Being a CPO – five things I wish I’d done as a procurement leader (part 3)

Here is the third post in our series relating back to my time as a CPO.  (I was European Procurement Director for the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation in the early 90s. I then became Procurement Director for the Department of Social Security and my final CPO role was as Group Procurement Director for the NatWest banking group).

My purpose is very much to help others. I think I’m most unlikely to do a CPO role ever again, so I’m hoping some readers might avoid some of my mistakes – and even learn from the odd success!

No. 3  - I wish I’d been bolder in terms of seeking investment in Procurement

It’s never easy asking for money, and of course many of us in procurement are by nature fairly cautious with our money. One might even say a little parsimonious at times, miserly perhaps at the extreme? I don’t think I quite fall into that category, but I was certainly cautious, and saw that as an admirable trait.  Which in most cases and for most of the time, it is. However, there are times when one needs to be bold, and that was never something that came easily to me.

It’s not impossible to drive change without spending money, but it is tough, it takes longer and I suspect it is even harder to do it today than it was when I was a CPO. Investment, whether it is in tools and software, people (through recruitment and training), or consulting and similar support, can definitely accelerate the change and increase the chances of success.

And what I’ve learnt is that generally the CPOs who drive the most visible change and the biggest  success are prepared to put their hands up and say, “I can deliver these benefits, but I am going to need some investment to achieve them”. I wasn’t very good at doing that, partly because of this innate caution about spending money.

It’s also worth noting that the best time to have the conversation is very early in your tenure with an organisation or when you take up a new role. Indeed, if you are really courageous, talk about it at final interview stage. If you don’t get good signals back, then you can decide if you are still interested in a role where investment may not be on the table (it might still be a decent job but at least you know where you stand).

If you leave it until you’ve been in the role for 2 years, the danger is the organisation perceives everything is fine, they like you, results look good – so why spend a million or two on a "transformation programme"?

The other opportunity you may have to make the case for investment is if there is a “burning platform“ - or you can create the perception that there is one. But that’s a topic for another day I think.

Anyway, you have a choice. You don’t have to be bold, and many CPOs do just fine without putting their heads above the parapet. But, you only get one chance in life, and as a CPO of an organisation to really make an impact. So I should have been a bit more daring!

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