Sharing coffee can be a simple way to maintain good supplier relations – but it's surprising how many forget the basics ©Baibakova/123RF
Sharing coffee can be a simple way to maintain good supplier relations – but it's surprising how many forget the basics ©Baibakova/123RF

Don’t forget the human factor in transformation

Soft skills can be vital during a digital transformation, CPOs tell ProcureCon Europe delegates

The intersection between people and technology was high on the agenda at the recent ProcureCon Europe conference in Prague. CPOs from across Europe shared their strategies on automation, making intelligent use of data and leveraging the latest technology.

But it was the human impact of using such tools that tied these conversations together. The future of work may be highly automated, but it also makes uniquely human qualities – those softer and more relationship-based skills – even more important. Here are some of the event’s takeaways…

Digital requires fresh leadership

Thierry Larroque, VP procurement digital transformation at Airbus, stressed that digital leadership needs to be different. “If you want to drive the business to its digital future, you need to be a leader who will keep the team committed and engaged, drive cultures of innovation, take on risk and who has multidisciplinary expertise,” he said. Agility and being willing to learn from failure are also key attributes, he added.

What’s in it for me?

When trying to get internal stakeholders to embrace digital tools, you need to sell the personal benefits. Zsolt Szeker, head of telecom & IT solutions procurement at Nokia, said that during implementation his team used the message: “We want to give you an hour to spend with your family, and less time dealing with data.” BMW procurement director Bodo Bokaemper added: “Simplicity should be the focus, so you shouldn’t have to convince people – my ambition is to have no training and no manuals [when implementing a new tool].”

Deep supplier relationships

Several speakers focused on the importance of fostering deep supplier partnerships. Tomas Veit, head of procurement at Asahi, said while it used to be about “pushing on the margins of our suppliers”, now his team is asking “what can we change to make their lives easier?” “It’s about those other opportunities, from an innovation perspective, and it’s about partnerships,” he said. Ashley Bates, VP procurement and contracting operations at Shell, agreed procurement needed to be seen “more as a relationship business”. “We need to transform how we work with our suppliers,” he added.

Investing in the future

This focus on relationships is sometimes as simple as having a cup of coffee with a supplier – but not everyone sees it that way. Nina Bomberg, global lead buyer at SEG Automotive (formerly part of Bosch) shared her experiences on remaining a customer of choice, given SEG has much less buying power and influence than Bosch. “Last year, I asked a colleague where I could get coffee for a supplier meeting,” she recalled. “Their response: ‘Not in five years have I ever given coffee to a supplier’. From some people there’s still a long way to go. Supplier relationships are like a bank account. You need to pay in so you can get something out. If you constantly live in debt, it won’t work.”

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