Monday 29 February 2016

Friday 26 February 2016

Is your language clear?

Would you know what the words "Trust and Respect each other" meant?

Would this image cover it, or would another image come to mind?
"Trust and respect each other" was one of Tesco's values I shared in yesterday's blog about business values. I don't share it here to reflect on their values - it's just such a great example of how we use words and believe it's clear what we mean.

In training sessions I often use the word chocolate as a means of making the point, that we don't all have common agreement about what chocolate means, never mind more contentious words such as procurement, trust and respect,

Let's work backwards on the value to explain what I mean.

"Each other"

Do they mean just between Tesco employees? Where trust and respect go out of the window for shareholders, suppliers and customers? Or do they include customers in the mix, but perhaps exclude suppliers?

Yesterday I shared Ben & Jerry's values and it was much clearer from the language they used that trust and respect would include: "suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors" because they've been explicitly stated.

Do you get a sense of how easy it is for misunderstandings to arise. After all I can hear the person who developed Tesco's values shouting "Of course it just means x - why would it mean y?"

The next 2 words in the statement are nominalisations, and not verbs. Each person reading this will, therefore, have a different definition about what the word means. The degree of energy you put into even discussing their meaning will depend on where they appear on your own hierarchy of values.


Lack of respect is something that crops up in many coaching sessions, and yet its definition is as varied as those attending the sessions. It's lack might include:
  • Not returning calls 
  • Not saying thank you 
  • Not treating the person as you yourself would would wish to be treated
  • Not abusing or bullying the other person (although again these are words where one behaviour might be seen to be bullying by one person, and not by another. The general rule is if the person on the receiving end considers it to be abusive behaviour then it is.)
  • Not turning up on time
  • Dismissing and trivial anything the other person feels strongly about 
  • Talking over others
  • Not offering a drink when in their office for a meeting
  • Working through lunch
  • Only talking about themselves
  • Not asking about the other person's ill partner or child
  • Not allowing any time for rapport building and getting to know each other before a meeting starts 
  • Expecting responses from emails at night or weekends
  • Not listening to other's opinions
  • Not honouring boundaries that have been set
  • Cancelling at short notice
  • Sending urgent emails at 1700 on a Friday with a 0900 Monday deadline for a response
  • Paying less than it costs to provide the service
  • Lying or dishonesty (if there's even a difference between the two) 
  • Reneging on contract terms already agreed and signed
  • and so on
One or many of these, or other examples, may apply for there to be a lack of respect in the eyes of the beholder. Even if the other person has a 'reason' for their behaviour that is, in their opinion, justified, and certainly NOT a sign of disrespect, and would be mortified if anyone suggested they were showing a lack of respect.

Difficult to ensure then that when using such words in values statements that there's a clear agreement by everyone about what behaviours are expected. Yes many values statements have a list of behaviours that aim to show what is meant - I suspect in many cases it wouldn't go to the detail listed above.   

It's not just values statements though where lack of respect might be mentioned. I'm sure it's something often said in contract and relationship management meetings between buyers/suppliers. Without a clear agreement of what is, and isn't, expected it's very easy I'd suggest to disrespect someone without intending to. 


Lack of trust will have has the same infinite list of behaviours that some would define lack of trust as being.
  • Mari Sako differentiated between contractual, competence and goodwill trust
  • In The Speed of Trust Stephen M R Covey differentiated between personal and relationship trust
  • Stephen M R Cover also provided 13 behaviours that were needed to develop trust between 2 parties:
  • Talk straight
  • Demonstrate respect
  • Create transparency
  • Right wrongs
  • Show loyalty
  • Deliver results
  • Get better
  • Confront reality 
  • Clarify expectations
  • Practise accountability 
  • Listen first
  • Keep commitments
  • Extend Trust 
Each behaviour in their own right an opportunity for disagreement over what is, and isn't required.

Is your communication clear, and do misunderstandings arise because of the lack of clarity?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out

A previous post considered the different definitions for honesty.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Is Procurement like Mr Wolf or enlightened?

We delivered a workshop last week to an organisation's c-suite more used to selling to procurement than getting involved in procurement itself.

What an eye opener, and my advice to any buyer is to do it soon - get in a room full of suppliers (even better your own suppliers), and listen to what they have to say. You might not like hearing what they have to say, but you'll certainly learn a lot as a result! (Ditto for suppliers - find out more about the buyer).

It came as a shock to be described as Mr Wolf

Especially when I see myself more angelic - even if more like this warrior angel!

Mr wolf lies, is very selfish, doesn't listen, and is only interested in constant price reduction year after year after year after year!

Here's the flip charts from the session, they differentiate between the 2 types of procurement these representatives of procurement's suppliers come across. That said they felt they came across Mr Wolf much more often than the enlightened procurement person.

Although I soon realised when they said 'cost' they were really only talking about 'price'!

I was appalled, angry and surprised that there were still so many buyers out there like Mr Wolf, and that I may even sometimes be confused as being one of them

In addition to being appalled I also wondered how much the stereotypes we have for buyers and suppliers impact how we act.

I'd like to hope that suppliers test the water first to determine which type of procurement they're dealing with rather than make an assumption it's Mr Wolf, and act accordingly.

Similarly I'd like to hope that procurement do the same - test the water and determine whether it's a  "everyone for themselves" scenario, or a "win/win" situation.

In reality though how much testing of the water do you think goes on - for buyer or supplier?

Without the testing, and amendment of the strategy to align with the characteristics of the other party, all we can do is fall back on the stereotypes we have for the other party we're entering into battle/communication with.

Which begs the question - whose stereotype determines the roles we adopt - are there really so many wolves out there in procurement, or do they only spring into action as a result of supplier's behaviours? (You know me I love a good metaphor and may write another blog exploring the metaphors and games that arise from their adoption.)

When did you last update your stereotype for buyers or suppliers, and how will that change how you act next time you come face to face with the enemy/ opposition/ partner in crime/ other half/ soul mate? More on this post too challenging suppliers to change the stereotype too.

Always happy to help explore how your internal metaphors, beliefs and language may be hindering you from achieving your goals - organisationally, within procurement, or individually.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out

The prevalence of Mr Wolf also points to the lie that soft skills are in the spot light again with CPO's and Procurement.

I realise on reflection that Mr Wolf isn't too far away from the characteristics used to define toxic leadership the other week:
  • Self-centered attitudes, motivations and behaviours
  • A lack of concern for others
  • Inflated sense of self-worth
  • Acute self-interest
Now that's made me very sad indeed. 

Monday 22 February 2016

Does everybody already have great soft skills?

I'd be a rich woman if over the last 30 years I'd been given £1 for every time I'd heard that 'soft skills' are under the spotlight again in procurement, and that CPOs and Procurement realise the benefits soft skills can deliver if done right!

(PS added March 2017 - For soft skills read emotional intelligence - they're the same thing just with a different label but perhaps that's just my age again :-) Here's some notes from an EQ conference I attended in 2015) 

Forgive me if I don't believe you this time either! Despite the fact that I'd dearly love to be proved wrong, and have put heart and soul into selling the benefits for the last 16 years.

It's not just because suppliers told me last week that most procurement people they meet are like Mr Wolf. Although that certainly reinforced my view.

It's not just because KPI's and performance measures still seem to focus on short term price reduction, to the exclusion of other long term value benefits we can deliver. Although they certainly reinforce my view.

It's not just because when delivering workshops sharing the soft skills used in category management and supplier management (ie the enablers for getting more value from it) many of those there say "this is all very well but we can't use them in our day to day activities - it's not what the organisation wants us to do." ** Although it certainly reinforces my view.

It's not just because CEO's and CFO's continue to run roughshod over procurement strategies and contracts at whim - see my letter to CFO's re ownership of payment terms, and post on why procurement isn't seen as strategic by your board, and post entitled toxic leadership. Although they certainly reinforce my view.

It's not just because of all the horror stories accumulating in my Pinterest board - often involving organisations bullying suppliers into reduced prices or increased payment terms. Although they certainly reinforce my view.

It's not just because I still get told "but I don't do the soft fluffy stuff" when clearly they're breathing and using criteria to determine what they will, and wont, do every day. Or someone queries whether there's room for kindness in the work we do. Although it certainly reinforces my view.

Each in their own way reinforcing the sad reality I'm having to face that very little has changed in 30 years, and soft skills is just a euphemism to do what we've always done - ie to not listen to internal stakeholders or suppliers, and to use the skills instead to support unacceptable business practices in order to get short term gain!

It's too easy to take for granted that just because we can talk to other people, and often manage to keep colleagues, managers, internal stakeholders and even suppliers satisfied that we're communicating and influencing well, and therefore using our soft skills effectively. As I said in a post last week, there's many characteristics that are hidden or unknown, and I'm sure many of those relate to our application of soft skills.

What are you doing to ensure the continual professional development of your and your teams' soft skills? And ensuring the aspiration we have for procurement becomes a reality rather than it just feeling like another ground hog day.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out

** I feel the need to say "not all clients" but certainly the larger percentage of those attending workshops.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Is your head in the sand?

I'm sure your answer to the question "Is your head in the sand" will have been "No."
The challenge I'm setting everyone reading this post is to determine what behaviour(s) you have your head in the sand about, and identify how you're going to take your head out of the sand, and take responsibility for the impact of these behaviours.

So often a manager or leader will say that their team needs to become more self aware, and yet they are totally head in the sand about their own level of self awareness. Completely oblivious about the negative impact their behaviours have on others, and yet often able to see the behaviour in others. (I've written a couple of blogs on how our judgement of others may just be a sign there's something, in the behaviour we're judging the other for, that we can learn from - one blog uses nature, and the other is much more logical. Follow the hypertext links to learn more,)

One model that helps demonstrate what's going on, even if it doesn't solve the problem, is Ingham and Luft's Johari Window :

We might know more about ourself than others do  

 or they may know more about us then we do

 And always there's an "unknown", that may get smaller, but always hidden from everyone.

I'd suggest there's another model that aligns with, and confuses this analysis.

That's because before something is consciously known to us it's unconsciously not known to us - that is we're unconsciously incompetent, and then aim to be consciously competent via conscious incompetence before finishing at unconscious competence (see here for more on this model).

If I mix the 2 models - we can believe we know something about ourself but other's know it to be inaccurate. That is I'm unconsciously incompetent about a blind spot, even if I believe myself to be unconsciously competent, and open about it!!

So how do we do what today's Osho card invites us to do, and become more aware about all of who we are, and therefore be able to take responsibility for how our behaviours positively, and perhaps more importantly negatively, impact others?

The solution I believe will be found in one of the following:
  • Firstly remembering we're looking for something hidden or unknown by us about ourselves - so common reactions when we start exploring the evidence may be disbelief, denial, anger, or resistance , or even rushing to put your head back in the sand.
Or perhaps more helpfully:
  • Asking your manager for feedback, and paying attention to it
  • Asking your team for feedback - and not closing them down defensively with a "I know that" before they've finished
  • Asking others you work with for feedback
  • Observation - observing what reaction you get from others - and taking ownership for the response you get rather than blaming the other person
  • Discovery - self awareness about your identify, values, beliefs, skills and behaviours - ie what makes you tick, and why do you judge others as you do 
  • Discovery about others you work with - what makes them tick, and what behaviours would make it easier to communicate with, and understand, them
  • Coaching can be a great means of helping you expand what you know about yourself, and knowing what changes might be useful to help you achieve better results  
  • Learning - this is where the learning ladder above works well with the Johari window - learning or relearning skills can help us understand areas where we were unconsciously incompetent that we didn't know what we didn't know about.
It's not an easy problem to solve, and yet if we could solve it I suspect we'd have less Toxic leaders  that I wrote about yesterday. The challenge is many of those toxic leaders will be sitting very firmly in the hidden or unknown box above, oblivious to the fact we're talking about them - talking about you?  

We all think we're different, and that any and all advice provided isn't directed at us - me included.

What happens however, if every sentence in this blog was directed at YOU? What happens if there was a behaviour, that you're oblivious to, that's stopping you or the organisation achieving its goals? What happens if there's a behaviour that every minute of every day is taking you further away from you achieving those goals. Wouldn't you want to know about it? Wouldn't you want to do something about it? Imagine for a moment what life could be like if you, and the organisation, could achieve the goals you've set yourselves?

The choice is yours - hunt for the hidden or unknown aspects of yourself, and increase the likelihood of you achieving your goals, or bury your head back in the sand, and keep getting the same results! 

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach 
Inspiring change inside and out - and here's why I think inspiring change is important

Hypertext links in the text either take you to blogs I've written on the subject, or to other sources of information about that subject. 

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Are you a toxic leader?

Toxic leadership isn't something to be proud of - is it? 

Certainly not when we look at the definition of toxic: poisonous, dangerous, destructive, harmful, malignant, pernicious, deadly! Not something we need in any organisation?

Yet many leaders see that heartless and ruthless streak to be a valuable asset to their organisation - and it can be - in a short term, bottom line, profit only sort of a way!

I recently attended Let's talk about it - changing attitudes towards our mental health at work.

During the session Professor Denis Fischbacher-Smith of The University of Glasgow's Adam Smith, as part of his presentation on: mental health in the workplace: the hidden problem for management education, put up this slide:

That is toxic leaders have:
  • Self-centered attitudes, motivations and behaviours
  • A lack of concern for others
  • Inflated sense of self-worth
  • Acute self-interest
Which sounds about right to me - you?

I do wish it were simpler to rid business of such leadership.

If it were then we'd be able to say without hesitation that the financial institutions' leadership are less toxic as a result of the crash in 2008? I'm not sure we can? do you?  

The biggest challenge to ridding the business world of toxic leaders is we don't really have many easy options open to us:
  • Changing the toxic leaderships's behaviours
  • Changing the toxic leadership's values and beliefs 
  • Replacing toxic leadership
  • Get the toxic leadership sacked 
Not really anything that easily fits within our individual areas of influence? We can try, but changing other people is never something that's easy to do - even when we have the authority to try. As I write in "Is your head in the sand" toxic leadership is not something many leaders will self identify with - so you've not got much leverage there either.

You only have to look at many of the current, and former, runners for president of the United States of America to realise that power and money, or should that be money and power, are a toxic mix that can get these leaders very far indeed. 

It's no different in many organisations - although I realise there are exceptions (e.g. B Corporation,  Arianna Huffington's Thrive and the third metric, The BTeam's plan B and so on to name but a few).

So if the above are not easy solutions you and I can have any influence over - what can we do? 

Well ...

.... You're not going to like it.......

I assure you you're not going to like my answer ....

.. I really mean it - you're not going to like it...

Here goes.... 

.... A deep breath 

......and my answer is.....

Ensure you're not condoning any of the behaviours demonstrated by these toxic leaders - ie stop behaving like these toxic leaders.

I did warn you.

Here's the logic for my rather bold statement:

If any of us demonstrate any of the following traits:
  • Self-centered attitudes, motivations and behaviours
  • A lack of concern for others
  • Inflated sense of self-worth
  • Acute self-interest
How can we criticise another for doing so.

It's too easy to say the repercussions are greater for those with power, and therefore forgive ourselves our little indiscretions.

That then begs the question "where is the line?" - when does someone move from good self interest to bad self interest, or move from acceptable lack of concern for others to unacceptable lack of concern for others?

I did type "How do we then teach our children where the line is", and that's taken the blog in a different direction as I ponder if the increase in bullying at schools is because we are teaching them to have:
  • Self-centered attitudes, motivations and behaviours
  • A lack of concern for others
Perhaps in the belief that others can look after themselves, and the impact isn't so great.

The problem of course is those bullies grow up.

The lack of action either towards little Alice's bullying, or our own indiscretions are found in the following excuses reasons:
  • They shouldn't have done x 
  • They had it coming to them
  • They're not very nice people
  • I didn't intend my actions to have that outcome 
  • Everyone else is doing it
  • No one will know
  • They can look after themselves
  • It won't hurt anyone
  • I need to keep a roof over my head
  • It's not the same when I do it
I'm sure the toxic leaders started by thinking the same!

Perhaps the answer lies in an earlier blog about stopping playing games at work? Or even in 'is your head in the sand' if you really are one of these toxic leaders, and don't know it!

Do you agree with this definition of toxic leadership, and what do you think the solution to toxic leadership is?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out - and here's why I think inspiring change is important

And just to provide a different perspective I used the metaphor of toxic plants in this blog, over on Landscaping Your Life where I use nature to inspire change, to see if a different insight could be gained from a less defensive analysis. I certainly felt less irritated having explored the situation metaphorically - see what you think.

A blog I wrote some time ago was entitled "don't turn a blind eye" and invited us to speak up against toxic behaviours in business. And my blog 'is there room for kindness in procurement' was an invitation to bring your humanity to work every day.

Monday 1 February 2016

How's your supplier's mental health?

I recently attended Let's talk about it - changing attitudes towards mental health at work. A conference that reminded us all of the benefit of talking more about mental health.

You'll see from the blog the different ways we were being encouraged to speak about mental health.

It got me thinking about talking about mental health with suppliers.

For example when did you last ask a supplier's representative:
  • Are you okay?
  • What can we do to help? 
  • Which of our behaviours are negatively impacting the mental health of you, or others within your organisation 
  • What could we do more of? 
  • What should we do less of?
  • What shall we keep doing?
Or shared with them how their behaviours are impacting the mental health of those within the buying organisation.

It's so easy to talk in terms of orders, invoices, contract terms, service level agreements, key performance indicators, and forget we're often just human beings dealing with other human beings.

Human beings with mental health that can either support their ability to do their job or not!

In the blog "But I don't do soft fluffy stuff" I tackled, even if perhaps a little too vociferously, my belief that we're all human beings and not androids. This belief is the reason why I believe procurement has a responsibility for ensuring it doesn't abuse it's power, nor push supplier's to break point. Especially when we hear stories of many people broken due to Tesco's, and other organisations', behaviour with respect to payment.

It's too easy I suspect to say "I wouldn't do that!", and then move onto the next blog, and forget all about the question.

I am sure my actions over the years, however unintentional, have negatively impacted others. Should I just think "Tough! I was just doing my job" or "I wonder how I can do this differently now and in the future?"

Not an easy quandary to answer - especially when many organisations aren't even talking about, nor considering, the mental health of its own employees - never mind those of other organisations.

Other blog's written along the same vein include:
Do you think it's procurement's responsibility to consider our impact on a supplier's mental health? and they yours?

I'd love to know your thoughts - do leave comments below.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out - and here's why I think inspiring change is important and necessary if you're wanting sustainable change for the future