Inside the Procurement Mindset

Recent studies of human behaviour and thinking invariably show that there are a large number of natural influences or biases that can affect individual and organisational decision-making. It is a fascinating field and worthy of study, particularly for those leading procurement organisations today or those that aspire to in the future. One common take away from a quick review of the subject is that the human mind does not operate in a fully-rational way. For example, many studies have shown that individuals generally place more value on not losing than on winning. This is known as loss aversion and it frequently leads to risk aversion, which is a well-known concept in business. The point is not that the best business leaders are more rational decision-makers (although that is true) or that they are less risk- averse. The point is that it is helpful to understand the personal and organisational decision-making process in place and the factors that influence it to better understand the mindset of the procurement organisation.

In 2017, the profession’s top hurdles – budget constraints, talent challenges, and process gaps – have given many Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) good reason to question how aggressive they should be in attempting to expand the scope of their operations and influence. Except that in a risk-averse environment, challenges can quickly become major obstacles and the rationale for inaction. The tendency to favour decisions that lead to more predictable outcomes pushes many organisations to take more measured steps or simply stay in place.

We believe that the net effect of these behaviours is that in general, procurement organisations are not only less aggressive than they could be in driving change and transformation initiatives, they are less aggressive than they should be. For example, Ardent Partners’ research has shown that the added savings benefit for each new dollar placed under procurement’s management is, on average, between 6% and 12% during the first contract cycle. Those returns can easily justify an investment in resources and tools.

Of course, being less aggressive may be the preference of the executive leadership and it may be the personal management style of the CPO. It is also possible that these topics have never been fully discussed or communicated by the executive team. The point is that being less aggressive can be ok if that approach is aligned with the larger enterprise. But, a deeper understanding of professional and organisational behaviours (and their associated decision-making processes) and how they relate to larger business strategies may encourage more CPOs to counteract organisational prejudices and more actively push boundaries, challenge limits, and rethink paradigms. The topic merits discussion and the opportunity merits the effort.

Final Thoughts

There should be no doubt in any CPO’s mind that there is a big difference between stability and inactivity. Organisational stasis becomes stagnation very quickly. CPOs that are satisfied operating with an old school mindset is manufacturing their department’s obsolescence. Today, procurement’s role extends well beyond the need to control both spend and stakeholders; staff capabilities need to reflect that reality. Today’s hurdles still need to be cleared, but a plan to a vault tomorrow’s should also be in hand.

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By Andrew Bartolini | CPORising