Much has been written recently about robotics. If you Google it, the most common word you will see in articles about robotics is “hype.” In fairness, it’s generally in the form of a question…it it hype? Is it more than just hype? Is the promise of artificial intelligence finally here? For the past two years Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have become more prominent conversations at SIG Summits…and the word on the street is that these are no longer just futuristic concepts. They are real. Much of what is out there centers on the idea that automation is just a passing IT fad. But I’m not buying it. I’ve looked behind the curtain and I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. (Nothing like mixing a few metaphors.)
Concerns abound that automation will take away jobs, and in an era where we are still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession the threat of job loss is daunting…haunting even. But is that is the most important aspect of robotics? Yes, it could take jobs away but robotics are most easily applied to positions that are repetitive and process-oriented, so the premise is that the people in those jobs can then be redeployed to more strategic roles. Gartner uses the term “automation arbitrage” to describe RPA and in effect, that is just what it is. But there are so many more possibilities with it.
And like that, another one is behind us. For months we plan every little detail to make our Summit a memorable event for our delegates. We coach speakers, edit session presentations, order matching linens, create signage and think through every thing that can go wrong to make sure that it doesn’t. And then it’s over. Just like that. The delegates have gone home, the sessions have been evaluated and everything has been shipped. But the memories of the event linger and one thing has become more and more clear with each passing event…the sourcing function is no longer back-office. It has not just gone from tactical to strategic, but is also leading companies in tackling some of the biggest issues facing our members today. Sourcing has gone mainstream. These observations from the most recent SIG Global Executive Summit highlight these points.
Data is the word of the day. And I don’t just mean “Big Data” although that is certainly a “big” part of it. Data is the key to better understanding customers. It is the way we can predict future supply needs. And yes—using “Big Data” we can teach computers to replace even complex procurement functions with little to no errors. But now Procurement groups are also hiring Data Scientists to turn that data into tangible outcomes. The baseline for smart systems is getting the data right, so pay attention…you will see the Data Scientist trend on the rise.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog…I’ve been remiss. But in my defense, it has been a BUSY year. We officially opened SIG University with hundreds of students now matriculating through it…acquired Outsource, the leading digital content thought leader based in the UK…launched a division of SIG in EMEA…and absorbed the LatAm Alliance (formerly called Nearshore Executive Alliance) as a SIG Working Council…and that is all since January! Not to mention launching a new website, starting two Working Groups, hosting our first CPO Meet & Eat, conducting several events with our European team, planning our first-ever awards event, holding dozens of one-day forums all over North America and beyond and preparing for our second Global Summit of the year! My head is spinning…it’s been quite a year. But it’s the crazy ride we call the Summit that has me thinking it’s time to write another blog.
The Summit is a time that we at SIG always look forward to with (to be honest) mixed feelings. The event itself gives us a high like no other. It is the time when we get to see all of our members face-to-face. We hear the latest innovations and ideas from world class thought leaders. We meet new SIG members…and we reconnect with our work colleagues whom we know better by voice than face. But preparing for it is a LOT of work. I’m not sure I emphasized that enough. It is A LOT of work. There are literally thousands of little details that go into making this the world-class event you have all come to expect. From the speakers to the signage…from the cups to the cocktail napkins…from the app to the entertainment…the list is LONG. We put the effort into making it a flawless event so you can come prepared to just absorb, learn, network and enjoy. But if you want a few more tips for making the week the best it can possibly be, consider these three things:
SIG Summits are known for having amazing keynote speakers…and at our Summit in Denver last fall we had a speaker who took it to a whole new peak…so to speak. In fact, our keynote Alison Levine gave us a new appreciation for the word "Summit" as she shared her experiences in climbing Mt. Everest. At first glance, one wouldn't immediately think this tiny woman had the physical stamina or grit required for this incredible journey...which is exactly why making quick judgments isn't ever a great idea. Not only did she lead a team up that most arduous of climbs, but she did it twice. TWICE. Facing extremely dangerous and life-threatening conditions within 300 feet of the Summit, she made the painful decision to turn back her first time up...but both journeys provided lessons anyone can apply as a leader. She had so many great takeaways that I'm not sure I can adequately sum them up...but my attempt and interpretation are below:
On effective teams, everyone is a leader at some point. There may be only one person with a designated leader title, but allowing people to have a voice builds trust and loyalty. And if you do, your team is more likely to look out for the people on either side of them and make sure they are moving in the right direction as well. We once had a speaker whose mantra was that you don't have to have a title to be a leader...truer words were never spoken. Think about the word "leadership" as more of a mindset than a title and you empower everyone with the ability to own it. When you give people not just room...but permission to take something and run with it, you might be surprised by the result.
We spend months preparing for each Summit...and then a week getting ready for the arrival of our delegates...and then a few days with them...and then in a blink of an eye it is over and we start again. It goes by too quickly but the lessons learned are vast and permanent. Over the next few blogs, I'll share some insights I gleaned from our keynote speakers at the last SIG Global Executive Summit. The first was retired Colonel Anthony (Tony) Wood, best known for his heroic role in the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975. Colonel Wood addressed SIG in a general session and also spent time with our most senior delegates in an exclusive CPO Roundtable. These were my key takeaways from his two presentations.
Moral courage is knowing what to do, even when you know it may cost you. Colonel Wood shared a story of leading civilian volunteers through the most unimaginable circumstances. Risking their own lives, roughly 100 American civilians in their 50s and 60s, volunteered to help evacuate 5,300 people from Saigon, a city that was collapsing. In the face of an advancing enemy army, this incredible group of people put the lives of others before their own. In a business context, knowing what to do and actually acting on it, even though it may not be in your own personal interest to do so, is difficult...but having people with that attitude on your team is enormous. Moral courage is a critical piece of business leadership.
You go to the three-day SIG Summit to learn new practices, solidify standards and make business connections. The Denver Summit will be my seventh. The speakers are uniformly excellent, the first-class entertainment on Wednesday night is always a surprise, and the Thursday night event is fun-filled and relaxing. But it's Tuesday's Speed Networking event that tops my list for an informative and high-energy way to make new colleagues. If your goal is to meet as many Summit attendees as possible, then attending Speed Networking on Tuesday afternoon is a must. And no, I'm not just tooting SIG's horn here. There is a sense of camaraderie that you get at Speed Networking. Sure, it is a bit like speed dating at first...but once the buzz fills the room, the air is electric. Speed networkers are trying to broaden their connections by increasing their exposure – and this venue is the perfect opportunity to accomplish that. SIG used to host Speed Networking on Wednesdays during the Summit, and I was always a bit frayed by that – why wait for the second day, when everyone can meet on the first day?! Because what we do best at SIG is to brainstorm ways to continuously improve, we changed the venue to Tuesday, the first official day of the Summit. For those who have not attended, we fill the largest ballrooms with huge rounds of tables and place chairs on either side. Nearly everyone attends. The corporate buy-side attendees move around the perimeter. The sell-side attendees stay put. SIG staffers happily serve beer and wine to help break the ice. And as if we couldn't make this event more fun...there are REALLY great prizes for the buy-side attendees – just put your business card in the bowl that is passed around prior to the event beginning. The din that ensues is lively, productive and fun. You have a few minutes with each person, introduce yourself, your company, even your kids if you must.
I recently dropped off my oldest son at college. It was a momentous time sending my first child out the door. Not only did it bring a flood of my own college memories back, but it also made me realize that we often wait until the last minute before we impart the pearls of wisdom that might be most helpful in a new setting. I took the opportunity to write an article (if you call a Facebook posting an "article") to him, chock full of advice on washing clothes, changing sheets, using good judgment and much much more. As I reflect on that moment, it makes me realize that often when we approach the Summit, we assume people don’t need our advice on how to make the Summit a great experience...and you know what they say about assumptions. With three new SIG employees, it occurred to me that perhaps some Summit pearls of wisdom might be in order, so here goes:
Don't miss the networking events. Most people come to events for two reasons—the first, education is what gets the approval for the plane ticket, but it's the second, networking that often gives you the most bang for your buck. One conversation can help you solve a problem...or create a lifelong resource...or even identify a potential vendor or partner. Because of that, we factor in a lot of time for networking. Our breaks are long and our evening events are lively and fun. For real energizing networking, our Tuesday evening Speed Networking is not to be missed. Even if networking is not something that comes naturally, this "speed dating" style of networking makes it easy to meet people quickly, exchange business cards and move on. On that note...
I recently had a sneak peek at Dawn's "President's Message" in our latest (soon-to-be-released as of this posting) InsideSourcing newsletter. In a nutshell, she talked about the fact that SIG is not just a "membership" organization, but should more appropriately be thought of as a "training" organization — a place where professionals come to learn more about the latest best practices in sourcing, outsourcing, procurement and so much more. Read her newsletter article for the many things SIG provides in the way of training — I won’t restate it all here — but I would like to expound a bit on the benefits of engaging in professional development for yourself and your team: It exposes you to the latest innovations. When you attend classes, conferences or events, you gain access to new ways of thinking. Sure, you can read about new innovations online, but the most tangible way to learn is to hear how someone has applied best and worst (more on that below) practices. You learn from other industries. At a recent SIG Summit, we had a speaker, Stephen Shapiro who extolled the virtues not of "thinking outside the box," but rather in "finding a better box." What does that mean? Well for one thing, sometimes looking inside your industry for all the answers may not be the best place to find them. If you attend a conference where many sectors are present, you might just have an "aha!" moment by hearing how people in other industries have approached, applied and solved problems. It motivates your team. Don't underestimate how important it is to provide your team with opportunities to network and learn. Sure, you might offer courses in-house, but imagine what it means to your team to give them the chance to meet peers in other organizations and hear the latest innovations.
I've read a lot lately about networking. It's a "must do" for any professional career...but for SIG, it's the difference between success and failure. SIG is defined by our ability to provide opportunities for our members to share best practices and thought leadership. How? By connecting them with other sourcing, outsourcing and procurement professionals. We offer online opportunities with Webinars, Town Hall Teleconferences and P2Ps (Peer-to-Peer resources), and of course with live events, such as Global Summits, Symposiums and Regional Roundtables. This week alone we've had one Symposium (in Toronto), a Regional Roundtable in Chicago (at McDonald's Hamburger University...how cool is that?!), a Town Hall Teleconference two Webinars and two P2Ps. It's a busy week—but it's what our members need to hear the latest industry standards and benchmark with others in this function. We love what we do and we try to make our events hassle-free and accessible. But based on some of the articles I've recently read, I'm reminded that live networking is not something that comes easily to most people. In fact, some of the best public speakers I know absolutely cringe when they have to mingle. So what can you do to enhance your networking outcome when you are at a conference or an event?
Each spring or fall as we approach the Summit, my creativity stops flowing and I go into "do" mode. My approach to everything becomes VERY tactical. My shoulders tense early in the day as I make a handwritten list with the various tasks I need to accomplish. If the item isn't: (a) going to print; (b) necessary for the Summit; or (c) required to keep one of my children alive, it probably won’t be addressed for a few more weeks. That's just the nature of working for a company that puts on large-scale events. We look at every detail from every angle and do everything in our power to execute as flawlessly as possible. That isn't to say that everything goes perfectly. It doesn't...but it's our job to shake it off, find a new solution and move forward like swans—looking peaceful and content above water, but paddling like all heck underneath. We arrive at the Summit location a full 4-5 days before our first guests arrive. In a sea of commotion, we unpack boxes, set up rooms, organize our registration desk, write last minute announcements, put together signs, meet with the hotel and check off the myriad things on our individual and collective "to do" lists (and yes, there really is a group "to do" list). It is a blur...and yet those days before the Summit starts are relaxing in an odd sort of way. We get the chance to reconnect with our colleagues whom we see only a few times a year. We are able to appreciate in person the amazing work our team members produce. And we laugh. A lot. As Saturday becomes Sunday becomes Monday, the anticipation of delegates arriving escalates palpably. The quiet buzz of excitement in the air becomes a cacophony of sound, not the least of which are the intermingled voices of delegates greeting old friends and making new connections. Although I look forward to our keynote speakers and hearing the latest trends and discoveries in the incredible breakouts, I secretly think that it's the sound of people connecting that I love the most.