Editor’s Note: Charles is founder, president and chief procurement officer of Next Level Purchasing, which offers the SPSM (Senior Professional in Supply Management) family of certifications.
Be sure to check out Charles’ Purchasing Certification Blog.
Imagine these situations…
Situation 1: After rehearsing for three months, a choir performs their Spring concert. Despite the facts that the singers took the performance seriously, learned the music, practiced diligently, and otherwise tried as hard as they could to sing as well as they could, the choir director was displeased with the performance. Backstage, she told the choir: “You guys need to sing much better at our next concert.”
Situation 2: After preparing all year and being successful in many track meets leading up to the “big one,” a high-school track team is beaten in the championship track meet by a competing school. The team’s coach is…disappointed, to put it mildly. In scolding the team, he says “You guys need to run much faster in our next meet.”
Situation 3: After a year of negotiating with supplier after supplier to address nearly 80% of an organization’s spend, a seasoned procurement team – consisting of many procurement professionals with decades of experience – falls short of its cost savings goal. After getting reprimanded by the organization’s Chief Financial Officer, the vice president of procurement announces at a staff meeting, “All of you have to negotiate better next year or we’ll all lose our jobs.”
What’s the common thread here?
Well, it appears that all of these groups worked hard but failed to accomplish their ultimate goals. The phrase that comes to mind in these types of situations is “you have to work smarter, not harder.”
That’s fine and dandy. But don’t you think that all of these groups worked as smartly as they could?
They probably did work as smartly as they could given their existing knowledge about their areas of expertise. But perhaps they could have worked smarter if they had more knowledge than what they had.
The question then is: so, how will they get the knowledge necessary to truly optimize their performance.
The answer is: not through osmosis, that’s for sure!
Here’s the thing: you can’t get smarter just by wanting to be smarter. It takes action. It takes exposure to concepts, ideas, principles, and the like that are outside of what you are used to encountering.
The choir singers won’t become better just by wanting to be better if they’ve already been practicing diligently. They need to have an outsider tell them what they are doing wrong that they don’t even realize. They need to be exposed to different approaches that they haven’t yet come across.
The same goes for the track team. Sure, if they were jogging along in the championship track meet, it is easy to simply “run faster.” But, if they were already putting their maximum effort into running, what could possibly make them faster? Only having their technique analyzed by an outside expert who can point out things that represent a change from the characteristics of their current approach, like their posture.
So, now moving to our area of interest – procurement – what will make the procurement team more effective negotiators? It isn’t experience, as this was a “seasoned” team. It isn’t practice, because they negotiated most of the organization’s spend. It is learning something that isn’t in their repertoire today.
Learning something not in one’s repertoire is what professional development is all about. While working harder can’t be willed and has its limits, identifying opportunities for working smarter has virtually infinite possibilities. But working smarter doesn’t just happen because you want it to. It involves seeking ideas outside of the four walls of your office.
What have you done to look outside the four walls of your office in order to gain the knowledge required to truly work smarter?
If the answer is “nothing,” then you have to work harder at working smarter!