Balancing “Policing” and “Supporting” – Another Procurement Challenge

Last week saw the last Real World Procurement event with BravoSolution for 2016. I led a session titled “Proving Your Procurement Value”, and we had a record attendance at Smith and Wollensky in London. Unfortunately, there were a few troublemakers present who persisted in asking really difficult questions! What do you think you were doing – trying to get me to really think about things?

Talking about procurement value takes us to the heart of what we do as a profession, so it is perhaps not surprising that we get into interesting and challenging discussions. One point that really could have created enough debate to keep us going all afternoon was this. I was talking about how in many spend categories our value must be linked to what our stakeholders get out of procurement; we should focus on how our contribution directly helps them achieve their goals.

Whilst no-one disagreed with that in total, there was a bit of push-back from some of our esteemed audience members – isn’t the role of procurement at times to challenge expenditure, they asked? What do we do if we see a stakeholder spending the organisation’s money in a manner that we feel is unwise, ineffective or even corrupt? Do we have a duty to challenge, even if that means we lose our nice comfortable "stakeholder relationship”?

That is a very difficult question, and there is no simple answer. As I say, we could write a chapter or maybe a whole book around that as it does go to the heart of the procurement role. I think the answer is yes, we should challenge, but in a positive, helpful manner, coming from the point of view of “we want to help you get the most value from your budget and your third-party spend”. However, I don’t think that procurement should be seen as the “policing” function. If we really think that a budget holder is  wasting money or worse, that feels like an issue for finance or internal audit to take up.

That’s just my view; there are others and as I say, this is not a clear-cut issue. It does also depend on the culture of the organisation, and how procurement is positioned. But one thing is for sure; if we are seen purely as a policing and process management function, we won’t add a lot of real value and we won’t get the sort of strategic engagement we want with our senior stakeholders. But issues like this illustrate why procurement is endlessly fascinating and challenging!

Anyway, a reminder that if you missed the live session you can listen to me talking through the key points in a webinar on Wednesday this week, at 10am and repeated at 4pm. You can book here for the webinars – free on registration. There will be an opportunity after my presentation to put some difficult questions forward – perhaps we will get back into this debate then.

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