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Procurement: How to Host Idea Generation Workshops

There's nothing as valuable as a good idea

Brainstorming Strategy Setting Business Concepts WhiteboardAs we have covered numerous times in the past (here and here for example), procurement teams will benefit greatly from working on “innovation projects;” that is, coming up with new ideas to help the firm that funds them more easily hit strategic goals and spend less money doing so.

But getting staff to think creatively requires more than simply setting up a flip board and expecting ideas to flow. If employees aren’t used to thinking creatively, procurement managers will need to create an environment that encourages them to contribute ideas. Members in our CEB Procurement network tell us that these eight ideas are all useful.

Eight Ways to Encourage Good Ideas

  1. Location, location, location: Sometimes a change of scenery can stimulate new thinking: take participants out of their everyday environment or host a site-specific workshop. If you’re looking for ways to improve suppliers’ processes, go to their factories.

  2. Keep participants comfortable: Select a room that’s not so large that people feel they can wander off, but not so small that employees are uncomfortable. If you’re working with large numbers of people, hold breakout sessions in separate rooms.

    Coordinate elements like seating, temperature, and refreshments to keep employees’ minds on the session.

  3. Keep an eye out for biases that can harm discussion: Confirmation bias, for instance, can lead people to emphasize data that supports a point they already agree with. Point out biases as they crop up during discussion so employees are aware of the unconscious constraints on their thinking.

  4. Make sure you have the tools you need: Most important for the facilitator is a way to quickly capture ideas: do you prefer a flip board, a whiteboard, a laptop, or something else? Don’t forget to provide participants with a writing surface, a notepad, and pens.

  5. Use certain employees to spark discussion: Managers may have set the stage by explaining the challenges in play, but when they ask for ideas they’re often met with the sound of silence.

    Not to worry: call on an outgoing participant to get things started. Make sure to choose a mid-level employee: if you select senior employees, participants could cling to their ideas rather than contributing their own.

  6. Get participants talking with a challenge or prompt. Set goals like “20 new ideas” to encourage employees to contribute. Or use a prompt, such as: How would we solve the problem if we only had half as many resources? How are the needs of our customers changing? What major breakthroughs have other business units made and how could we use similar ideas?

    Facilitators can also provide employees with a list of “levers to pull,” (i.e., parts of the procurement workflow they want to improve) such as substitution, transportation streamlining, or material type.

  7. Use structure to banish shyness: Reduce the likelihood that a few dominant personalities will lead the meeting by simply going around the room and asking everyone to contribute.

    But don’t put people under pressure: allow participants to pass on occasion to keep things moving.

  8. Create clear follow-up actions. Once facilitators have a list of ideas, they should prioritize them and assign follow-up responsibilities for the best ones. After the meeting, send out a summary of the ideas generated along with these responsibilities.

    Finish with an invitation to a further meeting to discuss progress.

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