Soccer Humiliation And An Easy Ride For Procurement Staff

Last weekend, as I reported on my blog, I attended my first top-level soccer match in about 3 years. This was courtesy of a friend who holds season tickets for Chelsea, now one of the biggest teams in Europe, and funded by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. They were playing the team I have followed since I was 4 years old: Sunderland, in the far Northeast of England. My hometown.*

To cut a long story short -- we lost 7-2. (That's equivalent to something like a 56-15 score in American football, by the way.) And we were lucky; Chelsea could easily have scored 12.

What struck me most, however, was the absolute humiliation of my team. Their inferiority and failure were obvious to all 50,000 people there. There was no place to hide. You could see it in their faces and body language, even from the stand. "Thank goodness I never had to face that as a procurement executive," I thought.

Then I remembered Jim Wetekamp's post here a few days earlier, where he contrasted sales and procurement. Sales "measures aggressively," as he puts it; procurement, in general, does not. This is one of the key sections of his post.

It's often said that sales is the easiest area to measure. While I'm not quite sure that's true, it certainly doesn't lack for metrics. Sales metrics are often defined and actively tracked along every phase of the sales process. How many leads from a marketing campaign? How long from lead to qualified lead? How many qualified leads per lead identified? What was the entire time for closure? etc.

Sports are all about measuring performance. (We could certainly measure Sunderland's!) We can usually measure sales performance, and a sales person who misses all their targets may well be as humiliated as my team was. Meanwhile, procurement is notoriously bad at measurement, often relying on "savings" calculations that are about as accurate and scientific as my soccer predictions (2-2 for the match in question).

Because of that, to be blunt, it is easier for poor procurement performers to go unpunished or even unnoticed at an individual or organizational level. That doesn't happen in sports -- or in sales. Poor performers get weeded out quickly; the best are rewarded (see another recent post here on that topic, which in a sense identifies the difficulties of measuring good procurement performance, as well as poor).

So -- and this is just early thinking -- do we need to focus more on the measurement of both organizational procurement performance AND on individual performance? I think procurement executives need to be put under some of the pressure that a sales person feels daily, or a soccer player, weekly. How we do that, I'm not sure. Perhaps we need to see procurement people justify their actions or strategies more publicly and under some challenge (presentations to peers and stakeholders? Confidential supplier and stakeholder surveys at an individual level? More personally targeted objectives and measures)? What I do know is that the prize for organizations that can crack this must be huge. And Sunderland lost again today.

- Peter Smith

*When we say "far" we mean 300 miles from London. It's not exactly Alaska...

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