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Procurement in a crisis

Most procurement people are working safely from home right now … busy as always, but also embracing all the opportunities and challenges of WFH. But, what, exactly, are they doing?

Anecdotal evidence this last two weeks or so, suggests that they are doing one of FIVE things ….

  1. Securing vital supply lines for their organisations – mostly DIRECT supply lines, raw materials or critical services. Or sourcing tight specs from new suppliers. One CPO explained their factory in China had shut; he was urgently resourcing from elsewhere – including competitors!

  2. Sourcing new stuff – the hunt is on for reliable supply of PPE in staggering quantities “I am buying them in the tens of millions JD” says one stressed CPO at the PASA virtual Roundtable. The next CPO placed a $100k order for hand-sanitiser; “Pah, I ordered $870k worth” bragged the next. Phew.

  3. Pausing non-operational supply lines – letting down suppliers slowly, pausing contracts and halting deliveries. Negotiating force majeure. Will we ever buy non-operational stuff again in such reckless quantities?

  4. BAU – people in the team, often junior team members, without a starring role on the supply side, maybe INDIRECT focused, can get BAU (business-as-usual) progressed quickly and easily whilst at home. A chance to complete all those jobs you will do ‘whence you ever get the time.’ It is that time now …

  5. Nothing much – Yep, nothing much. Tuning in to e-mail. Answering the phone. Having ZOOM meetings. Co-ordinating. Maybe the odd report. Cancelling team-days. Chatting with colleagues. Reorganising the shared drive. Chatting with colleagues. Attending webinars. Attending to the kids. And not really sending in much work.

You see, there are people that get-things-done and people that just don’t. As a baby-buyer, back in the day, I had an old boss who had worked at that company for 40 years – I had barely done 4 by then. He claimed that he could walk into any office and “… smell work, like a field of tulips or a fine wine.” His ultimate point was not so radical – that 80% of the work in any office is done by 20% of the key people. The rest waste time. “Find those 20% JD and love them and invest in them …” he’d say, they are your troopers. You don’t want to hear what he thought we should do with the “80% wasters.”

They attend meetings but do not contribute. They are present but not proactive. They only react. They focus on non-productive work. They are good at admin. Organise team-meetings, Christmas parties, footy-tipping, HR meetings, internal projects, charity-initiatives, office-moves and the trivia of everyday office life. Easily distracted, keen to hide, they yearn for safe harbour projects. They want tasks to complete, not responsibility to bear. Presenteeism in all but name.

But, out of the office, they are exposed. What have they done all day? In eight honest hours? They are ultimately unproductive. Their work mounts to little indeed. It is not on the shared-drive. Are they just hanging off the work of others, in fact? Sharing others’ credit. Part of the team, for sure. But, doing what exactly? Contributing how?

As we emerge from the crisis into a new normal, maybe we will learn to go easy on ordering stationery and unneeded supplies. New office fit-outs for offices we don’t need so much now. Or entirely marginal travel requests. Irrelevant events. And, carrying passengers in the office?

There are people handsomely fulfilling point number five (above) in every office. In every procurement team. Working from home will expose them. If managers are measuring outputs not inputs astutely. Gauging potential & performance incisively. Weighing contribution fairly.

Being BUSY is not enough. My first ever CPO, in 1985, accused us all of being “busy fools” even then. Obsessed with process and procedure over results. Activity over work, grunt over smarts. We are all busy. But doing what exactly? How are we making a difference?

In truth, average office workers have been given a gift. The gift of time. We always complain we have so little time. Office commuters are most robbed of it – so little time is their own. So, now we have it, how can you best use it? Employ your gift of time wisely?

One day soon, when you face the inevitable question. “what did you do during the crisis?” you will need your answer ready. But make it a deliverable: A project started and finished. A new skill or capability. New suppliers minted. Supply chains mapped then redesigned. A new buffer-stock system balanced and delivered. A core process truncated. Something for others perhaps. Just something tangible, not nebulous. “Never waste a good crisis” said Churchill.

Otherwise, when we are back in the office, maybe it is not a Covid-19 test we will need, just a quick a smell test?

JD – Melbourne, 6th April 2020

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