Millennial Procurement – Don’t Let the Obstacles Stop You

We're pleased to feature another guest post from Sibby Smith, Management Consultant - Procurement and Commercial with AECOM, a global provider of professional technical and management support services. 

My recent articles (here and here) proposed a theme, “Millennial Procurement,” and presented a new approach to engaging in B2B relationships based on the values and behaviours of my generation. Millennials are broadly a 15-35 year old group and, in the economic context, are just beginning to gain traction: their global leadership status is yet to be established and, whilst not unknown, it is not yet commonplace to find a millennial in the boardroom. For that reason, it strikes me that the potential for our profession to adopt the approach I’m putting on the map is still considered unattainable by many. Some organisations may even prefer to revert to the practices of yesteryear rather than attempt to shake things up in such a seemingly dramatic fashion.

But does it have to be so dramatic? I want to explore whether the digital native millennials are designing an approach exclusively for themselves, or whether it’s simply a lack of confidence that’s holding people back: negativity getting in the way of progress. A comment on Part 2 of The Millennial Procurement opened up the debate of whether the Millennial led mind-set can become a mainstream reality -- not just for the stereotypical early-adopters (the molecular gastronomists, if you like), but for the bread and butter bunch too.

The full comment is here; this is an excerpt.

An interesting and challenging view, Sibby. It strikes me that there is a fundamental split between the kind of approach you describe here, which is what we might stereotypically expect (although in my experience, very rarely see managed well) in the hi-tech and marketing industries and the direction of public sector and regulated industries’ procurement activities.

Is it fair to say there is an insurmountable split between the glamourous go-getters, whose business models enable a highly coveted agility, as opposed to the regulated industries and public sector, whose ways are still regarded as elephantine … gauche? I’m not so sure. I don’t see any fundamental reason why the public sector or regulated industries can’t be pioneers. In fact, I’ve seen it suggested, I’ve seen it accepted, and I’ve seen it executed.

But I’ve also spoken with business leaders who wax lyrical about the ability for public sector organisations to invent and skyrocket revolutionary best practices and initiatives, but who have then witnessed a catastrophic disconnect between the leaders and the followers, and have seen them lose their way. The problem isn’t a lack of vision: it’s often a lack of attitude. Once again, people are their own worst enemy- what limits us, is us.

Today, adopting The Millennial Procurement approach could seem as likely as buying your first house on Pluto (don’t laugh, it’s more likely a Millennial will do that before being able to buy one in London!) And this attitude is precisely why they all laughed when Edison recorded sound.

The Millennial way is, in many respects, still in concept design phase but as the young ones push up through the ranks and start gaining their places in the boardroom they will start to do things their way. Those who resist it do so at their own peril. But if you accept it now and start developing your enablers and putting them in place, you are positioning yourself as a future global leader. You’ll struggle to change something once it gains momentum, but you can shape it and alter its course to your advantage.

It’s about instilling better thinking habits: most people work hard, but they might not think hard enough about their actions and behaviours. It requires industry investment in grass-roots education, sharing experiences and participating in success stories at the delivery level, easy accessibility of the know-how (and being willing to share it through the myriad of networks available), and visionary leaders creating avenues for the rising stars to become great leaders themselves. These are the building blocks which make any new idea mainstream: it’s a case of gaining that critical mass and watching it snowball. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Unfortunately there are always going to be bad behaviours displayed by certain individuals who will try and get in your way – as the comment on my last article stated. I'm not sure you can control that effectively. In fact, I’m not sure you’d want to; you’d have to be so liberal with the red tape that it would defeat the purpose. Sometimes certain ingredients need to be sub-optimal in order to make the whole cake taste good. It's about taking the time to plan, to really investigate your lessons learned (not just treat it as a tick-box exercise) and acting appropriately the next time. It's about being open to failure and growing from it: getting back on the horse so to speak. Those who seek to go back to the old ways when certain individuals create an obstacle to progress are simply admitting defeat: they are endorsing bad behaviour with their acquiescence.

Someone once said to me that they would open the door and all I have to do is walk through it. Well, it sometimes takes a few bumps into the adjacent wall before you pass through the door. My overriding message is that if you do have a few bumps, don’t turn around and go back: the bumps are necessary. Life is not a rehearsal. Neither is business.

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