A recent Deloitte survey declared only 28 per cent of CPOs felt their procurement function was highly regarded internally and seen as a key business partner.
This lack of love for the procurement profession has resulted in a lack of confidence. While speaking at a recent conference I found procurement professionals often secretly undervalued themselves and did not see the possibility of what they could be – a little like seeing themselves as the ‘ugly sister’ of the organisation.
Perhaps they need to take some advice from Will Smith’s character Alex Hitchens in the 2005 film Hitch in which he professes that to be loved you have to “leap and hope to God you can fly! Because otherwise, we just drop like a rock...wondering the whole way down...‘why in the hell did I jump?’." Procurement needs to take this leap and start seeing themselves as the prettiest girl at the party.
But to do this they need to shift their thinking. They also need to shift the way they interact with the business. It is not that their professional and technical skills are lacking – far from it. What lets them down is their behavioural interaction with the business. Too often they are seen as merely an administrative function. Worse than that, they are frequently viewed as procedural ‘blockers’ who make it difficult for the organisation to get things done. As a client once told me: “Procurement professionals are hired for their procurement skills and fired for their behavioural skills."
The challenge they are faced with is to demonstrate their strategic value to the organisation, to leverage their technical competence to inspire greater confidence in their colleagues and hence become more appreciated for the real value and insights they can provide.
To shift perceptions four key changes need to be made:
1. Permission and confidence. Procurement needs to be able to stand up as equals within the organisation. They have hugely important roles and until they take a stand for themselves the rest of the company will never ask them to the dance.
2. Shift perceptions. The procurement team needs to start challenging the status quo, not just accepting things because “that is the way they have always been”. Their perceptions need to be shifted just as the organisation also needs to shift its own perception to give procurement the respect it deserves.
3. Leading the agenda. Through more strategic thinking and organisational savvy, the procurement team can start to contribute more to leading the agenda, instead of just following it. This occurs when you start thinking big and can switch between modes: facilitator (simply helping to get contracts in place), expert (a source of knowledge to be consulted by the business) and coach (helping the business to improve by offering advice and guidance based on previous learning).
4. Executing the agenda. Whenever you look to strive for more, there are always pitfalls. The more ambitious you are, the more pitfalls you are bound to encounter. So procurement teams should not become dispirited if, in making the three changes above, they experience setbacks. That’s an inevitable part of the process. The key to executing the agenda is navigating such roadblocks and turning resistance into momentum. Don’t take the path of least resistance and revert back to old ways at the first sign of trouble. Instead, expect some setbacks and look for solutions so that you can execute what you are trying to achieve.
Working with procurement functions, we have seen return on investment of as much as 60:1 through programmes that have helped transform how they partner with the business.
If procurement implements these changes, they can start to achieve breakthroughs - and maybe, just maybe, get asked to the prom.
☛ Mike Straw is CEO of consultancy Achieve Breakthrough