Taming eccentrics – CIPS, Monks, and Procurement Uniformity

(We were pleased to receive this unsolicited and thought provoking contribution from Andrew Heslop. Andy is "a career buyer and has worked for Asda, PwC, The Conservative Party and DHL. For five years he ran a procurement outsourcing business which he sold in 2006. He is not CIPS qualified, but did pass his cycling proficiency test at a prodigiously early age". He is also studying for a Masters in Theology...)

CIPS has it all wrapped up. You can’t apply for a procurement job these days without the MCIPS qualification after your name. I guess people who like to think of themselves as  ‘professionals’ would argue that this rightly puts buyers into the realm of accountants and lawyers; you wouldn’t entrust your finances to an unqualified accountant or your liberty to a self-taught lawyer now would you?

I’m not sure the argument works though; whilst the public may need protecting from rogue accountants or untrained lawyers, I don’t think they’re much at risk from a bunch of buyers. Still, education and qualifications are always good things aren’t they? Again, I’m not so sure.

I was talking to a Benedictine Monk the other day (as you do) and he told me that the biggest challenge for the abbot in the monastery is to ‘tame eccentrics’. Having met a number of monks as part of postgraduate research on the theme of ‘community’, I reckon taming eccentrics in that environment must be a full time occupation and then some.

‘Taming eccentrics’ is a wonderful phrase. Having been around the procurement world for a couple of decades and more, evidenced by grey hairs and a few chunks bitten out of my ears, I wistfully reflect on the days when a number of my colleagues were allowed to display eccentricities themselves. I was probably one of them.  Some of them achieved exceptional commercial results whilst being unusual in the extreme. Some of them ‘blew up’ in startlingly odd ways, but that just adds to the excitement of working with such people, which is why they need taming.

But note that ‘taming’ is a gentle word, which implies allowing eccentricities whilst smoothing away pointy edges. Sadly, corporate entities aren’t interesting in taming anyone anymore; in the modern organisation eccentricisms must be annihilated or assimilated immediately; uniformity is everything. Business is a celebration of the bland.

This is the source of my real sadness about the ubiquity of the MCIPS qualification – everyone is squeezed into the same mould, everyone put through the same modules, each signing up to the same ethical code and standards of behaviour. Whilst the business world claims to celebrate diversity, the reality is a training and recruitment environment that values sameness and continuity above all. This approach may guarantee minimum standards, but  who wants to work to minimum standards? The focus of CIPS is on consistency of input and compliance rather than creatively maximising commercial value in an enlightened way.

MCIPS is the inverse of an exclusive club - so exclusive that everyone now has to join. They had a term for this back in the 1970s; the closed shop. I don’t recall this being of great value to UK PLC.

When everybody is somebody, nobody is anybody.

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First Voice

  1. Aardvark:

    Would love to see evidence of correlation between MCIPS and performance.

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