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OpinionThis Week in Procurement

Taking on the “Simplicity Challenge”

By January 19, 2018January 28th, 2024No Comments

Dear Catalysts,

Happy Friday, from the cold but vibrant Canadian city of Montreal, where I have been spending time with a procurement organization assisting in their long term strategic planning.

Being invited to Montreal to participate in catalyzing efforts to enhance the procurement team’s impact both inside its organization and with the firm’s suppliers is a privilege. Even in the depths of winter!

And it all sources from networking.

Investing in in-person networking – and cementing relationships with online connections – is so important! And you don’t have to take my word for it or rely on my experience; just ask Procurious founder, Tania Seary.

Funny enough, Tania was my guest for this week’s Art of Procurement episode. She was not shy about sharing her opinion on the value of networking. You can listen to my exchange with Tania here.

Many of you may already be familiar with Tania or even be members of Procurious.

For those of you who don’t know, Procurious is the world’s first online network for procurement and supply chain professionals. If you are not already a member, you can sign up here. It is free to join and you can get networking immediately with 26,000+ Procurement Pros from across the world. It is also a good source for daily procurement news, category intelligence, eLearning, discussions, and podcasts from top procurement leaders.


I am fortunate to work closely with Kelly Barner, my Palambridge co-founder.  Last week, Kelly forwarded me a piece from the Wall Street Journal. Not only did I enjoy reading it, but also thought the community would benefit from being exposed to its ideas. Since Kelly was eager to have this shared with you, I invited her to write a summary for inclusion in this week’s newsletter.

I promise that anyone who submits an idea, an article, a video, etc. will not be forced to write the summary. Please send us your thoughts on ideas or questions you would like us to explore or share with the rest of the community by replying to this email. I read every mail and am eager to read yours.


Simple is Not the Same as Easy

Kelly Barner, Director of Intelligence for Palambridge, Managing Director of Buyers Meeting Point

At first glance, the January 13th Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal (How to Succeed in Business? Do Less by Morten T. Hansen’s (subscription/behind the paywall) seemed like a typical New Year’s piece: advice on how to simplify in the New Year.

The title caught my eye because it was exactly what I wanted to hear. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling overworked and spread too thin. I would love an opportunity to ‘simplify’ without swallowing a heavy dose of guilt.

Mr. Hansen’s professional focus is to uncover what makes it possible for top performers to shine. His WSJ essay is adapted from his upcoming book ‘Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More’ (Simon & Schuster, Jan. 30) and is based on a five-year survey of 5,000 managers and employees.

The simple answer to my struggles with feeling overwhelmed while trying to produce top results, as you might guess, is to focus more of my attention on less tasks and knock each one out of the park.

But simple is not the same as easy.

Hansen’s findings suggest a whole host of complexities that making a ‘simple’ transformation challenging to say the least. That being said, rarely does anything of authentic value present itself in a neat, easy package — procurement professionals know that all too well. And just so that we are clear, the challenge to simplify (or at least be more selective in what we work on and how work) is not a fool’s errand: “We found that just a few key work practices related to such [efforts] accounted for two-thirds of the variation in performance among our subjects. Talent, effort and luck undoubtedly mattered as well, but not nearly as much.

Making Choices

A common piece of professional advice is to work smarter, not harder. But practically speaking, how do we do this?

For anyone with traditional, salaried employment, one productive way to work smarter is by saying ‘no’. It is the first step in being more effective. Focusing the same energy on fewer things will lead to improved results. And while being selective about the tasks one takes on can demonstrate a purposeful approach to workload management, saying ‘no’ has to be appropriately grounded with responsible assessments of available resources (our time and attention being two of those resources) and strategic imperatives.

The tasks we choose to focus on must be sufficiently strategic, and demonstrably advance the team’s or the firm’s mission. Success in delivering the desired results serves as unassailable evidence that we are making effective choices with our time and attention. In a perfect world, these types of tasks would be easy to spot and everyone would understand why we are dropping the other, less strategic tasks on our plate in favor of the ones that are strategic and help advance our careers. Since none of us live in that zipcode, we must soldier on and managing our existing workload while simultaneously looking for the right opportunities to transform and excel.

Hansen suggests that by employing a critical eye, we can often simplify the tasks on our plate (think, for example, reducing the number of slides in a presentation from 30 to 20 to 10 or even 1). This allows us to transform otherwise mundane tasks into valuable exercises and opportunities to increase the value of our contributions to others in the process.

Leaving A Mark

Taking on the ‘simplicity challenge’ presents another dimension of opportunity for CPOs. According to Hansen, Many people mistakenly obsess over goals such as the number of sales calls made, patients seen, hours logged, customers visited, and so on. The best performers instead ask a crucial question before they draft their goals: What value can I create? And by value, they mean the key benefits they bring to customers and others, not themselves.

Ultimately, CPOs manage how the work of others is measured in terms of economic productivity and risk management. CPOs have to find ways to systematically encourage simplicity, focus their teams on value creation – AND perform against established KPIs. This requires a complete mindset shift regarding the ‘why’ of procurement, how and where it can add the most value, and the promoting of KPIs that encourage value creation through selectivity and simplification.

Generating Fulfilment

Some questions to ponder:

  • How much of my work produces strategic value for the team or the firm?
  • Where do I believe I can have the greatest positive impact on the team or the firm?
  • Which parts of our workflow processes or frameworks are enabling, and which act as barriers to value creation?
  • How would the professional I aspire to be do what I am about to do?
  • Do I see myself as a catalyst? Why or why not?

Being a Catalyst

Have you come across an article, whitepaper, video or podcast that you would love to share with your fellow catalysts? Please clue us in by sending a quick email. I read every email and am eager to read yours.

Until next time,



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