All procurement professionals will have experienced the consequences of not having senior management support at some point in their career. The consequences can wreck promising careers and destroy confidence when things go wrong and you find yourself “on your own”. It is vital therefore buyers have strong organisational awareness and recognise the presence or absence of support for their function and its initiatives. Frustratingly, whenever you read about procurement change programmes, those involved always reflect on the lessons learned and stress the importance of executive support. Problem is, no one really defines what it means.
For a procurement initiative to be successful there needs to be support on three levels from executive management:
1. Support of the procurement executive leading the initiative.
2. Support for the procurement function brought about from belief in the value it can bring.
3. Support for the initiative itself at the business level to avoid support being withdrawn if priorities change.
In many organisations initiatives still proceed where there is support from the procurement group and leader, however support from the CEO and leaders of other functions is weak. In such situations resistance from stakeholders is inevitable. And unless the CEO drives other functions to get on-board, the initiative may stagger or fail. It is essential purchasers understand how to secure support and recognise if it is present and the necessary conditions for success have been created.
Creating the conditions for success
When seeking support for an initiative it is useful to ask the following questions:
1. What are the expected business benefits?
2. How much change is required to realise these benefits?
3. How will the benefits be measured and rewarded?
4. Who should sponsor the project?
5. Is the climate right for the initiative to proceed?
Once a project moves forward it is important to recognise the level of support present and how this drives buyer behaviour. Procurement professionals can assess this by looking for evidence of the following actions from senior management:
1. Involvement and participation
4. Monitoring and Support
Evidence of such behaviour usually comes about due to the existence of robust governance frameworks and demonstrates commitment from senior management.
When support is not forthcoming...
The consequences of a lack of support can range from trivial to devastating, including losing your job. Some signals that tell of a lack of support include:
1. The initiative is not properly funded and resourced. If senior management doesn't truly support a particular initiative, they won't provide sufficient resources to do it. This will lessen the chances of a successful initiative or prevent it from going forward altogether.
2. When things go wrong, senior management do not intervene to keep the initiative on track. You find yourself on your own when you meet resistance or are stonewalled by key stakeholders.
The bottom up approach to managing change can be slow, difficult and frustrating for those involved. When forced to adopt this approach, use any success you gain to make a bid to secure executive support. This is a less than ideal way to secure lasting change, and while change programmes started this way may enjoy some success, they are hard to sustain and ultimately wither and die.
The question for procurement professionals caught in such an environment is whether to put a brave face on, or to seek a more receptive environment to practise your skills.