Fundamental Truth? Stakeholders Avoid Procurement

Posted: 12/13/2018 - 02:44
If you’re just joining this series, welcome! We’ve been on a monthly journey through some of procurement’s most fundamental “truths,” challenging and questioning along the way. We’ve looked at the assumed correlation between spend value and category importance, the logic behind pursuing a strategy of supplier consolidation and the fallback notion that, when in doubt, an RFP is a safe approach
But we’ve saved the best fundamental truth – or the worst, depending on your perspective – for last: the belief that all stakeholders would rather do anything (anything!) except work with procurement. 
This assumption is more than a change management issue or a question of relationship building. The idea that all stakeholders are naturally anti-procurement looms large over all of our frameworks and communications. 
We know that it is not easy to motivate stakeholder engagement. People are overworked, overwhelmed and just generally over it. But they seem to have a special disdain for procurement. We attribute it to the fact that our processes slow them down, our decision models constrain their supplier choices and our technology is less user-friendly than Amazon.  
And while many procurement organizations struggle with some or all of these challenges, we shouldn’t take them too personally. Many factors are at play in a competitive enterprise and if we completely internalize our stakeholders’ lack of enthusiasm we may be missing out on opportunities to improve working conditions and results for everyone. 
What if we assumed our stakeholders WANT to work with us? What if they are just looking for a compelling enough reason to do so? How might that perspective change our approach? As author and TV host Robert H. Schuller queried his readers in the 1970s, “What goals would you be setting for yourself if you knew you could not fail?” Like it or not, our mindset plays a huge role in determining our success. Procurement should try the techniques listed below, taking a positive, proactive approach. 
Listen with an Open Mind 
When people expect to like others (and assume the feeling to be mutual) they approach interactions in a different way. By remaining open to stakeholder feedback and input rather than mounting our defenses against anticipated criticism, we can invest more time in understanding what is most important to our stakeholders. Are they constrained by costs and not sure how to effectively work within their budget? Are they constrained by time from a personal or business perspective? Procurement can solve all of those problems, we just need to foster an environment of openness so that stakeholders can tell us, and we can hear them. 
Introduce New Ideas 
True brainstorming assumes all ideas are welcome and valuable. If procurement is trying to avoid triggering stakeholder pushback, we may hold out during idea-generating sessions. We have so much market insight and industry knowledge at our disposal, but when we share only what is “safe” we constrain the range of possible results. We need to be confident that internal relationships will weather alternate solutions or challenges to conventional wisdom. The more market knowledge our stakeholders have (or think they have) the higher the stakes for procurement. And yet, it is only through critical thought that full value is created. 
Capture Each Unique “Why?” 
Procurement tends to see the world as “us and them.” Procurement and stakeholders. Procurement and suppliers. But just as not all suppliers are the same, not all stakeholders are the same. We must seek to understand why each person or team is compelled to work with procurement rather than sell the same generalized procurement value proposition. Crafting a tailored message requires a unique understanding of challenges and opportunities. Procurement’s position will be stronger for it, as will the results. 
We must not be afraid to challenge our instincts – at least not if what we really want is an opportunity to change the game. 

About The Author

Phil Ideson's picture

Philip Ideson is the founder, editor and host of the Art of Procurement Network.  His prior experience includes work at Accenture, Ally Financial Inc., and Chiquita Brands International Corporation. 

The Art of Procurement podcast delivers multi-channel learning and development programs to help procurement leaders increase the capabilities of their internal teams.
Twitter: @aopshow