It’s time for procurement to quit being the victim

4 February 2013
Last week I submerged myself in the January edition of Supply Management, where the topic of stakeholder relationships features extensively. In addition to serving the needs of us procurement anoraks, SM also provides a valuable window on the procurement world for those outside the profession and yesterday I was – not for the first time – left wondering about how other business functions see procurement and what the latest raft of articles on ‘stakeholder management’ tells us about where the profession is today. With the latest SM100 poll confirming that ‘improving stakeholder relationships’ being a priority for 45 per cent of buyers this year, we also had the news focus article urging us to increase our influence by proving we can hit targets. And then we had Napp Pharmaceuticals’ Kelly Hawson’s useful soapbox piece highlighting how procurement can learn from ‘sexy’ sales - a point of view I largely agree with. Although it’s difficult to argue with any of the good advice on stakeholder engagement from the various contributors, I was disheartened by the apologetic tone of some in the profession who lament the limitations on procurement influence within their organisations. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone from finance declaring it needed to go out and convince other parts of the business how it can add value. Or when I last saw someone from marketing spitting blood in the corridor at how the business just “didn’t get it”. In this understandable desire to become competent in engaging stakeholders, procurement should rein back on what I see as a growing tendency to apologise for its use of technical tools in doing its job. These mature and widely-applied category and supplier relationship management tools have proven utility in aiding the securing of value for our businesses. Finance doesn’t apologise for its use of net-present-value modelling. Nor does manufacturing operations in its use of statistical process control. And when did R&D last seek your permission to review its clinical trial methodology? It feels almost like every time procurement prioritises influencing skills and stakeholder management, it sends a message that our technical skills are unworthy because what are really important are our listening and schmoozing abilities. It’s time for procurement to quit being the victim and stand proud for the value it brings to the business and how it does this consistently and systematically, year after year. Far from moving away from relying on tool kits, as Kelly Hawson suggests, we need more of our practitioners to commit to becoming the experts in the tools that underpin our professional standing and not be encouraged to believe that selling and interpersonal skills actually trump genuine expertise. Stop apologising. Perhaps, in the end, it’ll be the anoraks that ensure our profession isn’t hollowed-out in the name of increasing influence. A final thought. I’m thinking of running a survey on which business function is the most narcissistic. Which would you vote for?
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