Doubt – Procurement’s Enemy

Doubt. That little nagging feeling in the back of your mind.

Will the firm really deliver the new washing machine today? Did the garage actually replace that car part they’ve charged me for? Can I trust the advice I’m getting from my doctor, lawyer, accountant?

Chatting to a friend who is the CPO of a very large, high profile organisation recently, we discussed the difficulty in finding really good procurement people at middle to senior levels.  For him, there was one absolutely key quality they had to have.

“When they go and talk to a senior stakeholder, I can’t have people who introduce doubt,” he said.

We’re talking about an organisation where, although procurement has a strong mandate, budget holders are still powerful. For many major spend categories, procurement and procurement people have to earn their place at the table.

So the procurement person has to show that they really know what they’re talking about, give clear, confident advice, and make sure that element of doubt doesn’t creep into the stakeholder’s mind.  (Does this procurement person really know what they’re talking about? Is that really the best way to run a tender for something like this?)

“That’s a tougher trick to pull off than we might think”, he said. “I see people who start confidently then when the stakeholder pushes back a bit, they go “oh, I’m not sure about that....”

That's fatal.

But of course confidence can be a close ally to bulls**t.  There are plenty of people who can give bad advice very confidently. Which of course doesn’t work either – you might get away with it the first time, but on subsequent occasions you have a ready-made doubt factor, which is hard to displace. “The advice you gave me last time was rubbish”..

So we’re looking for a non-flaky, non-arrogant or overconfident approach, founded in understanding of the topic, professional skills, and an ability to communicate in a way that communicates confidence and avoids that doubt creeping in.

Not too much to ask, is it?

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First Voice

  1. Take2:


    And leap tall buildings at a single bound and fly faster than a speeding bullet and……

    The usual problem in organisations such as your CPO chum works in are that the CPO hasn’t the political clout to tell the ‘senior stakeholder’ to put up or shut up, since presumably Procurement wouldn’t be in the frame at all if the ‘senior stakeholder’s’ people had been managing their procurement responsibilities properly?

    Time and time again ‘really good people at middle and senior levels’ get thoroughly burned in circumstances where a bit of support wouldn’t have gone amiss. That’s the sort of bulls**t we need to get rid of as a profession.

    ‘Trust but verify’, as someone once said, is a reasonable maxim to work to, and that can apply to the ‘senior stakeholder’ is just as much as the procurement person sent in to solve their problem.

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