Transforming Procurement and Business through Storytelling

Transforming Procurement and Business through Storytelling

Dr Faith MasheleDr Faith Mashele, Faculty Member at GIBS Business School in Johannesburg, South Africa, elucidates the transition from the conventional emphasis on cost reduction in Procurement to recognising the significance of interpersonal connections and narratives in the professional sphere. As she informs SmartProcurement, this shift is articulated via her individual odyssey, transitioning from corporate positions as a Procurement Executive to Faculty academia affiliated with a prominent business school. This metamorphosis unveiled the catalysing influence of storytelling, now integrated into her repertoire as a tool to bridge the chasm between intricate business theories and pragmatic business applications.

Storytelling, in this context, emerges as a potent tool for making abstract concepts relatable and accessible, particularly to the benefit of managers, executives and students in both boardrooms and classrooms. More often, using real-world examples has shown how storytelling can make complicated business strategies more approachable and practical. This is because telling stories is a universal human trait, which serves as the medium through which we, as humans, learn and comprehend expectations. In a similar manner, this article shows how using stories in procurement can illuminate the human side of business, changing the way we build professional relationships. Notably, this contribution provides that narratives go beyond mere data and figures, touching on emotions and experiences that resonate on a personal level, leading to meaningful and effective business interactions.

Through adopting three central themes, we explore how storytelling plays out in a procurement and supply context. The themes – namely the fundamental power of procurement and supply, the art of co-creating engaging narratives with stakeholders and the tales of procurement and supply chains that expand the realm of possibilities in the business world – guide stakeholders to navigate the world of procurement and supply.

Recognising the Undeniable Power of Procurement and Supply

The influence of procurement and supply chain management on the world economy has undeniably grown significantly in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the critical role of procurement and supply chain management in navigating unprecedented disruptions, as organisations grappled with supply shortages, logistical bottlenecks and shifting consumer demands. Similarly, with globalisation, technological advancements and changing consumer demands, the importance of efficient and strategic procurement practices has become increasingly apparent. This trend is reflected in the substantial growth of the global supply chain management market.

In 2020, the global supply chain management market reached an impressive valuation of USD 15.85 billion, highlighting the indispensable contribution of procurement and supply chain operations to enhancing organisational efficacy and global competitiveness. Yet, what truly captivates attention is the anticipated trajectory of this market in the foreseeable future, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure1: Size of the global supply chain management market worldwide from 2020 to 2026 (in billion U.S. dollars)

Transforming Procurement and Business through Storytelling

Source: (Statista, 2024)

However, what is even more remarkable is the projected trajectory of this market in the coming years, with projections signalling that the global supply chain management market is poised for remarkable expansion. The value of global supply chains is anticipated to nearly double in value, surging to an estimated USD 31 billion by 2026. This significant growth trajectory serves as a compelling testament to the escalating acknowledgment of procurement and supply chain management as pivotal drivers of business success and enduring sustainability.

Co-Creating Procurement Narratives with Stakeholders

The world of procurement and supply chains is not just about numbers; it is about people. Behind every contract, every negotiation and every decision, there are individuals with dreams, aspirations and challenges of their own. Historically, procurement and supply chains have been viewed primarily through the lens of cost reduction and operational efficiency.

For this reason, the focus has traditionally been on cutting costs, maximising efficiency, and optimising processes. While the business-critical objectives and key performance indicators are undeniably important, they often overshadow the equally crucial aspect of human connection. However, as the global economy evolves and stakeholders demand greater transparency, sustainability and ethical business practices, the focus is shifting towards forging meaningful connections across the supply chain ecosystem.

To a greater extent, in the intricate tapestry of this world, the threads of narrative are woven not just by one, but by many hands. Within each stakeholder lies a story waiting to be told – tales of triumph, challenges overcome and aspirations for the future. By inviting stakeholders to join us in crafting these narratives, we unlock a treasure trove of insights, perspectives and shared values that enrich our journey to supporting business and service delivery. Together, we weave a tapestry of business narratives that resonate with the hearts and minds of all involved. From suppliers who share their innovations and sustainability efforts, to end-users who voice their expectations and preferences, each stakeholder adds a unique thread to the fabric of our story.

Through this collaborative process of storytelling procurement and supply chain teams not only build deeper connections with stakeholders but also allow teams to gain invaluable insights that inform their procurement strategies and decisions. By co-creating narratives that reflect their collective vision and values, procurement teams foster a sense of ownership and commitment among all stakeholders, driving meaningful change and progress.

Transformative Tales of Procurement and Supply Chains

Having led procurement and supply chain teams, and working in cross-functional teams, I believe that delivering value is more than a cost-saving function, but a core driver of creating meaningful relationships and impactful outcomes. By embracing this mindset shift, this has yielded remarkable results in the teams. Instead of viewing end-users and suppliers as mere transactional entities, we cultivated partnerships based on mutual respect and collaboration. This led to a deeper understanding of each other’s needs and capabilities, enabling teams to co-create solutions that went beyond initial expectations. By placing human connection at the heart of our strategy, we were able to unlock new avenues for growth, differentiation, and improved turnaround times.

An illustrative example of this transformation lies in the journey we embarked on with a small, family-owned business struggling to navigate a competitive market landscape. At the time, our organisational ethos centred on inclusive business models and supporting small-medium owned enterprises (SMEs) through internal policies. Rather than solely focusing on securing the lowest price, we chose to invest in the potential of this business, extending guidance, support and growth opportunities through our supplier incubation programme. Through active listening, understanding and empathy, we forged bonds that transcended the traditional buyer-supplier dynamic.

Further, by partnering with our end-user department and committing to open dialogue and collaboration, we co-created innovative solutions that not only addressed organisational needs but also empowered the supplier to thrive.

Prior to our intervention, the SME supplier had a delivery punctuality rate of 65%. After establishing a partnership based on open dialogue and co-created solutions, this rate improved significantly. Over a period of six months, we observed an increase in on-time delivery to 80%. This 15% improvement is a direct result of the enhanced communication and understanding of the organisational needs, enabling the supplier to optimise their processes.

More importantly, the success of this intervention went beyond mere numbers. As the SME business flourished, so our rapport strengthened, more so as a leading organisation championing business development while the achievement of targets improved, fuelled by a shared sense of purpose and partnership. This exemplifies how prioritising human connection in procurement and supply chain goes beyond fostering success, but also nurtures enduring relationships and paves the way for mutual growth and achievement.

Connecting Expands Possibilities

In conclusion, the journey from cost to connection is one that is not often scenic, yet with commitment and understanding can yield remarkable results. Our exploration of the three key themes – the fundamental power of procurement and supply, the art of co-creating engaging narratives with stakeholders and the expansion of possibilities in the business world – reveals the transformative impact of storytelling in procurement. This journey underscores not just the importance of narrative in business, but its potential to reshape and innovate the field of procurement and supply chain management.

For this reason, to harness the power of storytelling in business, the following recommendations are presented as anchors for this journey:

  • Embrace the Fundamental Power of Procurement and Supply: Recognise that procurement and supply is not just a transactional function but a strategic tool. It is paramount to take steps to integrate storytelling into procurement processes to highlight its strategic importance, both within your organisation and in the wider stakeholder environment.
  • Master the Art of Co-Creating Narratives with Stakeholders: Engage actively with your stakeholders – end-users, suppliers, customers, and internal teams. Work collaboratively to create stories that reflect shared values and goals. This approach fosters stronger relationships and aligns everyone towards common objectives.
  • Leverage Tales of Procurement and Supply Chains to Expand Possibilities: Use storytelling to showcase innovative practices and successful case studies within your organisation. Highlight how creative solutions have overcome challenges or improved efficiency. These stories can inspire others and drive industry-wide innovation.

Integrating the recommendations into daily practices will reinforce the principles that are presented in this article. Remember, the power of storytelling in procurement and supply is not just in the telling, but in the shared understanding and actions that follow.

Today, when I look back, I do not just see contracts and cost savings; I see faces, stories, and relationships that have transformed lives. In the end, which is the true measure of success in procurement and supply chains, it is not just about what we achieve, but who we uplift along the way.

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