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Can we be heroes?

Richard James
Richard James | Jul 01, 2016

A survey just published by Huthwaite International states that just 9% of business leaders rank their Procurement teams as “heroes,” putting us at the bottom along with HR, on the rankings of key business functions. Sales and R&D teams come out as top dogs (the “superheroes”).

For most of us in the profession, sadly, that probably rings true. Procurement teams I’ve worked in and with over the last 25 years almost inevitably seem to feel themselves undervalued, under-resourced and overlooked when it comes to handing out plaudits from senior execs.

But that got me thinking, is it inevitable? Is Procurement really so inherently unsexy that it ranks even below Finance and Legal teams in the eyes of the great and the good in business? And instinctively, perhaps self-defensively, I came to the conclusion “no, it isn’t, but we don’t exactly help ourselves, do we?”

Procurement teams do seem to share some traits that lend themselves to languishing at the bottom end of this particular spectrum, while ignoring some of the factors that should push them towards the glorious heights.

Here are a few things we could stop ourselves from doing to reinforce our negative image, and a few we could learn from our colleagues in other departments to propel ourselves forwards:

1. Stop blaming everyone else for our lack of profile

Within our own teams we’re very good at passing the buck for our lack of influence in the business: “we need a mandate…”, “nobody recognises cost avoidance…”, “our users engage us too late…” Yes, the moans are often true, but do Sales teams need a mandate to sell? Does the R&D team wait for the Production team to ask it to look for innovations?

2. Don’t just focus on the money

The often quoted saying - “the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results”- could very well be applied to Procurement teams that only measure their success according to savings. I know it’s the easiest thing to explain what we do, I know it’s what our CEOs and CFOs expect but for heaven’s sake if we could actually deliver 10% savings every year, year after year, businesses would soon be running at zero cost, wouldn’t they? Savings are ephemeral, often disputed and irrelevant for many service areas such as consultancy, legal services, marketing and so on. I’d much rather look at “value” which is where our Marketing colleagues usually steal a march on us.

3. Build ourselves up!

Nobody in their right minds goes to work each day wanting to do a bad job and mostly, we don’t! Celebrate success! Tell the world (or at least our own organisation) about the great work we’ve done! We often have a tendency in Procurement to only think something is great if we’ve done something truly original. Everything else is just “what we’re paid to do.” Sales and Marketing professionals, though, will all too readily tell you about every sales win, every new campaign launch – that’s what they’re paid to do but they sure like to make sure you know all about it. We need to be saying “We’ve saved £1m / $100k –that’s great! We’ve revamped our preferred suppliers to improve quality and service – magnificent!”

4. Be indispensable!

No-one in their right mind would negotiate a major contract without taking legal advice. So why would any part of the business enter into a mega-million deal with a supplier without engaging Procurement? This is not the time to talk about “mandates.” This is about senior people not understanding the added value great procurement brings. Anyone can beat a supplier up to drive their price down (if there’s competition or some other credible threat) but only great buyers can build the right relationships that drive long term value and innovation.

Go on, be a hero!

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