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Sunday, 12 March 2017

"It's like talking to a brick wall"

Lee Jackson, PowerPoint surgeon and presentation coach, asked LinkedIn "why are managers reluctant to ditch their bullet heavy dull slides." ie why do they ignore best practice?

I read the responses to Lee's question and realised it added a different perspective to one particular procurement challenge provided in answer to my own question on LinkedIn, where I asked for challenges faced by Procurement one of which was "why do people ignore procurement best practice?"

In this series of posts I'm demonstrating the power of using unconventional tools to provide a different perspective to the procurement challenges we face (ie when the conventional way of solving a problem means the solution is still eluding you, and an alternate perspective may just be the thing you need to get you back on track.). This is the 5th post in the series.

  • Challenge 5: Why do people think they can do something better by themselves, and not need the support of those with expertise. In other words it can feel like "we're talking to a brick wall".
  • Unconventional tool to be used: Standing in your own shoes/metaphor.
  • Unconventional score (potential weirdness you might feel using it): 2/10 
  • Things that will help you get the most from this post: Read the guiding principles - these principles outline the aims of these posts, and identify things that will help and can hinder you getting the most from them - especially for those 7/8 out of 10 tools.
As PowerPoint surgeon and presentation coach Lee was obviously asking his question from a position of expertise - in the same way that Procurement may ask the question "why are managers reluctant to follow best practice procurement?" 

My assumption is that, like many skills, people assume their own skill set is something only they can do, and everybody else's is something they can have a go at, and even do well.  

If that assumption is true then the answer to why this happens can be found in why we ignore best practice advice for skills other than the ones we have expertise in.

Let's see therefore what insight we can get by exploring why we ignore advice from others.

As with all the tools I use it's better to come up with a list of suggestions first, and only once that's complete, to consider how to apply these different perspectives to the real life situation - ie why people ignore procurement. 

Example 1: Powerpoint - why stick to boring & dull bullets and ignore advice about doing it differently?



Suggestions from the LI discussion include:
  • Because the way I know how to do it provides me with a crutch
  • Habit
  • I don't understand the difference/potential
  • I don't understand the benefits - it might look better but does that really make a difference to what I'm saying, or the message I'm making? 
  • Too easy to keep doing what I've always done
  • Keeps me in my comfort zone
  • The process/tool I'm using leads me towards doing that
  • I don't care 
  • It takes more time than I have available to learn to do it differently
  • Lack of confidence
  • Herd instinct
  • and so on
Let's consider another example - the gym.

Example 2: Gym - why do your own routine rather than the one provided by a personal trainer?

I remember my personal trainer getting very frustrated with those attending some of his Body Pump classes because they ignored his advice. They refused to increase the weights they were using incrementally over time - despite using the same ones for months if not years, and in his expert opinion diminishing the effectiveness of the class.

  • I don't have the budget to pay for one
  • I know my body better than they do
  • My friend said I should do it this way
  • Because I don't want to build my muscles
  • I saw a programme on TV once
  • I like / enjoy / gain satisfaction from doing it myself 
  • I don't like being shouted at (see post "are procurement the bad cops?" for a different perspective on this)
  • I don't like dealing with arrogant people (see post "are procurement set back by arrogance" for a different perspective on this)
  • I don't like being told what to do
  • I've read all the books and know what to do
  • Because that would make me look like I don't know what to do 
  • I get bored doing the same routine every time (see post on getting procurement to expand their thinking for a different perspective on this)
  • I like flexibility
  • What do they know - is personal training even a real profession? 
  • What's to know - it's common sense - it's simple and obvious
  • and so on
Example 3: Diet - why eat what you want rather than listen to the advice of your doctor, dietitian or health professional?
  • I know my body better than they do
  • They can't make their mind up what good looks like - fat, no fat, good fat, bad fat
  • It's hard
  • It will take more effort than I am prepared to put in
  • They're just telling me to do it that way because they get benefit from my taking their advice 
  • There's other factors at play
  • I don't have the time
  • My mum, dad, family and friends all do this and they're fine, healthy, and have lived to an old age
  • I want a quick fix - results now - not something that means I have to change what I do for life 
  • I didn't hear what the doctor said 
  • I didn't understand what the doctor said - it just sounded like lots of jargon and gobbledygook 
  • I didn't know there was any advice to be had
  • I don't think I'm doing anything unhealthy
  • I don't know there's a different way to eat
  • The advert for x (any unhealthy foods) say its good for me
  • I'm in a low risk category so dont need to listen to what they say 
  • Because my diet is taster and more enjoyable
  • Because I enjoy myself more when I do it my way
  • My alternative strategy is better
  • and so on (I add more every time I reread the post)
An addition made on 14th March 2017.
Example 4: Why do HGV drivers ignore the restrictions on the nearby Forth Road Bridge when its windy, and endanger their own lives, those of unsuspecting road users around them, and those who have to sort the problem out. (Video from earlier in the year where the bridge was closed for 19 hours following a lorry getting blown over in high winds. The driver received a 2 year ban from driving, and a £1k fine.)
  • Thinking they know best
  • Complete lack of respect for others and even themselves
  • Not caring about other people
  • Not taking seriously the implications of not following the law
  • Not realising the implications if the wind hits them - as those living locally get to see a little too often
  • Under pressure to get somewhere by a particular time (it's a 40 mile detour over much slower roads)
  • Not seeing the signs
  • Not being able to read the signs 
  • Thinking there's going to be a more obvious place for them to pull in and wait
  • Expecting someone to show them where to park up
  • There was nothing prohibiting them from driving over the bridge 
  • Not realising they've got to the bridge
  • Being confused by the road works for the new bridge that seem to result in a slightly different route every time we approach
  • and so on
If you were doing this exploration in a group you could add more to these lists, or pick other areas where you ignore best practice and do your own thing. The aim is to get a lovely long list of reasons you have for ignoring others, which in turn will be the same reasons people have for ignoring procurement.

You could be less tangential, and think about the reasons you give for thinking you can do a better job than other departments in the organisation - HR? Catering? Facilities Management? Engineering? Or why we undertake other business activities without asking for any help from those who are qualified Communication? Project Management? Coaching? Training? Management? Public Speaking?

Alternatively you could pick individual competencies within 'procurement' and understand why we think we can do them all well, rather than just some of them e.g. negotiation, legal, stakeholder engagement, data analysis, market analysis, project management, CSR, creativity and innovation, change management, and so on. (Which could develop into a lovely CPD plan with everyone supporting each other in areas they're an 'expert' in).

If you're still open to exploring new ideas, the next step is to review the suggestions and understand how this might relate to why people act the way they do towards Procurement (or what ever discipline you have expertise in, or example you have in mind as you're reading this), and more importantly what that means with respect to a potential strategy to turn the situation around.

Solutions might therefore include: 
  • Ensuring your stakeholders know the risks of getting Procurement wrong (when they don't understand the difference/potential)
  • Remember we have to take people on a journey starting with where they are at - which might be in unconscious incompetence (when they want to stay in their comfort zone).
  • Review the process and ensure it supports your involvement early enough in it (when the process/tools leads them towards doing it themselves).
  • Find out about stakeholder objectives and motivations to make them care (when they don't care).
  • Use unconventional tools to help them learn quicker - for example using gardening as a metaphor for supplier management speeds up their learning (when it takes more time than they have available to learn to do it differently).
  • Ensure you shepherd the herd in the direction you want them to go (when they're following the herd).
  • Ensure they understand what the competencies are for procurement (when they don't value procurement as a profession or think it's common sense).
  • Ensure they understand we'll be using their expertise alongside ours (when they say they know the category/dept better than we do).
  • Demonstrate the other value benefits you deliver. Even better - show them KPIs that support that lowest price isn't the only objective (when they say they don't just want the lowest price).
  • Find ways of supporting them to make the right decisions themselves (when they don't like being told what to do).
  • Ensure modulation is built into your process (when they like flexibility).
  • Develop a communication strategy and find different ways of communicating with them (when they're not listening to Procurement advice or hearing what you say). We can't just give them what we would want either - our plan needs to address all communication preferences. 
  • Develop a sales and marketing plan (when they don't know you're there to support them).
  • Ensuring the policy and procedures are clear and have been tested to check for clarity (when they're confused about what procurement are telling them to do and when.) 
  • Develop a rule book that makes it clear what the repercussions are of ignoring advice (when they don't realise the implications of their actions). Not a very Alisony thing to advise but after the guy in the lorry today I could have come back with something much stronger! Although I suspect he'll lose his job and certainly be taken to court - which are also real implications for your stakeholders if they ignore your advice in some areas. 
Are these all strategies that you already have in place?

I'm sure you will have some of these - the key to unlocking the situation is realising that each one of the ideas above only addresses one reason for not using procurement. We therefore have to have a broad range of actions to cover as wide a range of reasons as possible.

What did you notice about obtaining a different perspective in this way? Can you think of other situations you could apply this unconventional way of thinking to?

Next time you have a challenge you might want to consider how you are already demonstrating that behaviour yourself just in another area of your life. You can then use that perspective to change how to relate to the challenging situation you're facing?

An additional strategy would be to take the statement literally and think about what you'd do if your stakeholders were really a brick wall (or perhaps the other side of the brick wall you're talking to!). It is in the region of a 6-8 out of 10 on the weird/unconventional scale I'm using in this series of posts.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools

Just a thought: I'm a procurement professional of over 30 years, who started to develop an understanding of soft / people skills 17 years ago and obtained a qualification as a result. Since then I've undertaken certification on training, coaching and some unconventional tools. I'm a very effective category manager, great and enthusiastic procurement and soft skill trainer and coach, and an expert at using unconventional tools to help unlock potential. Differentiating your skills set in a similar way might help you understand more about why people ignore us, and how to communicate the procurement skill set to stakeholders.

Whilst I'm reminded of the Forth Road Bridge here's a post I wrote sharing insight for procurement after the bridge was closed for 1 month for all vehicles, and for 3 months to HGVs in Dec 2015. It was all about planning: communication planning, contingency planning, exit planning & transition planning. 

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