This past Christmas I was watching one of my favorite holiday season movies "Love Actually" and was watching the part where Hugh Grant (playing the British Prime Minister) is giving a press conference following meetings with the U.S. President (played excellently by Billy Bob Thornton). In these meetings the President has said that he will give the Prime Minister anything he wants unless "it is something he doesn't want to give". In the press conference Grant's character calls the President on his bullying tactics saying that the formerly special relationship between their countries has become a bad relationship for Britain. From now on the Prime Minister will make his own demands clear and stand firm on issues that are important to Britain. Go Hugh!
I was reminded while watching this scene of my time as a procurement practitioner in one particular company when I was often invited by user departments to provide assistance with sourcing activities. My relationship with this department was considered "special" from the department's point of view so long as my involvement was limited to providing general guidance on procurement best practices such as RFP procedures, contract templates and the like. On those occasions, however, where I challenged the rationale behind a supplier selection decision (especially when it involved an incumbent vendor) it was made clear that I was going outside of my area of responsibility. So, in effect, the relationship with procurement was only special from the department's point of view if I did not ask for something that they would not give.
What had happened in this instance was that the relationship was not "special" at all but had become a bad relationship for everyone - the user department, procurement, and the company. The user department was making supplier selection decisions based on entrenched histories with certain suppliers rather than an objective evaluation of total cost of ownership. Procurement (in this case, me) was not being assertive enough in challenging user departments with data-driven arguments for considering alternative supply options. And the company was suffering from the relationship because ultimately there were sourcing decisions being made that were not necessarily in the best interests of the organization or its shareholders.
So if you are a procurement practitioner facing the same issues I did how can you turn the relationship you have with your user departments from bad to truly special? Take a leaf out of Hugh's book and hold a press conference. Step out into the spotlight and tell your user departments and your company's senior management that the relationship you have with your internal customers is currently dysfunctional. Tell them that for your company to realize maximum value from its supply relationships there must be open and honest evaluations and communications about the relative merits of alternative vendors. There must be crucial conversations about whether incumbents still offer the most compelling value propositions for total cost of ownership, quality, service and supply risk. There must be a global recognition among internal customers, procurement, senior management and suppliers that the correct sourcing decision is not necessarily the most popular.
For sourcing insights that can be gleaned from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", stay tuned for my next post.
1 Procurement Place
Non-spin commentary on the world of procurement, supported every now and then by the occasional piece of factual information.
Mark is Founder and CEO of SpendWorx LLC, a provider of spend analytics services. Prior to SpendWorx Mark co-founded Treya Partners, a boutique procurement consultancy. Earlier in his career Mark held various positions at Accenture, GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce.