Speak to managers from any big firm around the world and they’ll agree on one thing at least: they are being asked to manage major changes far more often than in the past.
A combination of organizational disruption (such as new executive teams and M&A), macroeconomic shifts (such as new laws and regulations, changing demography in customer markets), and technological advances (such as the need to provide customer service via mobile devices), have all conspired to require frequent efforts to improve financial or operational performance, and that affect a significant part of the workforce.
In the past 12 months, employees worldwide have, on average, experienced three major changes compared to fewer than two per year just three years ago (see chart 1).
Chart 1: Number of changes experienced in 2012 versus 2015 n=1,494 (2012); n=6,227 (2015) Source: CEB 2011 Agility Survey; CEB 2015 Employee Change Survey
What Change Means for Procurement Teams
This challenge of near constant change has special resonance for procurement teams. Procurement is evolving from a team whose sole job was to help the firm spend as little as possible to a function that supports corporate strategy in a broader variety of ways, from helping with the innovation process to contributing to corporate social responsibility goals.
To do this, procurement employees need to work with a greater range of business partners. And this is hard when many of these business partners have a limited view of what Procurement can do, and is made even harder by the stresses on both sides caused by all the change that’s going on throughout the company.
More upheaval than staff members can handle will harm their performance: change-stressed employees perform 5% worse than average employees. And that falloff could further erode support for any new objectives that procurement teams are trying to take on.
Most senior executives – regardless of region or part of the business they work in – try to reduce this performance penalty by making sure employees understand the rationale and context for what’s coming so they’ll support it. But even the most committed employees may not be capable of high performance in the face of significant change, which can leave them unsure about how to get their work done, who to turn to for help, or even what they should be doing.
Two Ways to Help Procurement Be Influential in the Face of Change
In the face of all this disruptive change and armed a new mandate for the function, procurement executives should help their employees exert the right kind influence to aid their work with stakeholders.
Senior procurement managers should make it easy for employees to prepare for discussions with stakeholders — and to secure their support — and communicate in the right way.
Success stories to secure support: Procurement staff can win over resistant stakeholders by sharing tales of where Procurement has been most helpful. But in times of change, it can be difficult for employees to come up with relevant stories.
Some procurement teams help employees find the right anecdote at the right time by creating a catalog of success stories. In fact, one procurement function in CEB’s network of procurement professionals developed a simple template for staff to document the details of projects that showed demonstrable value beyond their specific context. Senior managers approve all submissions to the catalog, so only high-quality success stories make it through; employees are happy to take part because they can point to their entries as evidence of doing well in their job.
The procurement team also observed that stakeholders often responded to anecdotes with “. . .but I’m different,” so the function required staff to prepare for stakeholders’ objections about how relevant the stories were, and how they would apply in different contexts.
Communicating in the right way to each stakeholder: One procurement organization in CEB’s networks created a simple diagnostic tool that categorized stakeholders as one of four personality types: a two-by-two matrix based on classic psychology research, that staff posted in their workspaces for quick reference. This tool helped staff figure out which quadrant stakeholders fit into; it also offered tips for tailoring communications to each personality type.
For teams who use tools like this, the important thing is to give employees a limited, yet specific way to distinguish stakeholder personalities. Employees tend to see each stakeholder as different, so asking workers to categorize them in this way can help them identify themes across groups.