We are in the middle of the spring conference season! This week I took advantage of a last minute opportunity to drive across the Mojave Desert and join 3,300 supply chain and procurement peers at SAP Ariba Live in Las Vegas.
Traveling to procurement conferences – and particularly service provider events – is a relatively new endeavour for me. I started this practice around the same time I began broadcasting the Art of Procurement. Much like the evolution of AOP, I am increasingly finding value in defining a core purpose and then experimenting to determine how best to produce value in sync with that purpose. Today, I visit events to address three key personal motivations: to learn*, to meet* and to scout*.
I see every event as an opportunity to invest in both my own development, and deepen the collective understanding of the AOP community.
*To learn: an investment in myself. For example, I am not an expert in procurement technology, particularly as compared to those involved with the technology day in, and day out. Events like SAP Ariba Live allow me to better understand the timeframes associated with technological advancement in procurement and formulate grounded opinions on the “art of the possible.”
*To meet: an investment in others. Fortunately, AOP and this newsletter have enjoyed some success with listeners and readers from around the world. It is not often, however, I get to meet members of the community In Real Life. So, when offered the opportunity to attend events, like ProcureCon Indirect East a couple of weeks ago and SAP Ariba Live this week, I jump at it. There is nothing like meeting someone in person. It gives me the chance to listen and learn first hand about their successes and struggles. It also helps me understand what people are interested in hearing about, what they like, what they wish for and what they wonder about (and how I can best communicate with them).
*To scout: an investment in the community. When attending events I am ever present to the rich cross section of individuals and organizations. I seek out those that are leading the way in thought or action. I look for the professionals that are, in a word, catalysts. And it is these folks and their ideas that I eventually introduce to the community, in one way or another, giving us all the chance to “level up.”
Obviously, no two organizations are exactly the same. Besides the goods or services we offer to the market, each of us are at different points in our organizational (and personal) evolution. Whatever our vision, and however replete with hopes and dreams, each is also accompanied by doubt and fear. No matter where we locate ourselves and our firms today, every one of us started our transformation with a vision, with a desire to drive disruption; an aspiration to make a difference, to be a catalyst. Most critically, we share the kind of commitment to our vision (and ourselves) that empowers us to make the singular choice to get started. (Nike encourages us to “Just Do It.”)
Leaving a Mark
At SAP Ariba Live this week, the Ariba leadership team focused the first day keynote and general session on their purpose: sustainability and philanthropy. There was not a single reference to product features and benefits. While some analysts questioned this approach, it resonated with me. I believe Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
The opening keynote at a typical software user conference starts with an uplifting speech from the CEO: the business is great, the company is healthy. The talk then segues into a presentation about the features, benefits and new shiny objects that make up the latest release or are part of the product roadmap.
We often get distracted by the “what” (i.e., features and benefits). This is the safe choice. It is easy to focus on the tangible, the measurable. The “what” also tends to be commoditized (not withstanding how unique we think our “what” is), so when we concentrate on the “what” we often finds ourselves working ever harder to produce the same unit of value.
Listen to leaders speak and observe how they move and it becomes increasingly clear that these leaders and their teams have a commitment to consistently produce value for their organizations and ever more effectively. The only way to accomplish that is to challenge assumptions (see Kelly’s review of “expensive sentences”, for example), to innovate. I recognize that it isn’t that easy. But if everything was, where would the fun be?
As procurement professionals, a lot of us were taught – or perhaps it is just a natural part of our make-up – to be risk averse. Being hesitant to take on risk is one thing we all have in common. Another is the desire to challenge the status quo. I know those things may appear mutually exclusive. As procurement professionals, however, these two character traits are simply the two sides of the same valuable coin. The one side drives us to enhance the sustainable value of our organizations, the other insures that we do it in a fashion that allows us to be around tomorrow to try again in another way.
When we make the effort to connect with stakeholders through a shared purpose, and no one is better placed than procurement to do this, the outcomes can be unexpected and transformational.
Some questions to ponder:
- Is it procurement’s role to challenge or promote an organization’s current thinking?
- What is one thing I do (or can do) that makes engaging in creative disruption responsible?
- What are ten ways I could transform my work, my team’s work, my organization? (Have fun with this. Consider doing this every couple of weeks. It is a great way to practice thinking out of the box and come up with solutions to seemingly impossible problems.)
- Is there a project I can take on that has the potential of shifting how my stakeholders view working with me and the procurement team?
- Who is someone that has taken on the status quo and what would I ask them if I had the chance to speak with them?
Being a Catalyst
If you come across an article, whitepaper, video or podcast that you would like to share with your fellow catalysts, please send a quick email with the details. I read every email and am eager to read yours.
This Week in Procurement
- 7 Steps to Thinking Like a Freak | Procurious
- Keeping Up With The Catalogs: The Importance Of Hardware & Software Asset Management | Torey Guingrich, Source One Management Services
- What Buyer-Supplier Collaboration Looks Like in Real Life…. | Robert Handfield, NC State University
- Supplier-enabled innovation: Select suppliers carefully and reap big rewards | Omer Abdullah, The Smart Cube
This Week @ AOP
In the episode this week, I talked a little bit about the idea of stepping back and challenging things that we do every day, or the things that have become “generally accepted procurement thinking”.
I wasn’t seeking to suggest we are doing things wrong, or that things need to be fixed. No, my intent was to help us all, collectively, get our creative juices flowing!
As examples, I focused on challenging three of our commonly held beliefs and strategies: supplier consolidation, high spend equals high importance, and that our stakeholders seek to avoid, rather than collaborate, with procurement.
If you haven’t already, you can listen in here.
Until next time,