Friday Rant: A Three-Step Cure to Procurement's PR Problem

Since getting into procurement and supply chain over a decade ago, I've tried to convince myself -- maybe denude is a better term -- that the corporate function and philosophical purpose I live my life for is gaining favor at the highest level of the executive suite. But is it? Recent research from Basware (conducted by Loudhouse) suggests that the majority of finance organizations are still skeptical of the role and impact of procurement. And conversations I've had with many in the field of late continue to suggest that procurement maintains a persistent PR problem despite the trillions in dollars we've sourced, saved and otherwise not spent as a result of our efforts. So what gives? Why does procurement still have a PR problem in spite of all that we've done and continue to do?

Some might argue that our situation is improving. This Rodney Dangerfield school-of-thought goes along the lines that a decade ago, no one respected procurement and that today, at least those executives and Board members who have seen the savings light do. True, perhaps, but when a majority of executives still look at us as a backwater back-office or superficially grant us "C-level" titles without giving us the same compensation and power as other management team members, how much has really changed? Not enough, I'd argue.

Curing procurement's PR problem will not be easy. Nor is it something that can happen overnight. But it is possible. I believe that it will take three key steps to bring us to the level of social acceptability that we'll need to climb up from the backwater and shower off the muck once and for all.

The first step is perhaps the easiest -- a continuous stream of good news. Both inside our organizations and externally, we must continue to market the results we've achieved on a consistent and in-your-face manner. Internally, if you're not already publishing a weekly newsletter highlighting the results you've achieved, creating awards given by the CEO or CFO and making sure your savings stick by treating internal spend and business owners just as an external service provider would treat their client, then you're not doing enough. And by the same token, if you're not thinking in savings sound bites that you can provide to the management team and finance organization to feed to the media and Wall Street on a constant basis, you're failing to provide that steady stream of good news that is essential in any PR campaign.

The second step to cure procurement's PR ills is to bring more big personalities and aspiring leaders into the ranks -- folks who aren't afraid to create controversy and manufacture a ruckus internally. It's precisely these types of larger-than-life personalities who previously might have gone into sales, corporate development or finance that our function needs to continuously call attention to itself and shame the business into prioritizing changes that save money. Procurement's historic passivity is the main reason, I believe, that identified savings often erode overtime as spend owners in the business go back to their old ways. But if these jokers knew that the moment they jeopardized the savings that we worked so hard to achieve, that they'd be called out by someone not afraid to raise a big stir, then they'd think twice about not only how they preserve savings, but also the bark and bite of procurement.

This last point flows into the third step to curing procurement's PR problem. And that's the need to create fear internally. Sure, we must build bridges to the business. But we must also, and pardon the vulgarity, know when to raise a stink and be just as much of an a$$hole as other company leaders to get our way. We can't just roll over when someone pushes back. Part of the problem, I believe, goes back to who has historically gotten into procurement in the first place -- those who are worried more about keeping their jobs than rising to the top of not just their field, but industry. The problem here is that those who usually make it all the way to the top aren't afraid to create enemies when they need to -- even if it means risking their jobs in the process. Taking the "bull by the horns" involves being fearless -- which engenders respect but also risk. Procurement needs a new personality that embraces risk and eschews fear to gain respect at all levels of the corporate hierarchy. I believe that this is the most important missing link in curing procurement's PR challenge.

Enough from me. What do you think is the cure for procurement's PR challenge?

Jason Busch

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