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Still Trying to Get a Seat at the Table

Posted 04-26-2010 at 08:52 PM by 95th Annual
This morning, Marilyn Gettinger, C.P.M., owner of New Directions Consulting Group, began her session — “Still Trying to Get a Seat at the Table” — by asking one important question: Why, after all of these years, are some supply management departments and staff not recognized as critical assets to their organizations?

“It’s a shame, because any organization as a whole would benefit by supply management having that seat at the table,” Gettinger said. “This is especially true when you consider what benefits supply management could have delivered if it hadn’t been busy putting out fires.”

Although Gettinger acknowledged that the purchasing function has come a long way, there remain situations in which supply management professionals are still essentially pushing paper. In these companies, the bulk of the supplier selection and ordering is performed by other departments, she explained.

One example Gettinger provided was of a marketing department which signed a large contract with a publisher – and then misplaced it. As Gettinger recalled, this essentially forfeited the organization’s negotiating power. Unfortunately, only then did the marketing department decide to call on the purchasing department’s expertise. “Basically, they created a fire we had to put out,” she recalled.

This is unfortunate, Gettinger added, because supply management professionals have worked long and hard to gain the skills, knowledge and personal attributes necessary to step into their 21st-century role — a global perspective, forecasting capabilities, negotiation skills, strategic sourcing capabilities, cost reduction strategies, economic understanding, materials management aptitudes and more.

“But, some organizations still work with silo mentality,” she lamented. “No one knows or understands what anyone else does. And, if you wait for other departments to come to you, you’ll be at retirement age before they do.”

Others organizations, she added, have an old-fashioned view of the buyer role as more tactical than strategic, or they view supply management professionals as “bossy.”

Additionally, some of the ethical issues experienced in past years have flavored how still other companies see the procurement department, and – however contentious an assertion – one’s boss might not always be the best spokesperson for this critical function.

“Other people in the organization have their own challenges and resource constraints, so the way to reach them is to help them see that their supply department can help them with these challenges and make their jobs simpler,” Gettinger advised. “We must switch our way of thinking – but it takes more than what you know; it takes people skills. It means moving from ‘I’ thinking to ‘you’ thinking.”

To get the ball rolling, Gettinger suggested supply management executives and staff members combine their efforts to design and document plans of action, as if they were marketing a product or service to the ultimate customer: senior management and the internal customer base.

Other marketing efforts she suggested include educational opportunities, in-house trade shows, technology demonstrations, new-product idea presentations by suppliers, and problem-solving opportunities. To this end, one attendee shared how she and her peers in procurement have organized a schedule of brown-bag lunch sessions to educate their company about what their department does – and, most importantly, how it benefits them.

Gettinger also recommended sending cost savings reports to senior management in “the language they speak” — in other words, bottom-line savings or earnings per share. “A $100,000 savings means something different to senior management than it means to purchasing agent,” she pointed out. “You can even take it one step further and say, ‘Here’s what they can DO with that $100,000.”

Another opportunity for supply management to shine is by getting ahead of the green movement, Gettinger urged. This could involve presenting information about the recycling, reuse, carbon imprint, reverse logistics and other initiatives other organizations are implementing.

In the end, though, Gettinger said it’s up to the purchasing department make itself known. “In fact, it should be part of your purchasing function,” she concluded. “This is not the time for modesty. Tough times require forward-thinking professionals.”
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