Rajeev Karmacharya is Head of the Strategic Sourcing and Category Management group at Fannie Mae. Rajeev leads a team of category management, sourcing/contracting and supplier operations professionals managing $4.5+ billion in external spend. He is a member of the SIG Advisory Board and was a featured presenter at SIG’s virtual SIGnature Event that took place in September 2020. Virtual SIGnature Events are free to all qualified buy-side practitioners and sell-side members.
What role does procurement play when it comes to transitioning employees to a work-from-home environment?
I would argue that procurement is a key enabler for several reasons. Many of us have been working from home now for several months. If you think about what was needed for a seamless transition to a work-from-home model, technology and digitization come to mind. Procurement has had a role to play in the acquisition of these technologies and ensuring there are appropriate controls and SLA’s to mitigate any potential performance issues.
Procurement has been an early adopter in implementing solutions such as digital signature, which has seen broader adoption across the enterprise in a work-from-home environment. Specific to the procurement function, approval workflows built into our source-to-pay solutions have enabled our business stakeholders to review and provide necessary approvals electronically.
On a more tactical level, our procurement team worked to ensure that office supplies and peripherals needed to work from home effectively could be ordered online via our procurement portal to be shipped directly to our employees’ homes. Our Category Managers negotiated deals with technology and office furniture suppliers so employees could take advantage of our volume leverage.
How can the organizational culture be preserved without an office?
This is one of the biggest concerns for many companies today. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and a distributed work environment, in the short term, it seems we have found a way to be productive and remain engaged. However, organizational culture may be difficult to preserve in a longer-term work-from-home environment without deliberate effort and intervention.
How do we continue to keep employees motivated and driven by a shared sense of purpose when interaction is completely virtual? How do we integrate new hires? How do we continue to innovate? One way to mitigate these concerns is ensuring ongoing engagement and communication. At Fannie Mae, we are fortunate in that our executive leadership believes in clear and transparent communications and our leaders across the company have modeled the same.
Ongoing communication has really helped employees to remain focused on the core mission of our company. This level of continued focus and commitment has allowed both procurement teams and business counterparts to stay engaged and coordinated. In terms of social engagement, we have found that that virtual get-togethers and online team-building games are helpful.
In your opinion, what are the best tools or technologies for remote procurement teams?
As procurement professionals, we work with both internal and external stakeholders on a daily basis. If you think about our interactions, we are one of the few groups in any organization that is constantly in communication with not just our internal stakeholders – business customers, and finance, risk and legal colleagues – but also suppliers. So, you need tools and technologies that work not just within your firewall and your company, but also across companies and platforms.
In terms of tools and capabilities, I think there are three broad sets. First, communication and collaboration tools. Video meetings allow for greater engagement with tools like Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft Teams has helpful collaboration capabilities, such as a virtual whiteboard. The integration across the Microsoft suite of products makes it easier from the user experience perspective.
Second, tools and solutions that make it easier for our team to be equally productive when working from home. This is where our investment in technology and digital transformation has truly paid off. We have worked hard to ensure good visibility into our spend profile and we have digitized our sourcing and contracting processes.
All our review and approvals are conducted digitally, including digital signature for execution. This foundation helped us to become much more agile and responsive to our customer needs. This has allowed us to leverage our enterprise volume without sacrificing speed of delivery or ignoring potential risks. Similarly, contract authoring tools allow for greater collaboration in the contracting process across procurement, legal and suppliers.
Lastly, one of the key tools, albeit not necessarily in the traditional sense, has been our new way of working that is based on agile and lean management principles. For example, with regularly scheduled huddles, it has been much easier for our teams to remain engaged even though we were all working from our homes. We also have good visibility into our demand and capacity and can adjust and prioritize accordingly. This has also allowed us to address any potential roadblocks quickly.
What modifications should procurement leaders make when it comes to managing a remote workforce?
Procurement is not unique in that the challenges we face in managing a remote workforce are like those in other functional areas. However, because we are procurement professionals -- and had previously learned to work with suppliers and business partners who are not necessarily in our office buildings -- remote work has not been as much of a major shift in terms of how we engage.
Nonetheless, as leaders, we have a greater responsibility in a work-from-home model. We need to focus on open and transparent communication that is built on trust. Encourage employees to take time out to avoid burnout. Be accessible -- hold virtual office hours so your team members can “drop in” without having to book a separate meeting. Recognize that your team is juggling multiple priorities at home -- be supportive, be flexible. Drive greater transparency into demand and work assignments and focus on outcomes vs. activities. Keep employees motivated with close to “real-time” virtual recognition. Celebrate successes and wins.
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Rajeev Karmacharya is Head of the Strategic Sourcing and Category Management group in Fannie Mae. Rajeev leads a team of category management, sourcing / contracting and supplier operations professionals managing $4.5+ billion in external spend.
Prior to joining Fannie Mae, Rajeev was a Principal at global management consulting firm Kearney, where he was one of the leaders in their Strategic IT and Operations Practice.
Rajeev holds a Master of Industrial Administration (MBA) degree in Finance and Marketing from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.