How To Get the Procurement Stakeholder to Catch Your Ball …

We attended the LUPC and SUPC (London Universities and the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortia) second joint Conference & Exhibition on Wednesday 24th May in London’s South Bank. Our initial post gives highlights of the day, a second post looked at exploitation in the workplace, and the keynote, delivered by our own Peter Smith, is summed up here.

Another session we attended that we thought would be interesting for our readers, came from a communications specialist from Browning York, which helps organisations communicate with their stakeholders more effectively, and has done a lot of work with procurement teams helping them to improve engagement with internal audiences.

Sarah Browning began by explaining that “communicating well with your internal stakeholders can help them to understand why procurement processes and legislation matter.” Her session gave practical advice about how to do this. She was focusing her presentation at a Universities procurement audience, but the same skills, we suspect, can be applied to anyone in any business.

Procurement is not good at telling its own story, she said, especially to position itself as an enabler and not a barrier. There is no right or wrong way to do this, just effective and less effective ways. To explain how communication often works she used the ball throwing analogy: I throw, you catch, you throw it back … It’s the same with communication: I sent the email, isn’t always good enough. If the recipient doesn’t  respond, you haven’t communicated. So – how do you get them to catch the ball, take on board what you actually mean and really engage?

First, here’s a good example of how communication may miss the mark:

“The Procurement department is pleased to announce we have just agreed a two-year contract with Rich Science Ltd. to supply our lab consumables. We worked really hard to get the best deal, had lots of meetings with them and finally came to an agreement that offers great prices on the items we use.”

Fortunately, the audience were quick to spot the inadequacies of the announcement: it says nothing about what you want the people to do with this information; it doesn’t say what the prices are; what are the terms of the agreement; what about quality (Finance might be more interested in the pricing); what about value for money (they’ve worked hard for their research budgets). It’s not explicit and the detail about how the agreement was reached is not relevant to them.

So what do you need to do? Firstly you must plan: What do you want to get across? What’s the ‘so what’ for the recipient? What do you want them to do? What do you want them to think? What do you want to achieve?

You need to consider who your audience is. Your communication may need to go to everyone or just targeted groups, key suppliers for example. And consider there may be subsets of audience. Think about what you are saying from their perspective. How much do they already know about your topic? For example, you might be announcing a new supplier, but some people can be quite unforgiving; have they worked with them before, what was their experience?

Think about your key messages. Then consider breaking them down into chunks, so people aren’t overwhelmed. There can be a lot of detail in a lot of procurement communication. Be realistic and think about what is really important. Decide what is ‘must know’ and ‘nice to know.’ And think about the timing of your message – what else is going on in the business at the same time. For example, in terms of universities, there’s a termly cycle to consider. Come September, the last thing they’ll be thinking about is procurement.

And then there’s the question of ‘should a certain communication be coming from Procurement at all?’ Maybe some messages are better coming from line managers ...

After a deeper look at some real university case studies, the session concluded with 3 key takeaways that anyone can start doing immediately:

  1. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes: understand what they do – get out there and talk to people.
  2. Put in the ‘so what?’ – it will make for the most effective communication. The fact that you’ve got a contract is not enough; you can make it mandatory, but what they really need to know is why it’s important to use that contract.
  3. Build comms into your routine – see where communication fits into all aspects of what you do, until it becomes natural.

It was a very good session that provoked quite a lot of questions, and the presentation slides with more detail can be downloaded here.

And if you are interested in a bit of light homework on the subject - here's one more example of a procurement communication that could be improved -

An operational announcement on the intranet:

In order to bring about cost savings for our organisation, the Finance Department has introduced a new process for paying invoices. The new process will come into effect from 1st May 2017. Over the following year we hope to save £500,000, which we will be able to use for refurbishing our student study areas and contributing to the world-class experience that our students are looking for.

If you have regular contact with suppliers who invoice us, please discuss the change with them to support the official notification that the Finance Department will send to them. 


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