Leading Through Transformation.

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From the outset, the leader must have a clear, unwavering, vision of the change that is required. The vision may be a hard metric; such as the number or location of staff members,or softer; such as the positioning of procurement within the organisation. This is not a fixed view of the end state or of the plan for how you are going to get there, but it needs to be a compelling vision of what will be different after the transformation and which can be outlined in a single Powerpoint slide.


The transformation must involve and engage the entire team. Every team member needs to own and recognise the need to adapt and accept his or her part in developing and delivering the change plan. To ensure engagement, each member does not need to be involved in every aspect, but each should have at least one domain where their input is expected and demanded. Honesty in communication is critical and this is often where a consultant team with selective listening can lose the attention of the procurement team either through overly responding to, or failing to address the populist messages of the day.

As an example, one typical complaint that can be over-emphasised through "feedback sessions" is the need for improved data quality. Leadership through the stages of defining the transformation needs to acknowledge the importance of these populist issues, but needs also to prioritise and focus the team on delivering the critical change activities, whilst still providing a longer term a mechanism for solving the more annoying day-to-day worries.

To maintain the team engagement, a leader needs to work hard to reduce fear and replace any negative feelings with enthusiasm (at best) or passive acceptance (at worst). The biggest danger here is the involvement of HR through a consultation process. As soon as this is announced, it automatically changes the focus from "What can I help change?" to a much more defensive "How do I protect my patch". Wherever possible, I look to reduce the impact of people changes, so that the organisation can focus freely on what will be better in the future.

One of the most painful transformations I observed was thankfully not in Procurement, and got so swallowed up in the HR consultation processes that it consumed many months of management time. In the end, only one person was invited to leave the organisation. So my advice would be - consider the speed of people change you require, whether it needs a consultation or whether it can be delivered through a combination of new role opportunities, normal attrition and performance management.

This leads to my final observation that transformation needs momentum and drive. I believe that to maintain engagement, you need to have finished the majority of the transformation within the first six months. Some project activities may continue for longer, but the key elements should all be decided and in place within this timeframe. I have observed lengthy processes that have lost credibility at board level, disrupted staff morale and cost a lot of money in consulting and communications resources.

Fundamentally, if you need a transformational step change , then it is probable that the current team has been unable to deliver incremental change in addition to their day-to-day jobs. It is highly unlikely therefore that they are going to be able to drive a quick process without external assistance to push the pace and complete activities within this window.

A good consultant can immediately free up capacity within the team by taking quick steps to stop some non-critical activities. He/she can structure and build the plan on a single Powerpoint slide so that everyone knows who is doing what. He/she can provide the impetus or resource to get things done, simplify the process, act as a role model and engage with every last member of the team, acting as a barometer for the change.

On the converse side, a bad consultant, can over-complicate, confuse and undermine the leadership team's relations with the team. When you look at the external team (and, in my opinion, an external presence is critical to success), look at their ability to simplify, their drive for pragmatism and their pace as primary selection criteria rather than the list of important sounding names on their client list.

Transformation can be hugely fun and highly motivating. As a leader who has seen and led several transformations, I can honestly say that you will only ever achieve 60-80% of your best case scenario, but that is still a huge improvement on where you were before.

David Lyon is head of Procurement at Cancer Research UK.


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.



David Lyon
Posted by David Lyon

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