The Implications Of Roger Ebert's Death For Procurement

Roger Ebert, the famed movie critic, died recently, and I figured it was only appropriate to honor his death by commenting on it.

First, Roger was a great example of someone who could be ruthless in his critique, but also personable, and willing to back up his assessment with a strong argument.  This should be familiar ground with Procurement.   You might play the role of a bad cop, but you're doing it for the right reasons, and you don't have to be a <expletive here> about it.

Roger was also good at looking at a piece of commercial art (i.e., a movie - but it could just as easily be a specification, RFQ, proposal, or contract), and evaluated it on behalf of us – the constituents he represented – helping us evaluate something holistically: the good, the bad, and the ugly (pun intended). As procurement professionals, it is an important skill to recognize the plurality of stakeholders that we represent and to be a trusted agent working on their behalf to:

  • Understand why they say want what they want in terms of requirements
  • Understand what value different suppliers and different supply markets have – and where they are coming from
  • Bring these two things together in a way that creates value
  • Creating an optimal "win-win” solution with the hand you are dealt (in terms of stakeholders and suppliers) is a key skill – or rather set of skills for relationship management, listening, empathy, causal thinking (i.e., ask for “3 why’s”), creativity, influence, and ultimately, leadership.  A good process, with good management support, and good tools is also helpful!

 

Growing up, I used to watch Sneak Previews, a movie review show featuring Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. What was great about the show was that each critic brought a different viewpoint and argued how that viewpoint, and supporting observations, led them to their conclusions and recommendations (I also liked how they argued, but also had respect for each other, which is something increasingly lost these days). It was easy for me to get a true read on the movie by aligning myself to the reviewer whose viewpoints most closely mirrored mine for that particular movie. It tended to be Roger, but not always.

For procurement organizations, this plays in multiple ways:

  • Get multiple sources of intelligence arrived at from different viewpoints. The intelligence could be on a supplier, technology, market, or competitor. I had a client who said he subscribed to multiple research sources because he explicitly wanted that virtuous triangulation.  The beauty of competition is that it drives differentiation, and such diversity in the gene pool creates better solutions. Look at Brazil – a very diverse culture – and one with some of the most beautiful people.
  • Don't apply best practices or tools indiscriminately. They are “root solutions” that may have been implemented for a company with very different root causes and associated problems then you have.
  • Maximize the number of internal stakeholders and potential suppliers (within reason) in all you do – not just sourcing.
  • Recognize that we are human, not cogs in a sourcing machine. You can be an expert, but you have to be able to facilitate change even though you think you have the right answer.

 

To do the last two points, build community and passion surrounding the process. Use technology. Roger Ebert was an early adopter of guest blogs, Twitter, etc. to engage the broader community in the critiquing process. Procurement is a process, not just a department. Showing others that you are a passionate advocate of that process (rather than a resource with a vested interest in that process) is key.

So, use the tools out there to build the passion, build the brand of your service, and of yourself personally. Enrich others’ lives and it’ll come back to you. Roger enriched mine. Hopefully I can pay it forward a bit too.

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