Certain professionals are expected to adhere to higher standards for behavior: doctors, accountants, and country presidents are a few that come to mind. Procurement professionals should also “be presidential” in their behavior.
Over the past year, there has been a lot of conversation and debate about what presidential behavior is. I’ll home in on what it means to be presidential in procurement with this list of five “do’s” and five “don’ts.”
- Do: Think about and prepare what you want to communicate before you say or write a word on an important topic. Credibility in procurement means so much. We want to be believed. We want to influence others. We want to be perceived as smart. The words we use and how articulately we deliver those words determine what management, internal customers, and suppliers think of us. To be regarded positively, we must communicate intelligently. For some, this requires a little more preparation than it requires of others. But, whatever it takes to communicate elegantly should be done. If you blabber on in run-on sentences replete with bad grammar and without driving home a clear point, you won’t earn the credibility you need to maximize your procurement success.
- Do: Be as well-dressed and groomed as everyone in the room…or better. Successful sales executives know the importance of creating that critical good first impression with customers. As such, they often dress like magazine models and have perfectly coiffed hair. In procurement, we spend money rather than asking for it. So, we place relatively less importance on appearance: our employer’s money can often make up for most visual deficits. But, as our profession has gained respect, it’s time to up our appearance game. Nothing says professionalism the way a sharp business suit does. It doesn’t matter if it’s casual Friday. If you want to be influential in a meeting with VIP’s of any stripe, dress as well or better as they do.
- Do: Eliminate any conflicts of interest. In procurement, you are trusted with spending your employer’s money responsibly. So, you need to ensure that you have no relationships that could cause someone to accuse you of having a conflict of interest. This means that neither you nor a spouse should own or work for a business that could be a prospective supplier or competitor of your organization. In fact, I think that procurement professionals should not have an ownership stake in any business whatsoever, just to be safe.
- Do: Be appropriately transparent with your constituency. When you make procurement decisions, these decisions affect stakeholders across the organization. Their daily work – and possibly their morale and company loyalty – will be affected by your decisions. They will want to know why certain decisions were made. Be as appropriately transparent as practical with these people, ensuring that any expectations of confidentiality are clearly communicated to them.
- Do: Use your discretionary budget judiciously. A major responsibility of procurement – and one that internal customers are most aware of – is saving the organization money. Sometimes, internal customers will be disappointed in your procurement decisions because saving the company money appeared to be a higher priority than keeping them happy. So, you need to be careful that you’re not telling your internal customers how important it is to save money on their operations while you appear to waste money in your operations. Attending numerous conferences in tropical locations, engaging in entertainment activities with suppliers like golf or steak dinners, and staying in the finest-of-the-finest hotels while traveling show your stakeholders that you are only interested in saving company money when it doesn’t impinge on your perks – not the message you want to send if you want to earn their cooperation. Use discretion when using your discretionary budget!
- Don’t: Allow a verbal war to escalate to the point of causing real-world consequences. In procurement, we link our employer’s executive management, internal customers, and suppliers. These are three groups that can have dramatically conflicting interests. This inevitably leads to the occasional tension between you and a member of one of these groups. Sometimes, this tension manifests itself into some heated conversations. You might be in a situation where you cannot afford to overly tick off the group you are battling with, even suppliers. So, you have to know how far you can push a conflict and how to de-escalate it if it gets too close to the point of no return. Sometimes, winning an argument isn’t as important as keeping the peace.
- Don’t: Express anything that can be construed as bigoted. An area of growing importance in procurement is supplier diversity. This means that organizations want to ensure that an appropriate amount of their business or their business opportunities are awarded to diverse suppliers: suppliers owned by ethic minorities, women, and members of the LGBT community, to name a few groups. In frank terms, sometimes these awards are made to suppliers based mainly on the demographic characteristics of their owners and not necessarily on merit or the most attractive financial proposal. But social responsibility is a priority of many business leaders to the point of sacrificing a little profit to be more inclusive. It’s important to communicate carefully about award decisions made or strongly influenced by executive leadership. Saying less or nothing at all is better than saying something that can be construed as bigoted. Bigotry is more of a hot button issue than it has been in a generation, so procurement professionals involved in supplier diversity decisions need to be exceptionally careful in their words and actions.
- Don’t: Unnecessarily exclude certain countries from consideration. Many countries once thought to be “developing” have matured into “developed” or “near-developed” countries. Therefore, don’t dismiss sourcing from any country unless you’ve done sufficient recent research to prove that it is not a ripe source for your growing supply base today. Of course, be aware of countries involved in sanctions of your country. But understand that the global landscape of suppliers is under constant change.
- Don’t: Use social media to publicly attack colleagues. As mentioned earlier, procurement is a position where it can find itself in conflicts with an array of others. There’s a professional way to deal with conflict and an unprofessional way. Social media is not the forum for professionally dealing with conflicts. Using social media to lash out at others is immature and can permanently stain your reputation.
- Don’t: Make your job more about your personal agenda as opposed to serving your constituency. Yes, you have professional goals. And, yes, achieving those professional goals leads to personal rewards. But never let your personal agenda be the driver in how you conduct business for your employer. Always act in the best interests of your employer. Don’t make your negotiations about you.