AlejandraGarcia_100.jpgBy Alejandra Garcia (MCIPS), Vice President: Procurement, Royal DSM

In the first part of this three-part article series, I focussed on obtaining customer insights; in the last part, I will deal with crisis management, but nothing can be achieved in any function without an engaged, fit-for-purpose team – the focus of this second instalment. It is becoming abundantly clear that the transformation of our function is not just about organisational structures or processes, it must also focus on our core resource: people.

In my first article, my reference to procurement “rockstars” was very deliberate: it is a status reached when one is great at what one does, engaged at a level that can resonate with stakeholders, committed and willing to give your best every day. As my music teacher used to say: “Everyone deserves our best performance”. And, when it comes to leading teams, I am a strong believer in: “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion” – Simon Sinek

Rockstars who are empowered and understand WHY they are doing what they do will undoubtedly come up with WHAT and HOW to do it. They know that it is not just about value creation, but value co-creation and, most importantly, value delivery that is ultimately recognised by our customers. It is, therefore, critical for an inclusive chief procurement officer (CPO) to ensure that each team member is clear on the outcome (not just the process) that they must deliver and, more importantly, how they will influence company priorities.

But how does that start? By giving each team member the opportunity to:

Do what they love to do
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I need to emphasise procurement’s unique position at the centre of organisations: we have the opportunity to work with all parts of a business. Our successes (and failures) have a direct influence on a company’s internal stakeholders, customers and suppliers. We see trends as they appear and can share insights broadly. For employees who are curious, enjoy building relationships and love to see the effect that they are having with their work – there is no better place than in the procurement function!

In addition, I honestly believe that working in procurement is fun. OK, I see you – but it is really true! Why? What other function affords you the opportunity to talk about sustainability, discuss new technologies and work on ways to improve the product margin on an innovation that could change the world? All of this before you have even had lunch! In procurement, we are privileged to be exposed to both the breadth and depth of our industries, and the inclusive CPO values these opportunities.

Find individual strengths and passions
As a leader of people, it is absolutely vital to get to know each team member individually – their strengths and weaknesses, their long-term goals and what excites them. They might not always realise these things themselves, so start with an open discussion where you ask questions and carefully listen to their answers.

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team” – Phil Jackson

Whenever I join a new team, I invest my first weeks connecting with people, preferably with 1:1 interactions that afford me the opportunity to get to know the person. I am not into discussing ‘procurement stuff’ – we will have ample time to talk about their projects, third-party spend and key performance indicators (KPIs). As leaders, we are frequently trained in story-telling. However, for me, it is more important to do story-listening with honest and authentic interaction. Through their stories, I get an idea of a person’s talents, strengths, passions, values and development opportunities. This should be a mutual exchange where both parties open up and share who we are – this is the first step to building trust within a team.

When you discover who a person is – the whole picture – it becomes clear how they fit into the team. There are powerful tools available to speed up the process and to provide tangible information to help them acknowledge and use their ‘superpowers’. I have personally had great success using the Game-Changing Index to build self-awareness and to help balance out my team’s capabilities.

Now, the second half of the quote is about providing:

A sense of purpose and belonging
Even though we seem to be competing with artificial intelligence (AI) in the future of work, we are not robots who can do the same thing, all day, every day, in an emotional vacuum. I have met very few people who get excited about and are engaged to perform at their best when the only purpose they know is to deliver more savings or have their time at work distilled into a few KPIs on a graph.

We are human beings who are motivated when we have a meaningful purpose behind what we are doing (again, the WHY) and there is a mutual exchange that contributes to a sense of belonging to something, whether it is a team, a company or a cause. And it is even better if we can bring to the table our own values, strengths, talents and passions; it is a win-win for everyone.

We also need to bring together skills sets in the right way and assemble fit-for-purpose teams who respect and leverage each other’s capabilities. When I say we should be inclusive CPOs, I emphasise that this means a much broader definition of ‘inclusive’. Our teams should be open to anyone who can contribute and wants to be an active member. We can build a ‘coalition of the willing’ from all levels – people able to connect with internal and external stakeholders, including suppliers.

As leaders, we have the unique opportunity to create an environment wherein these interactions and exchanges happen naturally. It truly is a privilege!

Unleash your team’s superpowers
The final factor in developing a powerful and engaged team is to give them a sense of empowerment. Encourage and reward ‘intrapreneurial thinking’ – where they naturally take ownership of developing solutions to meaningful business problems. Team members should not have to ask for permission to do something, but learn to be independent and take calculated risks using their identified strengths. They should realise that success will be celebrated and failures will be accepted as part of the learning process.

As leaders, it is our duty to create a safety net which they can rely on. My role as a leader becomes a mix between sounding board, coach, mentor, the voice of reason and the devil’s advocate. I told you it was fun!

In a recent discussion with Lucy Harding (Global Head: Procurement and Supply Chain Practice, Odgers Berndtson), she emphasised that post-COVID expectations from CPOs now include a greater need for “humanised”, trusting and inclusive leadership if we want to ensure engaged and empowered teams.

I strongly agree with this, as the most job satisfaction I have experienced these last few years has certainly been from seeing my team members grow and develop into confident, self-reliant leaders who inspire their workgroups and project teams. With proper trust and backing, they have every opportunity to unleash their ‘superpowers’ and truly thrive in an open environment. They are the future leaders of the procurement function – surely they are worth the investment, as they will become the ambassadors of our function!

I was privileged to have a passionate team as we entered the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Building on their strengths and ensuring a high level of engagement have been key to tackling this unprecedented situation. Effective crisis management will be the focus of the next and final part of this article series.

All opinions expressed here are the views of the author and not necessarily those of the employer.

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