Dr Ian George on Procurement Transformation – Communication

We recently completed the first half of a series of articles from Dr Ian George on procurement transformation for competitive advantage.  He looked at the topic in real depth as the core part of  his PhD on Procurement Leadership and Transformation, which means he speaks from a position of some authority. He is also a procurement practitioner and consultant with Agile Partners, and so has real world experience too. He has held senior positions in BMW Group and Philips Electronics. We're delighted to introduce the second half of the series which intended to walk through the lifecycle of a transformation programme, highlighting the key issues and how they might be addressed.

Even before a programme or initiative starts, unrest may well be evident amongst staff. This is often the result of people hearing snippets of information and then joining up the missing parts to form the most catastrophic assumptions imaginable. In situations where this issue isn't tackled quickly it can become an entrenched view and almost impossible to change as catastrophe is replaced by conspiracy theories leading to an inability to acknowledge the reality of what is actually being said. I once spoke to a medical doctor about the national roll-out of the NHS computerised information system, providing instant access to patients’ medical records on demand. He didn’t deny it would be a good thing, but simply stated that the general consensus was to make it fail because doctors hadn’t been consulted prior to its launch.

When communication is used successfully and in a timely fashion, it tends to be the result of a two-way dialogue that explores firstly, the needs of the various stakeholder groups and then the purpose of the initiative and its potential consequences, both good and bad on those involved. It can be helpful to put the programme into context in terms of the needs of customers and suppliers and the influence they have had on the decisions to pursue the programme. That way people feel like they have been listened to and their views included, even when they don’t see their own expectations explicitly stated. When individuals perceive that the dialogue has been full, transparent and timely they are more willing to be pragmatic about what is being proposed, even if they still don't like it.

Communication needs to be a continuous dialogue and regular events are a necessary tool in trying to combat the rumours and crisis scenarios propagated by those struggling the most to make sense and come to terms with the changes being proposed. Part of this process involves checking the understanding of people so that any mismatch between what those giving the message have said and what was thought had been said by those receiving it can be addressed at the time. In highly charged atmospheres, later is simply too late. This process not only informs the staff of what is going on, it also informs the leadership team of the issues they need to be mindful of and the opportunities that well informed feedback might spark.

In an age when IT solutions are seen as the way forward, the millenials are beginning to rise through the ranks of management and the pace of work is getting faster and faster; it might just be worth stopping for a moment and wondering whether that last email was actually understood as intended or whether it was read at all. When the momentum is with you the ride can be exhilarating, but when it flies off at a tangent due to unforeseen consequences the results can become terminal very quickly indeed.

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