A Matter of Perspective: Taking an Abstract View of Procurement

An image of people walking down a brightly lit corridor.

Ever heard of a thing called inertia? Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion, or the tendency to do nothing. In business speak, this phenomenon is often characterized as analysis paralysis. In a corporate world of business cases, business plans, strategic roadmaps and the push to constantly sell, align and achieve, it’s no wonder procurement leaders are drowning in what needs to be done, but struggle to scratch the surface. How can it be that a top procurement leader whose very career path has been the result of their outstanding productivity and accolades suddenly faces a precipice of declining performance and the disastrous stagnation of innovation?  Simple. Because their knowledge impedes creativity, causing inertia. 

Procurement leaders who have spent the entirety of their career in one industry, one company, or one function, namely procurement, subconsciously experience limiting beliefs—and by limiting I mean success-hindering, momentum-killing beliefs—about themselves and the procurement function. Without ever intending it, procurement leaders often poison their potential by allowing their knowledge and experience to cloud their creativity and vision of what they can imagine going forward.  They often resist any change to the current state of operations because they are so focused on delivering in the here and now. Even if they manage to recall their vision for a world-class procurement organization, the age-old question emerges: where do I even begin? The path of least resistance is to simply do nothing, to change nothing; the alternative could lead to failure. To these skeptics wary of innovative change, I’d like to pose the question: isn’t the very act of doing still far more productive than the act of thinking or talking about doing something, regardless of the outcome?   

The most successful procurement leaders don’t follow the status quo. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing fresh perspectives and promote diversity of thought. Have you ever participated in the old woman, young woman illusion? If you haven’t, here’s some context: Participants are given a picture and asked what they see. Based on their perception of the image, participants either see an old, unprepossessing woman, or a young, attractive woman. This illusion teaches an invaluable lesson that everything we see and process in the world can be interpreted in multiple ways and that neither is inherently correct or incorrect. While procurement leaders may intuitively have a talent for approaching a problem from a variety of angles, sometimes it literally takes another team member to look at the problem with an entirely new and fresh perspective to find the optimal solution. The solutions we ‘see’ or interpret are a function of who we are, what experiences we’ve had and where our expertise lies. Perception is reality but being reliant upon only one perspective leads to a systemic limiting awareness of the best course of action.  Ultimately, Procurement leaders see more creatively when approaching a complex problem with team members possessing different backgrounds and experiences than that of their own. 

Returning to the concept of inertia, or inability to change, few would argue that stagnation is productive and being strictly productive isn’t innovative. Procurement leaders whose sole focus is on productivity rely on a workable and repeatable procurement process, which they strive to make as efficient as possible. But being efficient is not the equivalent of being innovative or of being a thought leader who propels procurement’s continuous evolution. When the procurement process becomes antiquated, the efficient process is not an effective one, and suddenly, productivity fails. True procurement leaders, on the other hand, recognize that innovation isn’t linear or particularly efficient, for that matter, but that it is creative and fundamentally requires change.

Before we get into how procurement leaders can keep their career and the function innovative and relevant, let’s recap a few key takeaways thus far:  

  • Successful procurement leaders embrace fresh perspectives and proactively promote diversity of thought
  • When approaching a complex problem, procurement leaders see more creatively when leveraging team members possessing different backgrounds and experiences than that of their own
  • Innovation is creativity at work and fundamentally requires change

So how can procurement leaders advance their career and the function in the midst of fierce competition in an ever-changing marketplace? Simple. Through diversity of thought. Hiring the right team of creative thinkers keeps the leader and the function relevant by fostering innovation and sustainability.

Becoming world-class requires innovation, not optimization. The importance of aligning procurement skills and talent with the changing organizational needs is imperative, requiring hiring managers to not only hire for sourcing experience, but rather for a combination of hard and soft skills.  The ability to problem-solve, think outside the box and critically listen are hard to teach – whereas anyone can master procurement processes with the right training and practice. 

Aside from hiring a full-time, dedicated procurement resource, organizations can explore hiring specialized contractors, or outsourcing procurement business processes to meet their unique needs. These external resources, while not the norm, can bring the fresh perspective required to sustain best-in-class status.    

In creating a culture of creative procurement champions with differing perspectives and professional experiences, true procurement leaders succeed in driving positive and innovative organizational change, allowing them to maintain a competitive edge and continue implementing effective solutions to complex supply chain problems.  

 

Kaitlyn Krigbaum, Sourcing & Communications Analyst

Kaitlyn Krigbaum specializes in HR & Marketing Procurement consulting at Source One Management Services, providing strategic decision support to help companies invest in their greatest assets, their people and their brands, while concurrently branding the role of procurement as a value-added partner.