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OpinionThis Week in Procurement

TWIP: We’re Different

By March 2, 2018February 23rd, 2020No Comments

I recently read a book review by my Palambridge co-founder Kelly Barner that really caught my attention.  The book in question was Expensive Sentences, by Jack Quarles. So, for this week’s This Week in Procurement, I invited Kelly to share her perspective on the opportunities that exist by identifying, and challenging, commonly used pushbacks.  

Over to you, Kelly!…

Since the start of the year, you’ve probably noticed an increased focus on the idea of being a catalyst here at the Art of Procurement. This is something Phil and I aspire to be, it is at the heart of our vision for the role procurement can play, and we believe it is what sets this community apart. 

A catalyst causes change. There is no debating the fact that the world around us is changing at a blistering pace. Our choice is between being a catalyst or being left behind.

What are we talking about when we emphasize the need to be a catalyst?

Making Choices

When I think of a catalyst, the first visual that comes to mind is striking a match: a small piece of treated wood, applied in the right place with the right pressure, that can create a transformational fire.

As exciting as the moment that a spark becomes fire is, it isn’t something I relate to – personally or professionally. I have a feeling that the same is true for many other professionals. 

There are action-oriented leaders and there are those that lead with their ideas. Our culture is often focused on the former – whether you’re talking about entrepreneurs, movie heroes, or athletes – and glorifies their daring and bold approach to challenging circumstances.

Here is the question the rest of us must answer:

Is it possible to be a catalyst and change corporate culture by leveraging the power of ideas alone?

Leaving a Mark

I recently reviewed Expensive Sentences by Jack Quarles, and my podcast interview with him was published on BMP Radio a couple of weeks ago. Jack’s philosophy is that people make seemingly simple statements on a daily basis – and that those statements are costing companies money.

Representative examples of expensive sentences include “This supplier is the only one who can do that,” “This time is different,” and “we’ve come too far to change now.” Sound familiar?

There are two things that stand out about the impact of expensive sentences, and they both offer proof that there is a great need for thought catalysts.

1. Expensive sentences are a passive source of savings leakage and resource inefficiency.

None of the expensive sentences listed in the book, or the many others that fit the profile Jack lays out, include an active refusal to work with procurement or a denial that spend management is important. Expensive sentences position the subject of the statement as “scarce, special, or stuck”. 

Instead of being evidence of rebellion or a leading indicator of maverick spending – situations where a big-screen hero could smash in and save the day – expensive sentences allow a lack of follow-through on the processes and priorities that make procurement valuable. They steal our potential before we even have a chance to get started. 

If these seemingly innocuous sentences can cost the company significant amounts of savings each year without kicking or punching, then they are catalysts for loss.

2. The best way to depower expensive sentences is to listen to them.

Once we understand what expensive sentences are, the next step is to listen for them in our thoughts and statements, and in the statements of others. 

What allows expensive sentences to persist is the fact that they all include some portion of the truth. We must challenge the why – when – and when not (exceptions to the sentence) of these statements so the team can discern their validity. 

If listening – one of the most seemingly passive activities there is – can prevent the loss of savings and opportunity associated with expensive sentences, then it wields a power that can be a catalyst for meaningful, measurable change.

If being a catalyst means finding a way to lead change, expensive sentences are an obstacle to be overcome. As Jack wrote, “Resistance to changing course is so pervasive that its impact can be hard to measure.” And yet… he might have continued… its impact is clearly felt.

Many expensive sentences start with the phrase “It’s too late to […].” This falls into the ‘stuck’ category of sentences. Accepting this explanation as the reason not to take action or change paths is an indication of apathy. Procurement’s job in these cases is to validate (Is it really too late?) and analyze (What if we did make the decision to change? How much would it cost? How much time would it require?)

Holding the answers to questions about options, cost, and time allows procurement to bring the decision-making process back to a foundation of facts rather than allowing decisions to languish under the weight of the perception that nothing can be done. 

In many cases, a healthy fixation on facts is enough to change the course of a project – and earn procurement the catalyst moniker that so many of us desire.

Generating fulfillment

Questions to ponder:

  • Am I listening closely to what stakeholders, suppliers, and executive team members are saying to me?
  • Do I question statements to ensure they ‘hold water’ before basing a corporate strategy on them?
  • How often do I use expensive sentences?
  • Do I want to challenge and change the unhealthy or non-productive aspects of my company’s culture?
  • How might an enterprise-wide perception that the procurement team is made up of thought catalysts change our internal brand?

Being a Catalyst

As always, 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

Here are some articles that caught my eye this week:

This Week @ AOP

This week on the podcast, I was joined by Jeanette Nyden. Jeanette is a well renowned contracts and negotiations specialist, who approaches her work with a focus on building win-win, sustainable, agreements.

Jeanette has a fascinating background – including as a trial lawyer and professional mediator – that she applies to her work. 

In the pod, we focused on the role of procurement as the facilitator, and how Jeanette’s applies her learnings as a lawyer and mediator to pre-negotiation preparation and developing the persuasive arguments that are necessary to secure complex, yet balanced, deals.

Also published this week on the Art of Procurement Network:

Until next time,


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