Thursday 13 December 2012

What's at the top of your purchasing Christmas tree?

Today I share the first of 2 festive blogs using my Christmas Tree as a reflection on life. Today's blog for Supply Management has a purchasing theme. One with more personal insights will be published on 24th December as part of Alison Chisnells #advent blogs - such a great idea to have guest blogs throughout Dec (and into Jan due to its popularity) on the subject of reflection and resolutions.

As I prepare to put up my Christmas tree I am reminded of when I spoke at this time of year at a purchasing conference and compared an effective procurement function to my tree. I’m sure it’s still as relevant today as it was then.

When picking a tree it’s useful to think about the space you have available, so too the time you have available and the outlay needed to decorate it. It’s taken me years to gather together all my beautiful shiny baubles and certainly couldn’t have afforded to buy them all in the first year. Now however I do have the balls to decorate my 9ft tree. There was one year however that the tree sat their undecorated until the 6th Jan as I ran out of available time and enthusiasm.

Isn’t it the same when setting up a procurement function – you certainly need the enthusiasm, resources and budget to do it. In other words sometimes it might be better starting off with a small tree that you know you can decorate than a huge tree that could just sit there undecorated!

Every tree needs a firm foundation. For me the firm foundation for our teams are provided by appropriate leadership, management and procurement policy, processes and procedures. Without that you may end up crashing to the floor as my fully decorated tree did last year.

The lights are essential to any successful Christmas tree – so too effective stakeholder engagement. I just fear that too often they’re left to blow a fuse or bulb with the replacements well and truly hidden in that safe and yet impossible place to find. Checking every bulb before use will certainly help avoid that.

The baubles add the colour, texture and variety to the tree. They determine the theme and often the reaction from others. So too the buyers, category managers, analysts, contract and supplier managers within your procurement team. I spend some time the day after decoration rearranging the baubles to ensure they’re in the right spot to provide an evenly adorned and visually appealing tree. NB: It’s also useful to check they’re placed not too near the end of the branch otherwise the hoover, cat or anyone walking by may just dislodge them.

The star at the top of the tree (I decided against an angel or fairy this year) represents the leadership support you have within the organisation for applying best practice procurement. They provide the light that others look up to to follow their lead.

Whilst everyone might love looking at the gorgeous Christmas tree often they’re just interested in the presents that Santa leaves under the tree. For Procurement that’s the presents delivering value through cost reduction or avoidance, risk mitigation, quality & service improvements, revenue generation and so on. Funny I think they do appreciate them more when they’re gifted wrapped – although at the time of writing I have yet to buy one present so best take action and do something about it otherwise no presents under my tree this year!

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach

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