Procurement teams facing the constant challenge of measuring and enforcing contract compliance may shudder at the thought that December 15th was National Herding Cats Day. We put a contract in place, and they buy from someone else. We establish a process, and they do whatever they like. It can be infuriating. But, if we approach our internal “cats” with the right attitude, they also present us with unique opportunities to improve procurement’s performance, impact, and influence.
Here is some advice for those days when you find yourself herding cats:
Independence can cause friction or spark innovation.
The thing about cats is that, unlike horses, cows, sheep, or… well… lemmings, they aren’t hardwired to travel in herds. They naturally function as independent creatures. You may care for them, but you will never own them.
Similarly, in the world of corporate spend management, people who go against the grain rarely do so just to be difficult. Even when their efforts are misguided, they are acting in what they believe are the best interests of the organization (or at least their function).
These independent people are critical thinkers – “the cats of an organization” – who often have a singular point of view that procurement can harness for their own objectives. It is important to identify and track “cats” and forge open relationships with them.
They are the people who will give us an honest opinion about a new program or provide an independent perspective on incumbent suppliers. In a world where requests for feedback and input are often met with unsettling silence, “cats” can be relied upon to keep us honest and focused on what is mission-critical for the organization. And as long as they are widely recognized as having an objective voice, a word of public support from a “cat” is often worth more than a formal endorsement by someone who routinely follows the rules.
Keeping procurement “honest” on enterprise alignment.
Procurement likes to think that we are doing the right things for the right reasons, but it is easy to lose perspective and start serving procurement’s needs first and the organization’s needs second. If this happens frequently, our performance metrics need to be revisited. But if we can rely upon anyone to keep us on track, it is our “cats.’’
“Cats” are indifferent to needs, desires, and priorities aside from their own. Buy from a new supplier to save less than a percent on an annual basis? That is unlikely to be worth the disruption to their routine. Endure a counter-intuitive approval process because it aligns better with the way our eProcurement solution works? You must be kidding. If “cats” are going to take a step, there has to be something in it for them – not just subjectively contributing to the “greater good.”
“Cats” are notoriously aloof, just like their actual feline counterparts. Non-compliance from them can be relied upon to spotlight any existing problem areas in the procurement universe.
Even when procurement’s programs and recommendations are in the best interests of the enterprise as a whole, it can be immensely helpful to monitor the frustration level of “cats.” The potential consequences of their non-compliance reminds us to communicate results and benefits in terms that carry meaning to internal stakeholders and people who will be affected by the change.
Working with “cats” (rather than natural herd animals) forces procurement to remember that we should be focused on sharing incentives and motivations rather than just insisting upon control.