It is not uncommon for procurement to use different analogies to describe itself or to describe how others perceive it.
I recently heard one from David Lyon, head of procurement at Cancer Research UK that I thought was a little bit different but showed exactly where procurement wants to get to.
Lyon was speaking at the launch of the Procurement Leaders Executive Strategy in Action programme and he explained that a few years ago he began a procurement transformation journey with the express aim of changing the perception of the function as well as to develop the people, processes, and tools used by procurement.
For Lyon there are a number of different reputations and this is how he sees them.
The traffic warden - At this level, procurement acts as a policy and process operator, issuing penalties, and its reputation is not necessarily well perceived by the rest of the business as a result. For traffic wardens, their reputation precedes them and they tend to be seen as unapproachable and that there is little room for discussion, let alone collaboration with them.
The flight attendant - Flight attendants deliver a structured service. They are highly trained professionals who are not only vital to the smooth running of cabin services, but will also provide expert support in the case of an unexpected emergency. They are generally seen as friendly and helpful, and customer-focused at all times. For procurement that means being seen as well trained but not necessarily adding too much extra value.
The consultant - Being part of a wide team, consultants are considered strategic thinkers who can work closely with clients across borders and in different industries. They are seen as agile with the ability to think ahead of problems. This is the kind of perception that Lyon wants his team to have.
A few years ago, Lyon said, his team were seen as a reactive business support function, or a traffic warden. Within a relatively short amount of time though they had developed into a team of flight attendants. What did it take? A lot of planning and a re-alignment of the function with the rest of the business.
However, there were a further two factors that were particularly crucial:
- Developing a category management structure, which would be able to break down functional silos of spend and enable strategic target-setting; and
- Setting realistic savings targets and looking for a number of quick wins
Lyon says that the motivation within his team to move up to the next level of consultant is high, but that it doesn’t happen overnight.
“After all, it’s about building a brand,” he pointed out.
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This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.