Lessons I picked up the hard way

5 November 2009
I have just started a new job. I’ve been lucky enough to work for a number of companies and I love the excitement that surrounds a new role. Just as by the end of their first day salespeople know how to complete their expenses, finance will have counted how many light bulbs could be removed to cut costs and IT gurus will have already bypassed the firewall, there are things procurement can do to become effective quickly. The sourcing process and tools are broadly universal. You’ll have to learn the specifics relating to your new company - maybe there’s a different e-sourcing tool – but the core will be familiar. The issues of effective stakeholder engagement, SRM and the creation of a sustainable supply chain will be hot topics, although the level of maturity of the new organisation might differ. You may even deal with the same categories and the same suppliers. Every company I’ve worked at has its own corporate language. Decisions will be made differently and a whole new hierarchy of power (implied and assumed) will need to be worked out. From a procurement perspective, a different approach to risk can have a massive impact on how things are done, and behavioural norms and assumptions need to be identified and learnt. Along the way I have unconsciously developed a survival kit to help me through the transition phase. Some of the tools are procurement-specific but the majority are generic. Here are some lessons that I learnt the hard way: ● Prepare: be prepared for the flood of information and research what you can before you join. Keep regular chunks of time free in the first few months to absorb it all. If you don’t, you’ll not only be working long hours, you may well miss nuggets that will help you deliver more effectively. ● Study: take time to learn the process and tools relevant to your role. ● Chat: don’t fall into the trap of trying to get up to speed before you meet people. Get out there and meet your team, stakeholders and suppliers; where possible do this face to face. Engage with people early and start to build relationships with them – go for coffee. Be inquisitive and formulate key questions you want answered. You have limited time before you start to acclimatise, and as you do – so you will lose the ability to spot the obvious questions. ● Listen: it’s easy to assume you have the answers but unless you listen to the war stories, you might be guilty of matching the wrong solution to a problem or missing out on what the real problem is. ● Watch: sometimes the nonverbal/ non-written information we pick up tells us more than a thousand reports. Look for instances where relationships seem to be broken. ● Analyse: spend time analysing all this data you have collected and test your hypothesis with your stakeholders and team. ● Network: continue to build your network internally and externally. There are always people out there who have experience that can help. ● Ask: don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most procurement people I have worked with have been incredibly generous with their time and knowledge and are only too happy to be of assistance. The trick is identifying what help you need and the person who can give you the information. Sam Covell is head of IS procurement at AstraZeneca (samcovell@hotmail.com)
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