Procurement perspectives: change management in procurement is essential to survival

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StephenBauld_100.jpgBy Stephen Bauld

The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example that change is an ever-present feature of life.

Organisational change may be difficult, but as the conditions of the environment within which an organisation operates change, it becomes essential for survival.

Furthermore, the need for change reflects that every organisation is, in some respect, imperfect. Change forces people to make choices. Given the disruptive effects of change, it is critical to make the right choices.

Where change is most drastic, such as in 2020 with COVID-19, life and success strongly favour those who learn most quickly. The faster the world changes, the further people fall behind, because they are completely unprepared to respond to change.

Supply chain management as it relates to the distribution of the new vaccine can be characterised as a life-or-death situation.

Even if an organisation or government is performing at an optimal level, it must still change to match the evolution of the environment in which it operates.

What has worked well in the past may not work well in the future under certain unforeseen circumstances. If procurement performance is sub-optimal, then organisations must change to improve.

Courage and the ability to successfully grapple with change are closely related aspects of organisational leadership. The mere fact that a particular practice has been followed for more than 20 years is no guarantee that it is the right thing to do.

Specifically in procurement, I often find that procedures are being followed even where the need that gave rise to them has long since passed.

I have spent more than a decade rewriting municipal purchasing policies and procedures that were 20 years old, because governments did not keep up with the changes in the legal or construction landscape.

When conducting these reviews, there were always legions of people who could give solid reasons why changes should not be made.

There was also a time when it was generally believed that the world was flat and that at the end of the seas there were serpents and monsters waiting to devour the hapless traveller who ventured too far.

Leaders of industry are those who challenge accepted notions, who push the boundaries of the frontier, who take the chances that are available and who are prepared to pay the price of taking risks and making mistakes. Without such adventure there can be no progress.

Some people tend to go about their jobs the same way, every day, year on year, with little thought as to what they are doing. The reasons for so doing vary. In some cases, it will be because they are too afraid to try something new, in others because they do not understand what they are doing, and in still others because they lack the courage to innovate, to take the responsibility for a departure from standing practice because of the risk that something may go wrong.

My thoughts on the subject are that progress and change are inexorable features of life. Essentially, there are three ways of dealing with progress: fight the process of change, be pushed along by it, or become an instrument for effecting change.

The first of these is doomed to fail. The second strategy is low risk, but hardly marks the individual concerned as dynamic. The third strategy no doubt entails the highest risk, but also offers the best opportunity for any individual to move into a senior management position.

Those procurement managers who embrace change are the only people who, over the long-term, offer the potential to substantially improve the operations of any organisation, to cut costs, facilitate distribution, expand markets, introduce new products and improve profits.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at swbauld@purchasingci.com. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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