November 18, 2019

Re-thinking the role of Procurement

Watch any television news programme, read any newspaper, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is increasingly in a state of chaotic change and heightened risk. Examples include changes in consumer buying behaviours caused by technology (e.g. Uber), the current political and economic instability (e.g. Brexit, Syrian civil war), the early signs of the negative consequences of global warming (e.g. more flooding and extreme weather events), the explosion in frequency of cyber attacks (e.g. TalkTalk), grass root revolt against the institutions and wealthy (e.g. Brexit, the rising popularity of extreme left and right wing politicians).

The unethical behaviour of many businesses have contributed to these growing pressures. There is growing social revolt against company wealth being kept by a tiny proportion of the population, and growing corporate tax evasion at a time when government debt has been rising, public services have been crumbling and real wages have been stagnating at best. Added to this is the growing threat of climate change, environmental challenge and animal extinctions, caused in part by irresponsible, inefficient or unethical business practice.

To begin resolving these threats, all companies have a duty to evaluate and manage their impacts of doing business on society and the environment. With the dual threats of being named and shamed on social media and increasing legislation, companies will fail if they don’t take positive action quickly.

One such action is for procurement functions within organisations to focus their efforts on mitigating supply chain risks caused by these global changes. My concern, having audited countless procurement departments over the last 15 years, is that too many procurement departments remain stuck in the same old cycle of fixating on cost reduction and thus reducing its value within and outside the organisation, including tackling supply chain risk management and sustainability. This is perhaps not surprising given that procurement tends to be measured by how much cost saving it has achieved. Measuring the degree of risk mitigation, environmental impact or innovation is less easy to measure, and often isn’t measured or even talked about.

Companies that allow their procurement teams to purely focus on cost reduction are missing a trick which could come back to bite them at a later date. Procurement can (and should) have arguably the greatest leverage within a business to making things happen within supply chains for the good. Examples of action include adding ethics into supplier evaluation criterion pre contract award; challenging marketing to cut the need for energy-hungry packaging; sourcing energy efficient, eco business supplies; cutting waste through supply chain partnerships; evaluating the potential impact on suppliers of political/economic shifts at a national, regional and global level.

For Boards of Directors worrying about the potential impact of global change on the health of their companies, now is the time to provide leadership to their procurement teams, building procurement strategies that not only start to address the external threats, but on a more positive note, position the company’s supply chains to seize the opportunities that are also there to be taken. By doing so, they will be making a positive difference not just to their own companies but also to their communities and the planet. It’s time for business and procurement leaders to step up to the plate. Don’t worry, just take action.

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