True global working shrinks distance

12 October 2010
It’s hard not to think globally when working in procurement. Suppliers are increasingly found in new locations, bosses are located in different time zones, and you manage teams who exist virtually. As our world expands, it can conversely feel smaller. You can get anywhere you need to in less than 24 hours. The flipside is that you now don’t need to travel at all to accomplish things. Technology provides communication tools that don’t rely on being in the same room as the person you are communicating with, and cut down wasted time spent during travel. The trick is matching the method of communication to the situation in hand. The question this leaves me pondering is why, when it’s easier to get where we need to be, and we have ever-improving ways of communicating, is it still so difficult to effectively communicate with our stakeholders? I suspect location is a red herring. You can have all the tools in the world, or be standing next to the person you need to talk to, but if you don’t know what to say, it all counts for nothing. Distance can make it harder to understand the priorities your stakeholders face and to contextualise those issues, but it does not make it impossible. My main tip for establishing great relationships with your stakeholders is to rethink how you measure success. If you look at it from a procurement perspective alone, it can be easy to focus on measuring the things that show we are doing a good job rather than how the business experiences it. This leads to procurement teams measuring how soon we are involved in each procurement activity, compliance with processes and appropriately followed delegation of authorities. We measure contribution to efficiency targets and percentage of spend we have influence over. I wonder how many of these our stakeholders would recognise as their priorities. Our stakeholders will want to measure things that affect their ability to deliver their business strategies. Relevant measures may include reliable quality, access to new ideas, new capabilities, flexibility of responsiveness, speed of delivery, savings delivered, customer experience and continuity of supply. Stakeholders won’t think in terms of inputs, but in terms of outcomes. If we can connect with the business challenges our stakeholders have, then we can reframe the value we bring to them. Once we understand what will make a difference, we can then find the most appropriate way of supporting our stakeholders. With a shared agenda, distance recedes. You will need to invest time in identifying the relevant issues, but you can do that through different media and by exploring the issues from different angles. It can include travelling to be with people, but it doesn’t have to. Engaging with stakeholders is just the first step. Once you have found that shared agenda, then you have to deliver on the commitments made. You have to be credible, promise only what is possible, declare an intention to try to achieve the impossible, and bring either unique insight or capabilities to the stakeholder. Ultimately, our stakeholders want a procurement partner that delivers what they need. They won’t care where you are based and how often they see you, provided you deliver. Sam Covell is head of IS procurement at AstraZeneca (
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