Tag Archives: procurement skills

Risky Business-Building a Procurement Strategic Plan for 2019

It is difficult to build a strategic plan in most years, but looking forward to 2019/2020 there is a great deal of uncertainty. With the threat of trade wars, tariffs, rising prices, labor shortages, and disruptive innovation, many sourcing professionals are tossing the dice and hoping for the best. Some industries like construction, automotive, electronics and appliances are looking great through the end of 2018, but are seeing a slowing of orders and consumer demand for 2019.

Many of the experienced sourcing professionals can read the tea leaves and see suppliers pushing to turn the long-term buyer’s market to a seller’s market by an onslaught of requests for price increases citing everything from tariffs, labor and healthcare to justify the increased pricing. The successful elimination of avoidable price increases requires both a proactive and reactive approach to cost containment. The worst thing you can do is take an ad hoc approach or fail to create a plan of action. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

In the process described below, steps 1 through 3 are the preemptive phase and steps 4 through 9 are the reactive phase of the price increase staircase.

Preemptive cost containment
The Preemptive phase of a supplier price increase is designed to shape and change supplier expectations so they do not to attempt to raise the price to your company.

Step 1: Predict your exposure
Understand the marketplace in which you are operating. What are the potential drivers of a supplier’s request for an increase, and when will they drive the supplier to request the price increase? Ideally, you will have done a cost analysis, breaking apart the supplier’s cost to understand the cost drivers of material, labor, overhead and profit. If you are unable to do a full cost analysis, you may have done a price analysis. You and your company will be in the best position to challenge the increase.

Step 2: Ward off potential requests
Requesting a forecast of future price movements from a supplier to inform the organization’s budgeting process can be damaging. This allows suppliers to groom the organization to expect a certain level of increase and you to be pleased when the supplier asks for less. Supply management professionals must turn the tables and groom suppliers to accept the principles of continuous improvement and expect reduced costs and prices. The first agenda item for every supplier meeting should be cost and value improvement. The astute supply management professional will always reply to a “Dear Valued Customer” price increase letter with a firm return letter conditioning against the increase.

Make the process of requesting an increase “difficult,” requiring the sales representative to work hard. Demand three months’ notice, in writing, of all increase requests and insist that the invoices are accompanied by a detailed statement of the actions the supplier has taken to reduce or eliminate the need for an increase. Similarly, a rigorous internal approval system will deter supply management professionals from accepting increases without challenge because of time pressure or the desire for a quiet life. Such a program of deterrence should put the supplier on alert that price increases require approvals and that the supplier must genuinely face margin erosion for a price increase to be considered.

Step 3: Anticipate and block the increase
The supply management professional must be armed with a forecast and planned activities to pre-empt requests. Investigate alternative materials, specifications, and suppliers. In highly competitive supply chains and supply markets, it may be possible to prepare the issue of an RFI, RFQ, RFP or auction immediately before the forecasted request arriving. Gather data about suppliers that are planning increases. Have their volumes gone up (over recovery of overheads), have they built a new facility (improved productivity)? Is there a rationale for demanding a reduction ahead of their request? Offer an extension to the current contract if prices remain stable. Whatever strategy you employ, don’t sit and wait for the price request to hit your desk.

Reactive cost containment
After the supplier has sent notification of a price increase, you should take the following actions.

Step 4: Respond
It is appropriate to quickly react negatively to a supplier’s announcement of a price increase; however, delaying a personal meeting to discuss the increased pricing is a good tactic. It is essential to emphasize that cost and value improvement, not price escalation, is company policy. In the communication to the supplier:

  • Refer to the principles under which the relationship was founded (and operates)
  • Offer to work together to identify the cause and work jointly to remove and contain future increases
  • Assure that you have continuous improvement clauses in all of your agreements
  • Provide contract language indicating that all price increases require justification with factual data supporting any requests
  • Specify notice periods of 90+ days
  • Use longer payment terms to your advantage

Step 5: Oppose
If the supplier persists, base your responses upon objective data drawn from research of the cost drivers. In competitive markets, you should use the leverage from supplier rationalization and item rationalization in the competitive market.

Use the information gathered for developing preemptive action to support your view that no increase is needed. Let the supplier try to “break” your analysis rather than justify rationally for the rise. In this way, you control the agenda and are likely to reveal more information about the supplier’s cost base that would be exposed otherwise. Any costs within the supplier’s absolute control require a rigorous challenge. It is also critical to challenge that labor increases with an offset by productivity and automation.

Step 6: Corroborate
Use external sources to validate the factors claimed to contribute to the increase. If material costs are involved, sources such as CIPS-Supply Management reports can be used to confirm the movements claimed. Be aware that changes in yield/waste (continuous improvement) will be a crucial part of such validation activity. It is not sufficient to say that material Y has gone up by 5 percent; you should question whether materials have changed, reduced, light-weighted or substituted.

Step 7: Eliminate or minimize
If some level of increase appears unavoidable, then look for offsetting additional value from the supplier. Postponing the implementation of the increase by six months will halve its fiscal year impact and may “buy” valuable time to develop further tactics to avoid its effects. Other options are to lengthen payment terms, set up consignment stocks or increase year-end rebates. The sales representative will, in all likelihood, be measured only on the increase in headline prices achieved, so offsetting tactics can prove very productive.

By this stage, the supplier should understand that any negotiation is going to be difficult and underpinned by facts and data. If you are operating with a single source, it may be worthwhile introducing a cost variation clause, to provide a set of principles that govern cost and price movement.

Make it clear that any movement negotiated will remain in force until costs dictate a change, up or down, rather than for a specified period (such as 12 months). In a competitive market, however, you may wish to agree to fixed prices for a period as a buffer from anticipated cost increases. Always negotiate increased value if you are forced to accept a price increase. You can negotiate innovation, higher safety stocks, free storage, drop trailers, more top-grade materials quality improvements, and any other value component available to offset the price increase.

The critical message to drive home to suppliers is that price increase requests will not be considered merely because a specified period has elapsed. Break the cycle of annual demands for a price increase.

Step 8: Keep track and record
While price increases are not good news, they are important news. Price increases should be reported as part of supply management performance, as should cost containment achieved throughout active resistance. Such cost containment (the difference between formal requests and what was agreed) involves significant resource and yet is often invisible in management reports. If containment goes unreported, the actual contribution of supply management to a business will never be fully appreciated.

While there is no guarantee that inflation will show its ugly head, it is always best to be prepared and have a strategy when it does. There is little doubt that Savvy Sourcing Professionals will include the proactive and reactive approaches in the strategic planning process along with plans to rationalize SKU’s and suppliers if the economic conditions change.

What’s your plan?

Emotional Intelligence and Curiosity–two things to look for when recruiting procurement professionals

Over the years I have been involved in recruiting campaigns for all levels of procurement. It is interesting that candidates and employers only focus on the tactical and strategic fundamentals of world class procurement. While understanding the fundamentals is desired, they can be easily taught to an intelligent person willing to learn. Recently I was meeting with a group of sourcing and procurement leaders and all agreed that two qualities stand far above the others, but are often ignored.

Savvy Procurement leaders know that curiosity and emotional intelligence are the two qualities that make a difference between success and failure in recruiting the best people in procurement. Curiosity is critical when evaluating suppliers, relationships, manufacturing processes, service provider performance, inventories, supply markets, economics and everything that makes the procurement job dynamic. If a procurement professional does not dig into the process, cost, global supply markets and everything about what they are buying, they will be of limited value in driving strategic solutions to every day procurement problems. It is the curiosity that drives out-of-the-box thinking to create innovation and new solutions to old problems.

Emotional Intelligence is hard to describe. It is something inside each one of us that manages how we navigate social complexities, manage behavior and make decisions leading to positive results. Experts have analyzed the things that drive emotional intelligence.

Self-Awareness
Self-awareness can be described as understanding and perceiving your emotions with a constant awareness of your reaction to situations. It is critical that anyone involved in sourcing and procurement understand how they are perceived by their organization and suppliers.

Social Competence
This can best be described as understanding your own social awareness and relationship skills and sensing others mood, behavior and motives. This is critical if the procurement professional is to be successful. Relationship skills, trustworthiness, collaboration and behavior will all impact the quality of relationships built in the course of business.

Adaptability
Procurement is a dynamic profession, where many changes in the economy, manufacturing processes, supply network, company politics can cause frustration. It’s essential that procurement and sourcing professionals remain flexible and adaptable as things can change daily and, in some cases, hourly. If people get too attached to particular processes and suppliers and fail to be adaptable, it could be a disaster to the company and their career.

Self-Control
Understanding emotions and being in control, no matter how volatile the situation, is critical to managing procurement and sourcing activities. If people can maintain emotional control, they are more likely to maintain clear thinking and meet the challenges before them.

I think that many recruiters and procurement leaders are seriously missing the mark if they look for technical procurement and business skills without considering emotional intelligence and curiosity as key components of the recruiting process. It’s my experience that these skills will be tough to bring out in a 30 minute interview. They require a well-planned assessment center, designed with a case study approach, social interactions and tough planned interviews designed to assess the candidate.

How will you look for EI and Curiosity in your candidate selection?

The cost of soft skills

I read an article that reminded me of an incident that is worth sharing. I was working in a very large food company and as a consultant and we recommended a new organization structure for procurement. We had evaluated a purchasing director who was talented, respected by his team and technically very good. As I approached the CEO and recommended the employee for the promotion, he objected and responded, “no way”. We discussed the employee and he agreed that my observation of his skills was correct. Then the CEO commented that the employee gave an awful presentation in front of his team and lost credibility. He was concerned that the senior staff would be disappointed with the appointment. The decision was made to recruit from outside the company.

Sometimes you only have one chance to make a first impression. Many of us are not comfortable making presentation or speaking in front of large crowds. While this is a soft skill it is essential for success in a career in procurement or supply chain. The ability to logically present a business case, influence and persuade others could help you to either elevate or sink your career. When conducting training classes, I often encourage all participants to take the leadership role and make presentations for the team. I’m always surprised that many people are comfortable taking a back seat when it comes to presentations. I’ve had people outright refuse to participate. Once a participant told me, “I don’t do presentations.” Unfortunately that was said in front of an HR and Management representatives auditing the class. I don’t think they survived the incident. The class room and meetings with peers are perfect places to perfect this critical skill.

The moral of this story is that everyone needs to take inventory of the soft skills and develop them. Business presentations are a critical skill, don’t neglect it.

Will the soft skills enhance or sink your career?

The Missing Link: Why Procurement Competency Assessments Alone Fail to Make the Grade

Don’t get me wrong–as one of the original developers of the on-line procurement competency assessment in 2004, I am still a strong advocate of the process because it provides a directional compass indicating where a team’s skill should be developed. The problem is that many companies offering training and development have limited knowledge concerning team dynamics, industry specialization and capability of the team to deliver on the mission and vision of the procurement leader.

High performing teams are comprised of individuals that have the technical procurement competency combined with these attributes:

  1. The ability to influence
  2. Effective communication skills (oral and written)
  3. Collaboration and relationship skills
  4. Intellectual comprehension
  5. Process skills
  6. Creativity and Innovation
  7. Drive and energy
  8. Curiosity and ability to test the boundaries
  9. Planning skills including ability to correct the course of action when necessary
  10. Financial thinking

In the past 25 years of coaching, mentoring and training thousands of procurement leaders, I’ve learned a few things. Personality is a key driver in performance. For example, to be effective, procurement folks should be curious and a little like the Columbo character–always questioning. The best procurement people question specifications, cost, process, geography, business requirements, supplier selections, performance and everything in-between. If you’re naturally curious, this comes easy; if you accept information as facts, questioning is a learned skill.

I have conducted face-to-face assessment centers to test for overall competence and it has been effective in recruiting. I am now working on a new model that combines technical skills with personality attributes online to help leaders build high performing teams.

Are you content with your assessment?

Three Hours of Power

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The Secret to Achieving Strategic Procurement and Supply Chain Goals

As I watched the Olympics last night, I saw the thrill of swimmers and gymnasts achieving their strategic goals and became even more excited about this blog. This week I’m honored to have guest blogger Chris Brogan. Those of you who know me understand that I’m all about implementable solutions and Chris’s tools and suggestions work. He’s had a huge positive impact on Linda, me and our business and he’ll help you win, too.

Three Hours of Power
By Chris Brogan

I’m writing to you within the three hours I’ve allotted each day to reaching my goals for myself and my business. It’s part of something I sell called the 20 Minute Plan JUMPSTART but it’s something that I work from daily. Remember the old ad? “I’m not just the president. I’m also a client.” True of me.

Three Hours of Power

The basic concept of the 20 Minute Plan is that you take 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening to set up your days for success. The mantra behind this is simple: your day is your week is your month is your year.

Your day is your week is your month is your year.

What you do today influences your weekly goals, and impacts your monthly progress and ultimately shows up in what you get for the year.

The three hours part is what I call the 9box. It’s for a simple reason. Take three hours and split them into 20 minute blocks. That’s 9 blocks of 20 minutes each. On my little sheet I work from, it looks like one side of a stretched out Rubik’s Cube.

In those three hours go ONLY that which moves me closer to my goals for me and my business. No client work. No honey do list stuff. Only priority work. Grade A top shelf stuff that will move the needle.

The To Do List is the Enemy

You’re so busy that you’re not doing anything. Let THAT sink in a moment. Are you one of those people who answers “How are you doing?” with a deep sigh and says, “Oh, busy!” And then you open your mouth to draw in air and your eyes are a bit wide, like, whew the exhilaration.

Guess what? 1.) No one cares that you’re busy. 2.) How successful is that busy making you?

People love their to-do lists. They feel excited when all the boxes are checked off. I call to-do lists noble masturbation. It feels good, but it’s not the real thing.

Sure, you have work to do. Whatever. We all do. But if you don’t dedicate some time to the actual priorities and efforts that will move your business forward, you’re just eating up hours on tasks.

The to do list is the enemy. Make it a third class citizen in your life.

Work Inside Three Hours

You’re awake roughly 16 hours each day, if you get 8 hours of sleep. I get 8 or more. You’re probably too busy to sleep as much as me.

Of those 16 hours, people speak for a lot of your hours: family, friends, work, clients, whatever. Find three. You can find 3 out of 16. And make those about your priorities. This isn’t piano lessons. This is “this will make me more successful because I’m investing time and focus in it” type stuff.

You can find it. And your success will start giving you proof that it’s working. And then you’ll defend it. I promise. It’s how I’ve written ten books and counting, while still traveling to consult, speak, and spend as much time as I can with my kids and my fiancé. Join me in taking some of this power for yourself.

Chris Brogan is a business advisor and New York Times Bestselling author. Learn more about him at http://chrisbrogan.com

5 Ways to Deal with Emotion in Negotiation

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Many times we enter negotiation with detailed plans, strategies, positions and a BATNA, but, sometimes, we forget that people on the other side have goals, objectives, needs, wants and strategies, too. When both sides are passionate about meeting their objectives, emotions, planned and unplanned, become part of the interaction. When dealing with emotion in negotiation, the one thing that that works for me is to be tough on the problem and soft on the people.

I have participated and observed several thousand negotiators across the globe and have found there are four skills separating the effective negotiators from poor negotiators:

  • Listening. Effective negotiators do more listening than talking.
  • Questioning. Question effectively and use questions to your advantage.
  • Communicating. Be clear, unambiguous and to the point.
  • Relationship. Separate the problem from the people

Effective negotiators learn how to recognize and deal with emotional people, challenging tactics and maintaining focus on the key issues.

Dealing with emotional opponents can be challenging, but here are 5 tips for managing emotional players in negotiations.

  1. Anger – find out why they are angry
  2. Insulted – address the feeling and move on to key issues
  3. Guilt – move away from the guilt and focus on the key issues
  4. Exasperation – empathize and understand
  5. False flattery – refocus the discussion

It’s important that you do not make substantive concessions in hope of deescalating the tension or sustaining the relationship. Always focus your points on the fact that you want an agreement that is fair to all parties. Avoid assigning blame or pointing out deficiencies and help them save face, it’s essential that you build and sustain trust by always separating people from the problem.

How do you diffuse emotion in negotiation?

Five skills for effective change management leadership

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Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. – Leo Tolstoy

It’s tough working in today’s manufacturing environment with automation, mergers and acquisitions, demand for value, ever-increasing drives to increase quality, productivity and, innovation, innovation, innovation. Organizations launch programs like ISO, lean manufacturing, cost and value improvement, technology and process change initiatives to drive improvement and competitive advantage. So many times initiatives like these fail because the leaders and line managers do not understand nor lead change. Some leaders take the approach to change the people or CHANGE THE PEOPLE. Yes, if your team doesn’t embrace change, you can change them for new hires (if you have time), but, if you don’t have good change management competencies and tools, you’ll find that you are the one changed out.

Leaders must build a vision. The vision statement is simply a contrast of the current state and a view of how the future state will transform the company, daily work routines and provide the opportunity for the company to become more competitive and increase the value delivered to customers. The leader must lead the change and create the vision. The line managers in the firm have the difficult job of planning the change, implementing the changes and overcoming skepticism and managing resistance. If done well, the change and change process will embed itself in the organization’s value and culture. People who are not in line with the change will soon fall out of favor with the organization, colleagues and, eventually, the company as the change becomes the cultural norm.

5 steps to improve your ability to drive and manage change:

  1. Create a clear vision and communicate it to everyone
  2. Create quick and short-term wins and publicize them when achieved
  3. Build on the successes always showing progress
  4. Make the change fit the company values and culture
  5. Reward and publicize success

If you can break down change programs and follow these key steps, there is little doubt that people will want to be associated with the successful programs, part of a winning culture and get rewarded for their effort.

Are you up to leading a change program?

Making a Difference through Mentoring

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5 tips to be a better mentor

Many people have asked me what one thing has made a difference in my career and what can they do to help their careers. The answer is always the same; I was fortunate to have a couple of great mentors to lead me through political landmines, point me in the right direction and provide helpful hints to keep me on track. I was reminded of this last week at the ISM Conference when I met the 2016 R. Gene Richter Scholarship Program recipients. I’ve been fortunate to meet every Scholar since 2004 and see the Scholars and their mentors grow from their mentor/mentee relationships.

Like many who are fortunate to have great mentors, I have also developed mentoring skills over the years. Through paying it forward by mentoring, plus building and delivering training for over 10,000 students, I’m very proud to have played a part for those who have gone on to fill executive procurement and supply chain positions in some very large organizations.

To be a good mentor, it is really important that you feel a need to give back and that you are willing to make yourself available to the mentee. It goes without saying that the mentee must be someone worthy of the guidance and direction and someone who will carefully consider the message and value that you bring to the table. It’s important that mentees realize that they must make their own way in the world with the advantage of having a sounding board and someone to help them understand the political and market dynamics.

Mentoring is not for everyone, but, if you want to give back, here are some tips:

  1. Be positive in attitude and keep things in perspective. It’s important that the mentor keep the big picture in mind for the mentee. Sometimes the complexities of business keep our orientation tactical, so remember to step back for the broader view.
  2. Pick a few mentees. It’s easy to get caught up in the process, but it takes time, energy and planning. Be sure your mentee will respect your time and is worthy of it.
  3. Set out some rules and expectations at the onset of the relationship.
  4. If you make a commitment, stick to it.
  5. Be open, listen and don’t over commit.

Mentoring has been a rewarding and meaningful experience and I would encourage everyone to try it. These 5 tips will help you keep the process going and assure success.

Who mentored you?

The Economics of Cheese

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What every sourcing professional should know

When you read this week’s Wall Street Journal story A Cheese Glut is Overtaking America, after thinking about doing your part to assist with the report that every American would have to eat three extra pounds of cheese this year to work it off, did you think about the economic impact and why this story matters to sourcing, procurement and supply chain? There are many lessons that can be learned from agricultural commodities and understanding the economics, especially in strategy development and managing volatility and risk.

During my career I have managed agricultural commodities and I understand the value and role that economics plays in sourcing. Let’s look at a commodity cycle we’ve experienced in recent years. It’s not difficult understand that after a period of drought, many crops fail and grain prices increase significantly. Farmers then look ahead to a tough winter of feeding cattle with the high cost grain, which will have a negative impact on profitability. As a result, farmers send their cattle to the slaughterhouses and cut their losses. As consumer demand remains steady and exports continue to rise, there is little doubt that the limited supply will force prices to rise. As the weather becomes more stable and grain prices fall, it’s natural for farmers to increase their herds of cattle, production of milk (and cheese!), flocks of poultry and grains. This is the easy to understand supply and demand economic cycle.

In this recent cycle, the opportunity to capitalize on the high prices became apparent to many farmers, however, the failure to understand the impact of the high US dollar on exports and the collapse of the export market, has caused increasing inventory levels, plus the time requirements to flex the size of herds and flocks has built up to the glut of some commodities. Gluts, shortages, currencies, pandemics, weather, labor, regulation and government stability all contribute to agricultural commodity economics and add financial and capacity complexity across supply chains, requiring an increased understanding of the economics to gain control. Today, I’m wondering how many Midwest farmers will switch from planting corn to soybeans, since the USDA projects that soybean production in the US and South America will be tight over the next two years while global demand continues to rise. How much corn is planted, of course, will impact the economics of food supply chains, but it also will impact ethanol, alcohols, building products, plastics and even tires.

Sourcing professionals involved in commodities of any kind can make or break their company’s profitability. The skills required to manage the complexities of commodity sourcing are understanding economics, extensive research of the market, having the right tolerance for risk and volatility, maintaining a calm demeanor and building extremely strong supplier relationships at both the farm (producer) and broker levels. They also need an analytical approach combined with communication and quick decision-making skills to be effective in commodities. We can all learn much from understanding the economics of commodities.

Have you thought about the economics of low-priced Cheddar?

Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton: How much personal risk are you willing to take?

Ten tips for managing risk in uncertain times

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This is personal; especially in procurement and supply chain, our career and our lifestyle depend on how we manage risk. Procurement and supply chain executives are seeing volatility in 2016 with unstable markets, mergers and acquisitions, increased regulations and slow growth in the global economy. All bets are off for 2017, when a new administration will be in place whose policies are unclear at this time. There is little doubt that procurement and supply chain leaders will be forced to build strategies, plans and processes in uncertain times. To survive, we must welcome and embrace uncertainty.

No one can predict what the level of uncertainty will be, but with digital disruption, artificial intelligence, unstable markets and supply-chain integration, it is only natural that procurement and supply chain leaders build flexible strategies, be prepared to take risks and calculate the impact of risk-based decisions. Politicians are proposing many activities that could have a drastic effect on sourcing and supply chain operations. The thought of UK pulling out of the EU, the US pulling out of its trade deals, pressure on offshore headquarters, increasing wages and support for reshoring will all impact procurement and supply chain operations.

Taking the right risks and making early decisions will make or break a career. Here are 10 tips for managing personal risk:

  1. Continuous review of the strategy and the horizon will keep you and your team aligned to necessary changes
  2. When change is evident, build a clear business case and act decisively
  3. Be proactive and engage management early
  4. Quickly build a fact-based analysis and use influence to align top management to the strategy
  5. Assure that you have an effective change process
  6. Put your top people on executing the necessary changes
  7. Prepare for cynics and challenges to the plan
  8. Build communication and preparation for a crisis mode
  9. Lead with confidence and bring your team along
  10. Keep on top of the business news and use the analysts on your team to brief you daily of changes that are occurring

No one can predict the future, but the signs of significant change are in the wind. In preparing for battle General Dwight Eisenhower said “In preparing for the battle, I’ve always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

What is your proactive strategy? How much risk will you accept?