by his former CEO Steve Jobs, he claimed that its the duty of procurement to help people in other areas of the business see new opportunities as opposed to just updating current systems. “As procurement people we have the unique ability to help our business partners see around corners.”

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