How to make friends and influence outcomes
Procurement does not have an easy job. We function as the spending conscience of the enterprise. When a contract is going to be awarded, we make sure a careful selection process is followed and that every specification or requirement associated with additional cost earns its place. We ensure that incumbent suppliers deserve renewed business, and push all suppliers to perform their best on behalf of the company. As important as all those things are, it can often leave procurement looking like the “skunk at the garden party” from an internal procurement stakeholder perspective.
Think about this for a moment: if you were about to make a major purchase – a new car, a nice vacation, a fancy meal – and someone kept pushing you on the very details that make the decision exciting, how would you feel?
…Do you really need the room with the ocean view? That costs 20 percent more… think of what else you could do with that money (like fixing that garage door). Isn’t it enough that you get to go on vacation?
…I know you like the idea of the performance package on that car, but how is it going to affect your gas mileage? You can’t just think about this car as a one-time purchase. You need to consider what the total cost of ownership will be, including gas and maintenance costs.
…Dessert too? An appetizer plus salad and entrée wasn’t enough? And remember: you had that second roll – WITH BUTTER. How are you going to feel about this decision tomorrow when you step on the scale? Being out on a special occasion doesn’t forgive the need to be responsible.
Being a “skunk” doesn’t mean having to stink.
Consider some of these tips for winning procurement stakeholder support while also getting the job done.
- Be honest. Trust and support can never be achieved if stakeholders are suspicious about procurement’s motives, priorities, or actions. Establish an open dialogue, and be constructive – especially when the truth is hard to deliver.
- Ask questions. Q: How do stakeholders know procurement is saying something they don’t like? A: Our lips are moving. We need to actively solicit input from stakeholders throughout the project. This builds ownership and will give them a natural reason to be supportive.
- Listen. The only mistake bigger than not asking questions at all is asking questions and then not listening to the answers. Find ways to incorporate stakeholder “wants” and actively address their concerns.
- Engage. We’re all busy, and to get our own work done, we sometimes need to protect ourselves from the requests of others. Unfortunately, people know when they are being avoided or put off. Procurement needs to engage with – and even seek out – stakeholders when there are opportunities to help. Even if it means more work for us.
- Make friends. Ask yourself, do you actually like your stakeholders? You’re not going to get along with everyone the same, but if you can form friendships – or at least productive working relationships – with your stakeholders, they are more likely to feel the same in return.
- Share the credit. Most procurement processes lead up to one or more metrics. These numbers drive our efforts and justify our existence. When those results are achieved, however, procurement has to share the credit. People support efforts that they have active ownership in, and if procurement doesn’t share the spoils, we may win the battle but lose the war.
- Be nice to suppliers. Procurement may try to stay distant from suppliers, especially if we have a sense they are not going to win the contract. That may cause stakeholders to say we “had it in for” suppliers from the outset – hardly a reason to support a process prized for its objectivity.
- Learn. How much do you know about the daily challenges and priorities your stakeholders are working to satisfy? Not only will you better understand the “why” behind their requests and responses, you will earn their appreciation for making the effort.
- Play the game. There are many companies today that have internal politics that could rival the palace intrigues of 16th century Europe. Gaining support is sometimes a “two step game” that has less to do with how I feel about you than how some other influential figure feels about you. If your company has one or more of these influential trend setters, work to win their favor.
- Be worthy of their support. Why wouldn’t a stakeholder support procurement’s efforts? Aside from changes that make them unhappy or a few extra meetings in their calendar, is there a chance that you could work harder or make more of an effort to deserve their support? The answer to this question may be hard to hear, so when in doubt, take tip #3 to heart and listen.
While Kelly’s Top 10 tips may be specifically directed at procurement professionals, most of the same suggestions apply to contract management, supplier management and sourcing professionals as well. It’s about building rapport to build influence, trust and business results.
Check out the rest of our procurement blogs and resources, and schedule a personalized demonstration of the Determine Cloud Platform. We’ll show you how it can help you influence your stakeholders.