Procurement Must Move Beyond Being the Playground Bully
February 25, 2016
Alex Short
2 minutes

In 1981 William L. Ury released his seminal business/self-help book Getting to Yes. Often referred to as ‘the negotiation bible’, the book has sold over a million copies and has been translated into 18 languages. For years, the practices that lie within this book were held up as the gold standard in negotiation tactics for both sales and procurement professionals.

However, driven largely by the changing market forces we have spoken about on many occasions, the tide is having to turn on these long standing approaches. The move away from the Getting to Yes mentality is perhaps the best indicator to describe the changing nature of commercial relationships in today’s business landscape.

For decades procurement professionals have been fixated on getting the best deal. “The deal” was seen as everything. Driven by the directives from books like Getting to Yes and by short-sighted corporate directives to maximise savings, we focused our efforts almost entirely on achieving short-term targets.

In fact, numerous training courses have spawned to serve these short-term goals and teach buyers to win at all costs. Negotiations were combative. Many businesses and individuals can be quoted saying “for me to win, you have to lose”. We bullied our suppliers until we got what we wanted and if we didn’t get those magical terms, then before long we would be on the hunt for a new ‘partner’.

As we began to reap the gains our combative negotiations had delivered (increased cost savings, longer payment terms etc) the reputation of our function began to grow. A reputation that many now hold us to.

Kate Vitasek – University of Tennessee faculty and researcher and founder of the Vested methodology for highly collaborative relationships –  has referred to this as Pit-bulls of procurement. Pit-bulls of procurement are the major contributors to disengagement within the organisation and this occurs when the procurement department gets overly focused on its own goals rather than acting in the organization’s best interests.

There is a strong argument to suggest that in order to increase the procurement function’s internal image, we have been  chasing metrics and negotiated targets that furthered our reputation but perhaps didn’t do a lot to benefit our organization’s success.

The ‘Getting to Yes” mentality has certainly moved procurement professionals from darkness to light and allowed us to receive a decent level of exposure (albeit as the ‘corporate policeman’). However, all the time spent building that legacy of fame through strength is as much time we haven’t invested on crafting sustainable and successful business relationships. We dealt with suppliers in a way that ignored the fact that we’d need to work with them in the future and certainly neglected the potential that could be realised if we were to work collaboratively with one another.

If procurement’s mantra in previous decades was to gain visibility and build reputation by achieving quick wins and getting runs on the board, the future for procurement is about building Total Business Value and sustainable innovation through outstanding relationships’.

With this in mind, it’s clear that in the coming years the value contribution of a company’s supply base will increase exponentially. The very survival of our organisations depends on it.

However, moving from our old short term, cost centric supplier management mind frame to one that allows us to collaborate with suppliers to drive innovation, requires a significant review of the way we engage with our suppliers. If the survival of our firms is based on our ability to innovate and remain relevant, procurement needs to view supplier relationships through a new lens. We simply must leverage the extraordinary potential of our key partnerships.

For this reason we need to get beyond ‘yes’. We need to establish collaborative supplier relationships where information is shared that leads to innovative solutions that benefit both organisations. In short, combative needs to become collaborative. We need to start ‘Getting to We’.

If you truly are interested in moving beyond ‘yes’ to ‘we’ and driving collaborative relationships with your key stakeholders both internal and external then download our recent whitepaper to learn how. Alternatively get in touch with a member of our team who might just give you some pointers!

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Alex Short is Founder of Old St Labs he is passionate about building the next generation of business software. He is recognised as one of procurements thought leaders.
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