Procurement: To Protect and Serve

(It's almost two weeks since the Boston Marathon bombing - here's another brilliant article from my Spend Matters US colleague, Pierre Mitchell. Read him regularly at Spend Matters US and on our subscription site, Spend Matters PRO).

As a runner and Boston-area resident (many of those years living in Watertown) who has been emotionally affected by the recent bombing like everyone here, I’ve struggled with how to deal with the event. Our vocational lives and our emotional lives are inextricably linked, but although I have written dozens of blog posts in my head on the topic, it just hasn’t felt right to do so. However, writing is cathartic, so please grant me some leeway in this entry.

I was teary eyed when watching with relief as the ambulance took Dzhokhar Tsarnaev away near my old neighborhood while the residents were applauding the police and their bravery and hard work. It struck me how much the relationship between the police and those they served had changed in such a short amount of time. The police were no longer overweight beat cops with dour attitudes and bureaucratic power. They were now one of us, and looking out for us. They were collaborating with top experts using sophisticated technology and were engaging us (e.g., using social media) to help solve OUR problem side-by-side, next to us. And the police officers themselves were clearly delighted to be able to make a difference and to engage their constituents in a much more impactful way. As one officer remarked: “it was nice to have someone waving at us with more than one finger.” I’d like to believe that people don’t become police officers with the ambition of writing parking tickets – you could tell the force’s pride in doing what they really wanted to do.

I can’t help thinking of the analogy with procurement. Procurement staff don’t want to push POs. But yet, the analogies are everywhere:  Procurement is the “bad cop” in negotiations. Procurement is an enforcer of various types of compliance. Procurement tells us what we can’t do. Procurement is bureaucratic. And on and on.

Certainly, catastrophic events will bring stakeholders together and demonstrate their interdependence and common goals.  But when the emergencies subside, how can we stay connected and focused on the real priorities? I’ll offer three in the context of a police force (or a procurement department):

  • Have a strong mission and vision. “To protect and serve” is a terrific motto. For procurement, it is to serve the stakeholders and help protect the firm, the brand, and the communities served in the extended global value chain by safely securing supply lines we are proud to have supporting the business. Still, for procurement, it’s sometimes hard to have a service mindset. It can feel subservient. It can make us feel like a vendor. And so on. But, there  should be clear purpose and satisfaction in the service we perform in all levels of our professional and personal lives.
  • Engage and align to your stakeholders. The more that the police are working side-by-side with us to help us in our daily lives, the better. The same goes with procurement. The best companies embed their procurement staffs deeply into their stakeholders’ processes, cultures, and missions.
  • Use technology aggressively and wisely. While many drivers might not like the “eye in the sky” systems that capture them running red lights and sending them moving violations in the mail, isn’t it better to free up our human resources to help the community rather than police it inefficiently and waste valuable assets?  It’d be better to push the activities out further into the value chain for better intelligence, better intelligence, better results.

The virtues of a truly professional police force and a truly professional procurement function are clear in both realms (even though they are clearly different in many respects). I’m currently writing a multipart PRO series on “Procurement Service Delivery” which is about sharing best practices from progressive organizations who apply best practices in how they run their internal ‘procurement services business’ on both the customer/demand side and the supply side (using internal and external resources).  Running a services operation is complex. But the more we collectively raise our games, the more we can help each other when the chips are really down.

As a personal aside, I would personally like to thank all of the members of all law enforcement and also everyone in the extended community (including New Yorkers!) who helped each other during this difficult time – and to all those who reached out to me personally. I really appreciate it.

If you would like to make contributions the victims and their families, please go to The One Fund site.

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