Raising procurement's image - one person at a time

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Meerkat.jpgWho’s willing to stand up and bear the flag of procurement pride and improve our image? Elaine Porteous wants reinforcements to help raise the function’s status up to where it belongs.

We’re still hearing comments like “we only involve procurement because it’s the policy” and “procurement slows down the sourcing process”.

There are some lonely but passionate practitioners out there waving the flag and highlighting pockets of excellence, but we need reinforcements.

The image problem

Procurement has traditionally been poor at championing its successes and promoting a positive image of its contribution. Perception is reality. There’s no shortage of published articles and news about fraud, corruption and litigation involving purchasing people and their organisations. So where is the good news? Maybe we could all benefit from a lesson in public relations; in reality, procurement is not so different from sales.

ElainePorteous.jpgFive ways you can raise the status of procurement yourself:

1. Develop better listening skills

The only way to understand what internal stakeholders, suppliers and customers currently expect from procurement is to listen well. Too often, procurement teams complete projects in a poorly-informed vacuum, failing to get solid input from key stakeholders. By asking for stakeholder feedback on sourcing plans, we can reach agreement on success factors and manage their expectations. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Hear what your customers need and work with them to deliver it.

2. Focus on encouraging innovation

We engage with suppliers every day, and should motivate them to offer ideas that add value rather than asking them to just cut costs. Many suppliers complain about their improvement ideas getting lost somewhere in your organisation, let’s make sure that it is not procurement that is the black hole.

3. Take the lead on sustainability initiatives

For most companies, taking a ‘green decision’ often means increased costs. It could also mean a compromise in quality or a slower speed to market, but it doesn’t have to be so. Eliminating waste, finding alternative energy solutions, managing the cost of utilities and reducing packaging are all sustainability goals. It will immediately enhance your position if you can apply best practice in sourcing to your company’s sustainability strategy. If there is not yet a strategy, there’s your opportunity to contribute.

4. Talk in the language of the listener

We are guilty of talking in our own shorthand, using expressions like strat sourcing, catman, SRM and RFX, which only serve to irritate. Internal customers appreciate receiving communications in terminology they understand. In some high-tech and specialist categories, stakeholders, also known as customers, will suspect that you may not have the depth or breadth of knowledge required. Talk their language to let them know that you are fully up to date on trends and immersed in their technical detail. This way you can prove that you are worthy of dispensing advice and providing guidance.

5. Highlighting our successes

Easier access to information is changing the way we work; we can see what other people are doing and they can see what we are doing. Not many procurement teams use a well-thought-out internal media strategy to highlight their achievements. Communicating and celebrating individual and team wins is an important step to ensure that your internal customers stay on-side. Tracking cost savings and reporting the results in a digestible way can show the positive impact that procurement has made to business success.

Could we learn something from the Human Resources (HR) function? Applying the tried-and-tested HR business partner model could work well in tricky situations and traditionally out-of-bounds functions. One person is directly allocated to be the enabler between the customer and, in this case procurement, with the main aim of removing process obstacles and smoothing the way for others.

Elaine Porteous

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