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You want to innovate? So don’t ask - do

Thursday 29th September, 2016

The newly refurbished QEII exhibition centre in Westminster threw its doors open once more to the 31st eWorld Procurement & Supply event on Tuesday. And as I walked, thankfully for once without the need of a brolly (it always rains at eWorld), I reflected on that as quite an achievement.

In an environment which seems increasingly crowded – eWorld still manages to pull in the numbers, and many of the technology providers come back year on year. Proactis took centre stage as headline sponsor again this year.

I was looking forward to meeting and listening to Sammy Rashed, who’d come to my attention as a writer for Procurement Leaders, but who unfortunately turned out to be ill on the day. However, his stable mate at The Beyond Group, Giles Breault, overcame his red-eye flight that morning to give an excellent solo presentation on how procurement should, and can evolve to reach its full potential.Giles Breault

In fact, that turned out to be a bit of a running theme through the whole event. Procurement, it seems, like many areas of Purchase to Pay, is facing something of an identity crisis. Questions such as: “Are procurement professionals natural innovators?” “Do they want to be?” And, “what different skill are needed if so?” have bubbled up as expectations of the role move away from historical process to a more strategic landscape.

Giles said that procurement professionals need to be “connectors” - able to talk laterally and downstream. But perhaps most importantly, CPOs need to be brave – to go with their head, their heart and their gut – and, he said “don’t ask permission.”

That was something that cropped up in Daniel Ball’s (founding Director of Wax Digital) presentation as he pointed out that true innovation has an element of risk, and that’s not generally something that comes naturally to procurement professionals. But in a survey, Wax Digital found that one of the biggest barriers to becoming an innovator was “other departments’ view of procurement.” In other words, it’s a bit of a Catch-22 – other departments don’t involve procurement in the process – therefore they neither are, nor think of themselves as innovators.

And even going back to the recruitment stage, the top three characteristics an organisation looks for in a procurement individual were identified as being “collaborative, analytical and goal orientated”, while the bottom two were “challenging and managerial.” So it’s not hard to see where the procurement evolution difficulties come from.

So it was interesting to join Tania Seary, CEO and founder of Procurious – the online and social media savvy procurement community – at their Career Bootcamp. We were joined by Stuart Brocklehurst, CEO of Applegate and chewed over how to become the leader everyone wants. Essentially he pointed out that we all just want a boss we can respect and trust – in other words, the antithesis of a David Brent figure who sees management as a popularity contest.

For someone who’s led project teams in multinationals in various parts of the globe, including in war zones – Stuart’s no stranger to complex leadership decisions. And he’s found that one of the key issues to navigate is how to balance freedom and control, pointing out that it’s important to realise that delegating responsibility isn’t the same as abdicating it. As a leader, those working with you should have the courage and authority to be able to make their own decisions (there’s the not asking permission bit), but know that you are there should they need help.

And that’s something which is important to consider when dealing with Millennials, a term which Stuart shrugs at, preferring to think of them in more simple terms – ie young people doing the things, thinking the things, feeling the things young people have always done! Ultimately, he says, people are looking for a leader or an organisation of which they can be proud. But he added that doesn’t mean sticking up corporate statements on the wall – it’s about the values you actively display. And with the advent of social media – your company voice is on display more than it’s ever been before. So it’s important that the culture inside the company matches its external voice. And yes, that includes your tax policy and how you treat your suppliers, your maternity pay etc. As a company that has a very progressive apprentice scheme, ties to the local community and generous university pay back scheme, Applegate certainly seems to put its money where its mouth is.

And as the session came to a close, the bells at Westminster Abbey’ sang out, and as we looked out of the windows, below us the country’s great and good had gathered to say their last goodbyes to one of the very finest connectors of people – Sir Terry Wogan.