How to make stakeholders hate you: Number 2 – Revel in being the gatekeeper

We’re pleased to bring you a short series on that perennial topic – managing stakeholders, users, budget holders, colleagues – whatever we want to call them. But we thought we’d approach it from a slightly different angle. So let’s look at how to make sure we can instil real hatred of the procurement function and the people within it amongst that population!

2. Revel in being the gatekeeper

No, I’m sorry, you didn’t get three quotes in writing so you can’t place that order. You haven’t used our approved supplier list, carefully put together without any reference to you as a user of these services, you haven’t filled in the forms properly (or got the supplier to fill in the forms properly), you haven’t followed the right procedure, you didn’t examine whether you could use small / minority owned / local suppliers...

How some procurement people love telling budget holders what they can’t do! It’s probably a lower percentage of the profession than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but they’re still around. Exerting their ‘gatekeeping’ authority. Stopping spending. As Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert put it - “the job of procurement is to stop people getting the things they need to do their jobs”.

And of course sometimes this is a valid role for procurement. We need spend control and governance. And actually I’m not in favour of the pure ‘procurement is a service’ mentality, or the ‘faithful servant’ role as we called it in our book, whereby procurement is simply at the beck and call of the users. There is a legitimate governance role that the best procurement functions hold, alongside the strategic and operational roles of working with business stakeholders to maximise supplier contribution to corporate goals.

But anyone who sees their role as being primarily about stopping expenditure, and who enjoys that side of the job too much, is not going to succeed. It is perhaps more prevalent in the public sector, where risk aversion and the various regulations give the perfect excuse often to tell users what they can’t do. That does mean however that you can be a real hero to stakeholders if you present yourself as someone who can solve their problems and get them through he tangle of rules and regulations though – so there’s an opportunity! (I was told a few years ago by the Chief Executive of a County Council that I’d given him more useful advice in 10 minutes than he’d had from his procurement team in 5 years, which was personally flattering but fundamentally really sad).

And as for those who positively revel in that power and authority – that’s sad as well, isn’t it? Even when you do have to give people bad news, please don’t look as though you enjoy the whole experience!

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Voices (2)

  1. Feetontheground:

    Readers of this article may be interested in the new version of the Cabinet Office Spending Controls…….

  2. RJ:

    I once worked in the technology sector for a CPO who loved to describe himself as “Chief Cost Killer”. As far as our technical and marketing clients were concerned you might just as well have called our team the “Creativity and Value Killers” as we were sent on missions to systematically undermine any strategic investment in favour of a few extra Euros off the price. Needless to say, a company that was at the forefront of technical and marketing creativity in the late 90s and early noughties is now just another player in a crowded market.

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