As I prepare to put up my Christmas tree, I am reminded of speaking at this time of year at a purchasing conference and comparing an effective procurement function to my tree. I’m sure it’s still as relevant today as it was then.
When picking a tree it’s useful to think about the space and time you have available and the outlay needed to decorate it. It’s taken me years to gather together all my beautiful shiny baubles and certainly couldn’t have afforded to buy them all in the first year. But now I do have the trinkets to decorate my nine-foot tree, though there was one year the tree sat undecorated until the 6 Jan as I ran out of available time and enthusiasm.
Isn’t it the same when setting up a procurement function? You certainly need the enthusiasm, resources and budget to do it. In other words, sometimes it might be better starting off with a small tree you know you can decorate than a huge tree that could just sit there unadorned.
Every tree needs a firm foundation. For me, the solid base for our team is provided by appropriate leadership, management and procurement policies, processes and procedures. Without this foundation you may end up crashing to the floor, just as my fully decorated tree did last year.
Lights are essential to any successful Christmas tree, and so is effective stakeholder engagement. Too often they’re left to blow a fuse or bulb with the replacements hidden in a safe place where they are impossible to find. Checking every bulb before use will help avoid that.
The baubles add colour, texture and variety to the tree. They determine the theme and often the reaction from others. So do the buyers, category managers, analysts, contract and supplier managers within your procurement team. I spend some time the day after decoration rearranging the baubles to ensure they’re in the right spot to provide an evenly adorned and visually appealing tree (It’s also useful to check they’re placed not too near the end of the branch
otherwise the hoover, cat or anyone walking by may just dislodge them).
The star at the top of the tree (I decided against an angel or fairy this year) represents the leadership support you have within the organisation for applying best practice procurement. It provides the light that others look up to, to follow their lead.
While everyone might love looking at the gorgeous Christmas tree, often they’re just interested in the presents that Santa leaves under the tree. For procurement those are the presents delivering value through cost reduction or avoidance, risk mitigation, quality and service improvements, revenue generation and so on. I think people do appreciate them more when they’re gift-wrapped, although at the time of writing I have yet to buy one present, so I’d best take action and do something about it otherwise there will be no presents under my tree this year!