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How to avoid ending up at ‘The Good Place’ in procurement

There was a joke doing the rounds recently on LinkedIn. It was about HR professionals who upon their death had to choose between heaven and hell. They get to take a tour of each before making their choice, and of course they are suckered into choosing hell. Because yesterday they were hiring and hell looked lavish, more sublime than heaven even, but today upon arriving it was a place of fire and brimstone. Alas, their choice had already been made. HR karma – nice. I’ve worked with a number of HR teams and recruiters over the years and they are great (because they all told me they were) and as much as I admire their vocation, it’s true, they are offering the corporate Kool-Aid to any new starter.

I know what you’re thinking – I should’ve trolled that fool for treating LinkedIn like Facebook, or better yet, put up my own vitriolic post espousing the virtues of professional only content on the platform and sat back like a smug cat and watched the likes roll in, right? But instead it got me thinking…after I stopped laughing at the thought of HR teams arriving in hell…how can we, as procurement professionals, get better insights into the procurement organisations we are looking to join?

Whether you are going through a recruiter or a HR team, it occurred to me there is a great resource we can use to get early insight into a procurement function that we perhaps do not instinctively tap into – the Procurement Policy. I think that searching for this (if published), or requesting it via your contact, along with any supporting guidelines or processes, is an excellent way to prepare yourself for any interview that may be ahead. It will also help you see through the beguiling corporate Tinder profile you’ve been presented with by our friends in HR and the recruiting industry. I also think that if you ask for it, it will be readily given to you. Why not? It might be the difference between swiping left or right.


After getting your hands on the policy – is it a one pager where at some stage someone has googled ‘procurement’? Perhaps they have even stumbled across ‘sustainability’ or a few other catch words and through the magic of cut and paste…voila! A policy is born. For me, a one page policy can tell you a range of things about how your soon-to-be employer currently values their procurement function. This is telling me primarily that there has been limited investment and company intent in developing the practice to date. Potentially this can also reflect a decentralised purchasing culture, modest 3rd party spend and a dis-aggregated supply chain for you to play with. This is not necessarily a negative, rather, it may be reflective of an organisations growth curve. You may just be the person who is about to go on a journey with them as they wrestle with rapid growth and procurement complexity and exciting times lay ahead.

Conversely, you could be handed a 100 page tomb that uniquely blends policy, procedure, guidance and whatever else that was leftover in the internal auditors cupboard into a six course procurement degustation. Pure enthusiasm I say! This is well meaning and a great source of opportunity to test concepts and operational practice with any interviewer as you sort through the myriad of ‘go to’ topics represented. After all, you know your stuff, and can wax lyrical with the best of the procurement fold right? You’ve got sourcing, category management, self service, vendor on-boarding, pre-qualification, master data, contract management, touchless processing, RPA, sustainability, environment, diversity, CSR, SRM, SPM, anti-bribery and corruption, and modern slavery nailed. And don’t get me started on data! If anything, you have at your fingertips, a rich avenue toward unearthing what is established practice versus what is procurement cladding. Lists aside, (and I’m sure you’re way better at procurement bingo than me), as a minimum, this type of policy approach is suggesting progression up the maturity curve. What it also may be indicating however, is that stakeholder buy-in might be missing. I tend to view these document constructions as a potential symptom of an internalised or silo’d procurement culture. There is a possibility here, that the function is doing more business with itself or other support / overhead functions, than it is with the core operations of the business. I see this as opportunity for growth and depending on the role, you can direct your queries along spend under management lines, stakeholder engagement and elements of the governance and reporting frameworks you may be expected to maintain and develop. I would be expecting some core categories are well handled but there is likely to be ‘sacred cows’ and stakeholder groups left to bring into the procurement light.

Channel management matters

Recruiters are typically pretty good at communicating some of the elements of channel management. You’re likely to hear words like ‘mandate’ or ‘greenfield’ as you sit there sipping your soul origin coffees and discussing their future placement fee. Kidding, recruiters – I NEED YOU. And you need me…sometimes. Having policies that stipulate spend and consultation thresholds, card programs and evidence of P2P systems in use, such as eSourcing and catalogue offerings are nice clear indicators of focused investment. I do ask you though, when talking through these tools, not to use the words Amazon or Uber – I think for reasons that are self evident. I’ll understand the occasional use of ‘agile’ but if I hear the word ‘disrupt’ again, a little vomit might come up. But I digress. Demonstration of how channels are managed is a good sign of procurement / category team maturity and stakeholder buy-in. Seeing this, my interest would be in user adoption rates, compliance and audit, data analytics and visualisation and continuous improvement. I also think this is likely to indicate that there is a capability in the organisation where innovation as a practice, can, or is currently being, undertaken in partnership with the supply chain.

In the absence of a demonstrated tech sophistication, we find fertile ground for the procurement ‘transformation’ alumni. You know who you are. And yeah, I’m guilty as charged. I’ve been hitched to a couple of these bandwagons over the journey, with varying degrees of success. The allure of tech, like the force, is strong. My mantra here is transactions, transactions, transactions as opposed to spend, spend, spend. Getting a sense of where a business case may lay in waiting is the goal. I am particularly interested in gauging risk appetite and benefit measurement approaches in these circumstances. Put simply, if your head is in cost avoidance and maverick spend reduction and compliance, and the business you’re talking with only has the bottom line in mind, you need real transactional volume. As tough is it sounds, we are talking about FTE out here, and grounding efficiencies in people. I don’t really see many open discussions in the various procurement forums on this fact, but it’s a reality with a very human face. The robots are taking over. Understanding the balance between an organisations transparency and efficiency aspirations, and the funding they may be prepared to part with in order to get there, is a genuine cultural expression. Take heed.

In the end

It doesn’t even matter. There is no ‘right’ formation for procurement policies and their supporting process material. I tend to try to create, with my dilettantes tool kit, a succinct policy of circa 10 pages with separate supporting process documentation and templates for those needing greater guidance. The objective I have is to make it as easy as possible to leverage the great work that a procurement team has done, and is doing, and be guided to their help for major initiatives. For a new starter, it should be intuitive, and to a certain extent in the process of undertaking a purchase, their compliance behaviour is not apparent to them. It is just occurring by virtue of being well guided through a purchase. If what you’re reading makes you feel that buying will be easy in your new company, then you’re off to a good start. I do add the caveat, that if it looks too easy, you could be joining a s**t show. Opportunities abound.

So the next time you’re considering a new role, I encourage you to get a hold of as much as this material as you can. Many of you may be already using this tip. For those that aren’t, use it to shine a light into the companies you are looking to join and probe beyond the general company and role particulars. It may save you from the lakes of lava, and steel you for the challenges and opportunities that are on the other side of that gate.

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