Get communication right, get procurement right

Communication and procurement

I am always surprised by the ways in which large corporations try to make themselves more attractive to the next generation of procurement executives.


Is free food, a ping pong table or a comfy sofa really the answer? Not in my eyes. What they really care about is their working environment and the support they will get to develop their careers. Key to that is clear and concise communication from the top down.


In my opinion, communication is one skill that has been neglected by leadership teams for some time, which added to the pace of change in technology, is hindering procurement.


I actually had a phone on my desk for years. I never touched it. Two colour, non-touch screen, non-intuitive handling – I always asked myself why was it there in the first place?


It is amazing how the landscape and technology of communication, and team collaboration has changed over the last 15 years, and how the way we adopt new technologies has completely changed.


Let’s take the personal computer as an example. To me, it has barely been personal. It was first introduced in offices and only entered homes and personal lives when it became more affordable. With today’s communication tools, such as mobile phones and tablets, it seems to be the exact opposite.


I am sure you have experienced the frustration of not being able to use the tools you use at home to communicate with colleagues at work. You must have also been asked numerous times why your team can’t use their own devices at work.


Let’s face it, mobile phones are a key source of communication between people. Subscriptions have reached seven billion(!) in just 30 years. Some 90% of the time, an iPhone is used to transmit data, while only 10% of the time it is actually used for voice communication.


How we communicate with each other, how we interact and collaborate, and the devices and tools we use is changing rapidly, driven by consumers, not employees.


This change is impacting procurement too.


In 2010, I was three years into a job as global purchasing manager at P&G. All of the company’s offices were open plan and I happened to be sitting opposite my purchasing director one day. She was, and still is, one of the best procurement leaders I ever worked for; highly successful in a very male-dominated function. Her male personal assistant came over to my desk and handed me two sheets of paper to read: one with an article on how to drive procurement excellence in the 21st century, the second a sign-off sheet with a table of names to ensure my colleagues had read it. I was genuinely surprised when he handed me these and I asked what I was supposed to do with it and whether he could send me an email next time?


I wanted to read the article when I had time and not run around the office trying to find the next person to read it.


My director overheard the conversation and my reaction, stood up from behind her desk and laughed: “Here we can clearly see the generation gap,” she said, pointing to the stacks of paper and files on her desk and looking at mine with virtually nothing on but my laptop.


Enabling agility


In my opinion, efficient communication and the facilitation of it within organisations has always been and still is what drives agility and ultimately business success, especially today. Enabling collaboration and multiple-party communication in real time, with internal and external parties, from anywhere and everywhere is what success will really look like. This is what I seek as an employee, not necessarily free beer or pizza.


Having worked as a director of purchasing myself, I do wonder if I have been doing things that my team consider as now outdated. Maybe my paper article faux pas is the WhatsApp message that I send with an article attached instead of posting it on a digital message board that enables better team collaboration and feedback opportunities?


In any case, I am hopeful that the times of overflowing email accounts are over. I think the next challenge for us as business leaders is to manage the various channels and tools of communication efficiently. A unified communication strategy is needed so that information is not lost and critical information is shared in the right way through the right channels.


Jens Hentschel is the former director of supply chain management & strategic procurement - ‎KFC UK & Ireland and is a founder & CEO of The Fivis Partnership


This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. Procurement Leaders received no payment directly connected with the publishing of this content.

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