Friday Rant: Learning to Play Political Favorites in Procurement

I know far too many people who have stagnated in their careers because they don't know how and when to play politics inside their organizations. This is even more relevant in quantitatively driven areas such as procurement than in wishy-washy functions like HR and customer service. But how can procurement learn to play its political chips more effectively? I've got a few observations that may prove helpful in your journey (even if you'll feel like washing your hands more often when practicing some of these techniques).

The number one political stunt I've seen over the years involves doing something extra to win over a key stakeholder or influencer without appearing that you've made an exception to a rule. Going the extra mile is fine -- but rule deviation is not. For example: If a group's overall spending (e.g., marketing) comes in under budget in the final weeks of a quarter, it's not necessarily correct to encourage individuals to pay vendors early for the next quarter. But it's perfectly OK to educate your internal "client" about budget availability as a way to gain further leverage over suppliers in negotiating longer-term arrangements. Volunteering your services and ideas in situations like this can be extremely beneficial towards getting a functional leader on board with broader procurement strategy versus creating an adversarial relationship. All things being equal, we'd want unspent budget to drop to the bottom line. But in the real world, this may not be the most pragmatic use of savings. Educating the organization on creative fund usage that also benefits procurement strategy isn't such a bad thing, is it?

Another political chip worth playing is aligning with an up-and-comer outside of procurement for joint political gain. Someone in a line of business, finance or another area where procurement strategies tangentially map to their own goals -- or in some way align -- can be an invaluable ally. Find ways to scratch their backs and they will scratch yours. By example, consider playing the working capital card with a rising star in finance/treasury. As part of negotiating terms with suppliers that improve working capital, try to win your new partner over to making an investment in an invoice management solution that can actually improve supplier relationships in the process vs. just arbitrarily extending payment terms.

The final political tip that I've seen employed with great success, involves knowing when to hold off on sounding an alarm bell versus leveraging the issue that someone else -- or an outside force -- caused. Alarm ringing does nothing more than signal a problem and more often than not, precipitates a fire drill. Avoid being the functionary in this process. It can even make you look silly if no one takes you seriously. Instead, structure a plan, or proactively have one ready, to lift and shift the impending issue into compliance and resolution when it begins to smoke. You can then report your successful initiative at the right time, garnering respect for applied creativity rather than reflexively having sounded the alarm. I know this sounds counterintuitive on many levels, but given that organizations are political jungles themselves, it's often better to let rapidly responsive actions speak louder than warning bells when it comes to building political capital.

- Jason Busch

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