From the pandemic to Brexit and the Suez Canal blockage, procurement teams have encountered a barrage of disruptions to their professional and personal lives. Supply Management asked procurement leaders how they are keeping their teams focused and ready to respond in any working environment
Round table participants:
Matthew Swindall, chief procurement officer at Britvic
Philip Hicks, head of procurement at Northumbrian Water
Claire Costello, chief procurement officer at Co-op
Chris Bruce, supply chain & commercial director at Babcock International
Sopan Shah, chief procurement officer at InterContinental Hotels Group
Debbie Sorrell, director at Quatrosystem
Jeremy Bowley, managing director at Insider Pro
How do you keep your teams motivated when facing multiple and even concurrent challenges?
SS: “It’s about being very clear on what the company’s goals are and being relentless in prioritising the opportunities and challenges that directly support the strategy first and foremost. Procurement is involved in lots of things, from managing overhead spends to direct materials supply management. It’s important to keep communicating what is the priority for the executive and the board, to prioritise from there. This further motivates the teams because they know what they are working on is a direct contribution to the company strategy.”
CC: “With us all having worked remotely for the past year now, I find the most valuable thing I can do for my team is to help them prioritise, for the short and long term. Together, we work to create clarity and discuss where we should focus. It helps us approach challenges that often appear in quick succession, all demanding our attention. In terms of motivation, we’re very much a purpose-based organisation and most people join because they feel passionately about what we do. As each task fits within our values and our vision, it triggers that same appetite and drive in my team.”
PH: “You have to recognise the challenges and face them together as a team. It’s about being honest and recognising you are asking a lot of people. I focus on the 80/20 rule when not everything can be done concurrently. Can we get 80% of the result with 20% input? Don’t let perfection get in the way. Be pragmatic and delivery-focused together.”
DS: “Motivation is very personal so it’s important to know your team and their individual motivations, values and insecurities to be able to motivate and support. An energetic team spirit is also needed where the leader is part of the team. The leadership role should be to create the environment where the team is able to succeed and is recognised for those successes.”
How do you encourage productivity in those who don’t usually work from home?
CB: “We have seen productivity increase and sickness fall since the pandemic, but we have also seen employees’ working days increase in length as there isn’t much else to do in lockdown. So we have made a commitment through our ‘Wellness Wednesdays’ programme to interview employees about how they have adjusted to working predominantly from home, balancing the different stresses associated with this.”
SS: “It’s all about wellbeing and flexibility. By being very clear on expectations and trusting them to deliver, it grants colleagues the flexibility they need as they work from home, or regarding the hours they work. We have leveraged various pieces of technology for different types of communications and have rolled out ‘Focus Fridays’, where there are no team meetings for anyone, ensuring people have a day to focus and get things done.”
MS: “We were quick to adapt to the pandemic and to help employees work from home. This transformation in our ways of working and within Britvic’s procurement both have technology at the heart. Now is the perfect time to hire and upskill our people and the changes we’re making, such as embedding category management and the rollout of technology, all make a daily difference to productivity.”
CC: “We haven’t actually found encouraging productivity from home workers to be an issue. To some extent it’s the reverse, so we are working with our teams to ensure that they are taking appropriate breaks and are not simply glued to their screens. We have invested a lot of time and resources in supporting our colleagues’ physical and mental wellbeing during lockdowns.”
Have you managed to maintained team spirit this past year?
PH: “People say it’s ‘too hard’ remotely but, in reality, even before Covid most teams (in my experience) could improve how they interact and build trust ‘outside’ of work. If you focus on it and have a champion in the team, anything is possible. We’ve had some great remote socials including quizzes. I’ve also built relationships with new colleagues via remote beer tasting events. Essentially, it’s about making time to connect with people, something we all need to do irrespective of Covid.”
CC: “We’ve delivered some amazing online events including concerts, festivals and webinars over the last year. In my team specifically, we’ve also had a lot of fun. We’ve seen cheese and wine tastings, bake-offs and quizzes, as well as presentations, meetings and business updates. It’s important to remember that not everyone is able to connect in real-time. We frequently record updates to be watched at other times, by those who need the flexibility because they’re up against homeschooling, pets, poor Wi-Fi connectivity and other hurdles.”
JB: “The theme we set every quarter gives us a focus that is work-relevant and helps us have fun. Every month we set aside half a day to reflect on how we’ve done and where we can develop. If we’ve achieved our goals, we reflect that in the event and the budget.”
What's your plan for the return to the office?
CB: “We decided early to restructure our offices to become collaboration hubs, using IT and seating arrangements to allow for onsite and remote employees to interact together. We have been signposting that we won’t be expecting our teams to be in the office 100% of the time for a while now, to make sure we maintain the good that has come out of this very difficult period. We have tested the tech and it’s great to be able to host a meeting with some physical and some remote with no loss of continuity, but it does take a different management style to make sure everyone is included and gets to have their say."
JB: “Office space burns cash every month and is difficult to flex down, should revenues suddenly fall from a lockdown or other external event. I expect collaborative workspaces to become the norm although I anticipate companies will want to retain their own footprint. Having your own space allows the company to control who comes in when, and to set policies on interaction. This is likely to be a ‘must have’ in the future."
SS: “We’re evolving our thinking – not least ensuring that we’re guided by the things that really matter – which isn’t just the amount of time someone spends in an office or where their work gets done. I’m clear that trust is a foundation for flexible working, and as we’ve all demonstrated, there’s a huge amount that can be achieved remotely. As leaders, we must lead by example. I will make it very visible how I as a leader will be working flexibly, so people can see this role-modelling in action as we shape what’s right for the wider team. It’s also about thinking inclusively – we must continue to support colleagues and the pressures on them at home as we move to a hybrid world – as parents, caregivers, or people living alone.”
DS: “Roles need to be done wherever delivers the best results for the business and the individual, and management attitudes and techniques need to develop to effectively support this. It would be great to see savings from using less floor space invested in better spaces and facilities, and flexible but well-managed and well-organised environments. We also need to recognise that not everyone has a suitable (or even safe) work environment at home and provision should be made for those who prefer to return to the office.”
Could new hybrid spaces unlock new skills?
PH: “The challenges and opportunities remain constant along with the need to engage with and build stakeholder confidence and relationships. The tools we use, such as technology, may be different but the skill set is the same. The challenge will be ensuring as a profession we embrace what will undoubtedly be a period of change. Young people need to see procurement as a progressive function and one where they can have a great bend of challenge, reward and flexibility as part of an enjoyable and successful career. If we don’t we won’t attract the great talent we need to keep moving our profession forward.”
JB: “In the new world, procurement must get closer to the operating heart of the business and orchestrate the supply chain to build long-term value for the company. Hybrid offices are the perfect opportunity to do this as it should bring people from different departments closer.”
DS: “Different communication skills might be needed but procurement is a function that requires excellent and varied communication skills. Hybrid workspaces must offer that – get up, get out there, but work from home when it suits the task or your personal needs.”
CC: “Interpersonal skills are key to being a successful procurement team. Even those proficient in listening, flexing their communication style, reading human cues and managing people have had to evolve their skills during the pandemic, to ensure they translate online and make a similar impact to how they would in person. As we consider hybrid working spaces, knowing when to meet in person, or how to manage a mixed format meeting will require a strong understanding of how to get the best out of the attendees. I believe that it’s core leadership skills like this that will open many more doors and help procurement professionals excel.”