Expanding the influence of procurement – and watch out for the “naysayer”!

We're pleased to welcome back Andrew F Smith as a guest writer; he is a senior procurement leader from a large UK organisation

There are a number of business areas where procurement professionals are beginning to play a greater role, having not been traditionally involved.  Indirect categories tend to dominate, with good examples including the procurement of logistics, temporary labour and professional services.  However, as Bob Dylan once said, “times they are a-changin”. The recessionary pressures of the last few years have helped with this, by requesting (often reluctant) line management to open up to alternatives and work with the procurement function to identify optimal solutions.

But this task is not easy.  Too often senior management, often the CPO, will emerge from a meeting with a big smile on their face having identified “new areas of opportunity for the team” (which usually translates as “I want you to find big savings from this area”).  It is then left with their staff to do the hard work in engaging with the relevant line management team.  And often this is a challenge in itself.

Typically, in my experience, people in line management roles with whom we work in new areas of involvement tend to fall into three broad categories:

  1. The ‘supporter’ – these people make our job easy, they recognise the value of Procurement’s contribution, share data and actively work with us as part of team.  They recognise each persons’ skills and experiences and are clear on the need to deliver the best solution for the business
  2. The ‘crowd pleaser’ – these people initially appear to welcome Procurement’s involvement, however are secretly less than pleased and often make a personal vow to ensure that their preferred solution prevails over any others proposed.  They can be won over in time however any underlying lack of support may only become fully clear once the project/ tender is at an advanced phase
  3. The ‘naysayer’ – these people often take the view that “it’s mine, all mine” and resist any involvement from Procurement, being deeply suspicious of our motives and regularly citing historical examples of where Procurement (or more likely Purchasing) were involved in the dim and distant past with less than glorious results.  This is the hardest nut to crack

Each of these people needs to be managed in a different way.  Some require a huge investment of time and resource, others need a ‘light touch’ approach.  However it is rare that projects/ tenders are successful these days without the relationships being managed well.  The consequence of this is that the role of the procurement professional has become more about managing the relationships rather than the activity itself.

This itself presents an interesting challenge for our profession.  Many of us were recruited for our technical skills. However, as time (and our careers) has progressed, the core skill set seems to be more and more about creating and managing great relationships with our stakeholders.  This apparent change is also evident in job advertisements where people skills are now often emphasised over the technical skills that we worked so hard to develop early on in our professional lives.  It is unlikely that this trend will reverse so our challenge is to keep developing our capabilities in this area.

(Editor's note - And any ideas for cracking the "naysayers" gratefully received....!)

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Voices (2)

  1. bitter and twisted:


    Surely you really need the “internal customers” (horrible phrase but i cant find better right now) to

    a) care about their spend


    b) respect purchasings ability (must show area expertise and results)

    If these arent there, relationship management is just a bandaid

    1. RJ:

      Totally agree that b) is always a pre-requisite, if we can’t show some degree of expertise then we have no hope whatsoever.

      a), however, can be surmounted: most easily if someone else (usually at a senior level) cares and can sponsor/mandate involvement, but also where we can use the “complementary skills” argument, i.e. we have different but non-conflicting objectives and skills to the client. It’s only possible to use this argument, however, if we have the credibility from other domains and if we can promise delivery of our objectives without impacting on the clients’.

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