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CPOs share tips, tough lessons at SIG roundtable event: ‘I manage IT teams and they see me as a roadblock’

05/12/2021 By


More than 70 procurement professionals helped kick off SIG’s three-day Procurement Technology Summit by joining an online CPO roundtable discussion that yielded insights on key issues like resiliency during the Covid disruption, ESG’s importance, metrics for procurement, talent acquisition and what role technology plays in reshaping procurement team’s relationships inside companies and outside as people work from home.

“Some of you have told me that these CPO roundtable discussions turn out to be almost a therapy session because you get to just tell it from the heart,” SIG CEO & President Dawn Tiura said in her introduction. “We love that. So this is your chance to ask your colleagues what they’re thinking, how they’re doing and what are they going to be doing.”

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In the spirit of the free-form discussion, I’ll share the quotes but won’t name the procurement practitioner or their organization. But their insights are illuminating:

  • “I manage IT teams and they see me as a roadblock — until the regulators come and then they need my insights.” (This quote came from a CPO in the heavily regulated finance market. The great part about her stance is that she did not flinch about being a roadblock to vet an issue, especially when she needs to know that a free download that IT wants is actually compliant with financial regulations. She knows that taking the time to finish due diligence has a value for the company to safeguard it against risks.)
  • “Don’t advertise how fast your procurement team can turn around contracts. They’re all different.” (A couple of procurement pros nodded in agreement with this statement. They said they want to operate at the speed of the business, but they don’t want to promise certain timelines to different departments.)
  • “Some suppliers in the pandemic were shams.” (One exec admitted that the resiliency process eventually found the problems and became stronger for it.)
  • “It’s a Rubik’s Cube on deciding what decisions to make.” (A CPO made this point when discussing how her procurement department has more strategic tools and data to help stakeholders see the big picture.)

Madhav Durbha, Coupa’s VP of Supply Chain Strategy, led the session with two of his Coupa colleagues, CPO Michael van Keulen and John Callan, EMEA Senior Director of Product & Segment Marketing.

Durbha opened the discussion with a review of his Coupa blog post on nine steps to supply chain resilience:

  • Map your multi-tier supply chain
  • Assess the impact of single-source risk
  • Find alternative sources where possible and practical
  • Monitor suppliers for risk
  • Mitigate risks with continuous design
  • Model and implement networks of the future
  • Turbocharge diversity and sustainability initiatives
  • Tighten cybersecurity protocols
  • Proactively engage with regulators and peers in the industry

CPO tips

On the Zoom call, participants spoke up on a number of topics:

On resilience

Resiliency dominated a lot of work in the supply chain and procurement fields last year, and one CPO said he was seeing further positive effects from that. “Cost-cutting and optimizing the supply chain used to be the main focus, but resiliency issues now are raising flags sooner rather than later.”

On technology

“There’s no tool for kicking off a project when the stakeholders know what they want but don’t know all of the options,” another CPO said. He wanted a way for stakeholders to “raise your hand and we’ll come over for a conversation.”

A CPO for an environmental organization said, “We need an intake process that helps with decisions.”

That spurred a procurement pro in a human rights group to extol the solution that he uses, but wouldn’t name. “The AI options for contracts and suggestions that it makes are good. It has a list of clauses to consider as you’re building a contract.”

On diversity and ESG

One CPO said getting started on an ESG plan for her company was difficult, but she said her team built on information they already had and got the ball rolling. “We aligned our ERM, enterprise risk model, to be aligned with our new ESG goals.”

The human rights group’s CPO said his organization has “a strong mandate for sustainability and diversity — they go hand in hand. And that mandate is part of our new source-to-pay system coming onboard in September.”

Another exec said: “Pushing for diversity has led to an extra effort on our part and finding different suppliers that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.”

A retired procurement pro said his old firm hired a diversity exec to ensure that the goal and benefits of diversity are baked into all processes from the beginning. “It’s a big change management effort, especially for stakeholders and getting in front of them, but it’s worth it.”

Metrics for procurement 

“For ESG efforts, ask vendors for their staffing metrics to see if diversity extends beyond leadership.”

Cost-cutting is still a measurement for procurement, but many CPOs said that quantifying “value” for individual stakeholders and the business overall has been challenging.

“You and the business leaders need to have a common definition of value for your business. Sometimes, getting that definition out of them is educating them on all the aspects of value that procurement affects. You can’t assume they know what you know, and you can’t assume to know what they know. And then, can you figure out how you can translate that back to the customer?” 

She also said that you need to set some parameters:

“Define the objectives before getting into a project. Think of it in three areas: savings, time-to-market and risk. Bucket it into those areas. That becomes the value driver, so if people start to veer away you can pull them back to these objectives.”

Talent issues

Van Keulen stressed that you hire for attitude and that you interview the person, not the resume. He even shared that he has hired people from the help desk to work in procurement because they ask good questions and they focus on solving customers’ problems.

One CPO working in finance in California said, “I have an abundance of resumes and am hiring a lot, but we’re limited by stakeholders who want nearby workers, not remote.”

Another CPO said, “California is a tough sell these days because of the cost of living and the intense competition for talent.”

A veteran procurement executive said he’s had good luck hiring college students fresh out of procurement and supply chain programs, and he said older workers who have retired or been laid off have proven to be a reliable source of talent.

Tiura asked people to post jobs and find openings on SIG’s Career Network, which she said is 70,000 people strong.

Work from home

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into its second year, the CPOs were concerned about how their staffs were dealing with the stress and working remotely. Many execs were impressed with the resourcefulness of their colleagues to keep procurement on track during the pandemic. But many comments revolved around relationships.

One CPO said in-person work suits procurement because she sees “procurement as a consulting business inside the company. You have to have relationships with leaders and treat departments as customers.”

Another said: “Remote works, but we need to maintain relationships.”

A CPO gave his firm’s stern but balanced view: “We’re pushing the gas pedal to get people back into the office. But if you don’t want to return, you don’t have to this year. We’ll figure out what 2022 is, but for this year you don’t have to worry about returning if you don’t want to. No excuses needed.”

Another said that workers need remote options but said that philosophically the firm favors in-person business.

“The value of collaboration long term, face-to-face, outweighs the benefits you get from the flexibility of people being remote. But we will probably have more remote work than we had before.”

Tiura reflected on her supply-chain consulting days before leading SIG.

“I can’t even imagine doing that work remotely and not getting to know the culture,” she said. “And the new people are the ones who need the culture — to learn that these are the conversations we have, this is the approach we take, this is how we collaborate.” 

One CPO veteran who joined her company during the pandemic offered advice for coping with the stress of the pandemic and coming out of it.

“The coaching that I’ve given my team is that relationships aren’t all business. We know more about each other’s personal lives. We see people at home. You see what they’re going through in the pandemic. It forces the relationship to get personal that much more quickly.” 

She also extolled the use of chat tools to keep colleagues connected.

“So even if you’re not having those walk-by conversations in the office, having that chat room for casual conversations or quick questions of the day, or asking ‘What are you doing for self-care?’ has been relationship-building. It helps.”

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