Buyers must feel 'passion and excitement' about social value

Buyers must feel “passion and excitement” about social value if it is to gain traction in an organisation, an event was told.

Claire Costello, chief procurement officer at The Co-op, said top-down support and education for buyers were also critical factors.

Speaking at the CIPS Virtual Conference 2020, she said: “You need top down support and to educate from the bottom-up in the buyer population so that you're communicating consistently across the organisation.

“I'm very fortunate in that the whole vision for the Co-op is cooperating for a fairer world. It starts from the very top for us, all the way from our board through to our exec, which then makes it a lot easier for you to open that conversation. 

“To make it practical, you really need your buying population, your stakeholder, and your business partners to feel that same passion and excitement.”

Costello recommended procurement professionals seeking to embed social value talk to leadership to get support and communicate with buyers to make sure they understand what the initiative is and why it’s important.

“The hook is finding something that works for your organisation, sits alongside their strategy, and works for the buyers so they can talk to their business stakeholders in a language that they will understand and get excited by, because this has got to be the win-win for the supplier, community and business,” she explained. 

She said steps to delivering social value could include introducing language into tenders and RFPs, examining how to analyse results down the line, or a softer approach through supplier relationship management activity.

Costello emphasised: “Ultimately, this is a big elephant. You're not going to crack it in one go; you need to think about what you could do practically.

“For us, it means taking those social, environmental and economic impacts and making sustainable change... through things such as working with our supply base to build in incremental apprenticeships, support getting offenders back into work, and working with suppliers to provide educational equipment during Covid to help children with very difficult economic backgrounds manage home schooling.”

In terms of measuring social value, Costello recommended using standardised ratings to benchmark outcomes as this ensures a more universal understanding, “as opposed to recreating something within the industry or organisation”.  

“We do look to the public sector a little bit because they are ahead of most of the private sector,” she added.

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