Wednesday 24 May 2017

Would your team win gold at Chelsea?

I love watching the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – it’s the time of year when I yearn for greener fingers – or perhaps it’s just more time to use them.

The pride, passion and enthusiasm for all things horticulture is conveyed in the many TV programmes as they interview the winners, runners up, and anyone involved in this wonderful show. 

Tears, laughter and relief mix as they finally receive the feedback on all their efforts.

Yesterday it was announced that the M&G Garden designed by James Basson won the prestigious Best Show Garden 2017. (The above video is the making of the garden based on a quarry in Malta - here's a tour of the finished garden). 

Every year hearing their stories has me considering what is needed in order to even get to Chelsea never mind win gold or even best show garden. For me it includes:
  • Commitment & passion for what they do
  • Effective Team work
  • Great design, planning & creativity – often having taken a year or more to do
  • Attention to detail
  • Timely implementation – they have 3 weeks on site to get the gardens ready for judging on the Sunday (brought forward a day this year), followed by a week of visitors
  • Spot on plant selection & quality – with weather significantly impacting what’s at its best for that one short week
  • Careful and loving planting
  • Meticulous plant care and maintenance
The project success has much to do with all the things I've listed - failure on any one of these and they might have failed. As head gardener and designer for the project James Basson will have been responsible for ensuring it all worked perfectly.

For whatever you're head gardener of - could you say the same?

Would your effort on tending to those in your team enable them to win you a best in class? Do you have the passion? How much planning have you done? Are you attending to every detail? Are you giving it, and them the care they need? and would you delight in their success?

What seeds do you need to sow today for your team to win best in show later in the year?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach

Unlocking potential using unconventional tools

Another Chelsea inspired post this week was entitled Benefiting from the fruits of your labours, I also wrote a LinkedIn post about learning from Chelsea in order to bust some moulds, shift perceptions and expand comfort zones whether in Procurement or more broadly.

Monday 22 May 2017

What should you call your soft skills?

At the CIPS East of Scotland branch meeting last week I gave a talk on Soft Skills - skills that for example include motivation, communication, influencing, change management, decision making, time management and so on (more on what I spoke about here).

One of the subjects we touched on was the use of 'soft' skills as the term used to describe these essential skills.

I've ranted before that soft skills aren't something that only those in touch with their emotions have. They're something we all have, and use daily. Soft skills are how we do what we do, and their effective use will make a huge impact on the outcome we get.

When I asked about the use of the word 'soft' last week, people suggested the term conveyed that they were unimportant or weak skills.

You only have to look at the power of water ie something seemingly very soft to realise that soft shouldn't mean weak nor unimportant.

It still raises the question about whether we should give these skills a different name? What about:
  • People skills
  • Emotional Intelligence 
  • Behavioural skills
  • Essential skills
  • Social skills
  • Humanity skills 
I suspect however, that we end up with the same issue. Perhaps it's not 'soft' that generates the belief that they're unimportant, it's that they're unconscious, below the surface, and linked to our emotions and our humanity that makes them scary, and something therefore to be ignored or avoided. (Perhaps time to let go of the musts, oughts and shoulds about what is and isn't appropriate in business?) 

With that in mind, we can call them what we want and people are still going to resist exploring them.

One solution might be to link the skills to the outcome they help you achieve, for example why not call them:
  • The skills that get you the job
  • The skills that get you through your day
  • The skills that help you prepare for your retirement!
  • The skills that mean you can afford to go on fabulous holidays 
  • The skills that help you cope with people in your life 
  • The skills that add meaning to your day
  • The skills that keep the roof over your head
  • The skills that get you out of bed every day
  • The skills that help you decide what to to
  • The skills that keep you out of danger (or try to)
  • The skills that help you open your mouth and say what you want to say when you want to say it
  • The skills that help you change a boring day into an exciting one
  • and so on
My recommendation therefore is to find a term that makes most sense for you personally. A term for the skills that will inspire your action to review your current competency of a skill, and also inspire action to develop the skill further too.  

What will you call these very essential skills that support your humanity?

Alison Smith
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools +44(0)7770 538159

I've developed a Soft Skills Toolkit. The aim of the toolkit is to provide discussion points for personal or group exploration of your soft skills, allowing you to understand what options you have, should you decide to develop a particular soft skill.

There's 2 versions of the toolkit - Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills aimed at procurement professionals, and Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills aimed at a wider business audience. They're only £4.99 for personal use, with pricing available on request for organisational use.

Sunday 21 May 2017

Benefiting from the Fruits of your Labours

RHS Chelsea flower show is here, and with it the art of the possible.

Every year about this time I think about growing my own vegetables. I think about how lovely it would be to eat the fruits of my labour later in the year. I dream of freshly picked green beans, beetroots straight from the ground, and picking ripe juicy raspberries from the bush. I imagine the recipes I could use, and the wonderful meals I could cook with the home-grown fruits and vegetables. The fun and laughter with the friends I’d invite to share in the delights of my garden.

Then reality sets in as I watch my neighbours as they spend hours I don’t have, nor have the motivation, sowing seeds, carefully putting them in the greenhouse, watering then daily, pricking out and thinning the seeds as they grow, repotting them, and then feeding and generally putting a lot of time and effort into their own fruit and vegetable plots.

When I told Terry, the guy who mows my lawn, of my plans he smiled sweetly as he recalled all the times he’s had to tell me he’s going to prune a bush, or set about the garden to weed it after it’s got very overgrown.

Isn’t that the same in many organisations? Not for fruit and veg but for our suppliers? We have high hopes and expectations of our suppliers, and yet we, and our organisation, are not prepared to put in the effort needed to bring forth that bounty?

If we expect suppliers to do it themselves without our support and assistance then we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up with an overgrown lawn, a tree whose roots are busy undermining the house’s foundations, plants throttling other plants, or plants that have died through lack of water.   

Many of the horror stories of procurement gone wrong can track their origin to suppliers left to fend for themselves, or inadequately cared for. 

Who in your organisation is responsible for tending for your suppliers, and will the fruits of their labours meet organisational expectations in the autumn?

Gardening is a metaphor I often use with non-procurement managers as it’s something they can relate to more easily than the process we enthuse about and understand intimately. This post explores the metaphor further, and I’ve also pulled together a Pinterest board exploring different aspects of the metaphor.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking Procurement Potential using Unconventional Tools 

Friday 19 May 2017

Soft Skills for Procurement Success

I spoke about Soft Skills at the CIPS East of Scotland branch meeting earlier this week. I'd like to hope that at least some of those there were inspired to come to hear more about soft skills, rather than just the CIPS/Hays salary guide 2017 that Suzanne Dillon shared with us earlier in the evening.

I used my recently developed soft skills toolkit as the basis of my talk. The toolkit uses postcards written to procurement from their soft skills.

At the start of the session I asked people to share the challenges they have with soft skills. As a result, I promised to pull an index together of posts I've written to answer the challenges, and to provide further information on subjects touched on in my talk.

This is that very index, for you to dip in and out of as needed over the coming days, weeks and months. You just need to follow the highlighted hypertext link and it will take you to the relevant post.

They won't be going anywhere so no need to read them all in one go :-). Just get a coffee, or wine for that matter, and pop along when you're in need of a different perspective, and pick a post or two to read.

Content of the Talk:
  • How can you influence others - vlog with insight from those flowers that follow the sun.
Challenges you asked for additional insight on 
I'll have to come back to and write posts to address the following challenges: 
  • "When do we use our soft skills?" I'll do a soft skills diary at some point, and for now will just say - I think soft skills are responsible for 'how' we do everything every minute of every day.
  • "How do we develop our soft skills?" The same as any other skill - it's simply a case of taking it out of unconscious awareness into conscious awareness. You'll find more here. It's why I've developed the Soft Skill Toolkit, and you'll find more about how to use that here.
  • "How do we measure the impact of soft skills?" I suspect it's in people achieving their objectives better.
  • "How do I get my team to take soft skills seriously?" Hmm what gets measure gets done - so the answer may lie in the measures of success used in the organisation.  
  • "How do I increase peoples level of self awareness?" Whilst it is very personal I do think the culture within an organisation can help - vulnerability and asking for help need to be accepted and encouraged in order for people to lower their defences long enough to hear the feedback. Which starts with the manager being a role model for this too. This post, asking if we have our head in the sand about our own level of self awareness, might also help. 
Unconventional Tools that I use in Coaching and Training
My Passions
  • This index of top 10 Purchasing coach posts might explain more about what I get passionate about - the main ingredient not mentioned already is about taking our humanity with us to work every day, and inviting procurement to be Enlightened and not to fall back on being Mr Wolf (descriptions used by some suppliers I trained last year)!
The Sales Pitch - ie what I could do for you
  • Coaching
  • Organisational soft skills training
  • Team facilitation - unlocking the potential of procurement teams
  • Open workshops - I'm going to be offering some 1 day soft skills workshops here in Fife over the summer - do drop me a line if you'd like me to send you details once they're sorted. I can promise they won't involve sitting in a hotel conference room all day. 
  • I also deliver procurement and supplier management workshops - direct and as an associate. Here's an index of posts linked to the content and discussions during a 3 day category management workshop, and updated after each session. 
Email or even call me +44 (0)7770 538159 

Hopefully you'll have found at least one post that adds to your insight on soft skills, and has inspired you to do something different. Which reminds me of something I forgot to say, and that's that the quickest way to learn new things is to get your 'doing new things' muscle working by doing something different everyday - here's how I fared when I did it for 28 days last year.

Do keep in touch - here in comments, over on LinkedIn, or email.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking individual and procurement potential using unconventional tools
(with some conventional tools thrown in for good measure)

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Love from Learning and Development

If your soft skills were to write a postcard what would they say?

Today it's the turn for learning and development to get something off their chest.


Dear Procurement, 

We love the 70/20/10 model - after all it reminds you that there's multiple places that your learning and development takes place - i.e. experiential via on the job learning (70%), social interactions (20%), and formally via training events (10%).

The biggest challenge is that in order for learning and development to take place you do need to be consciously aware of what's not working for you. I'm sure you all have stories to tell of people who think for example, that they're great at communication, listening or negotiation. Yet being on the receiving end of their communication, listening or negotiation skills you would resoundingly disagree.

The key is moving from unconscious incompetence into conscious incompetence - knowing what you don't know, or could get better at. It's only then that a plan can be developed for a competency to be improved or enhanced.

The question you need to answer is how do you become aware of your incompetence areas for improvement or development if it's not consciously obvious to you?

360 degree feedback is one mechanism, so too observing others you admire and noticing what they do and how they do it. YouTube, books and online learning are all great places to find out how those that do something well do it. Podcasts, vlogs and blogs too - even Arianne Huffington's Thrive Global got in on the act yesterday sharing a post on the power of constant learning.

From there it's a case of comparing what you do to their model of excellence, and then making changes to your behaviour, and noticing the impact they have on your performance.

There are some barriers however to even these activities working, and that's either being resistant to the feedback, or having beliefs that either a particular competency is common sense and so innate that anyone can do it, or a belief that you're great at the skill, and no one can tell you otherwise.

All and any learning requires that you be open to alternative ways of doing something.

Soft Skills is one of those areas where so many people remain oblivious to what can be achieved with just a little tweak here and there, or a little perspective change. You may want to read the top 10 things to remember when communicating to give you a sense of some of the things you might be unconscious about.

How can you become more aware of your own level of competency with respect to soft skills, and what can you do to identify a plan to learn and develop them? After all, we can personally think of nothing better than doing that, and so can certainly support you. We just need your intention and we'll then be gladly be of assistance.

We look forward to a great year ahead full of surprises, busting a few limiting beliefs, and celebrating the expansion of you comfort zone or even getting in touch with you comfort universe.

With love from Learning and Development 

PS: Doing something different everyday is one activity you may want to try that we can guarantee will help you develop your skills.

A selection of postcards from others of your soft skills have been brought together into the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit. You can find more about buying the Toolkit here - for personal use (at a cost of only £4.99) or organisationally (cost on request).

A toolkit entitled Dear Human, with love from your Soft skills has also been developed, and is available for non Procurement professionals wanting to develop their soft skills.

There are examples of other postcards in posts on this blog from change managementemotions,
and your mental health.

Follow the link to a post providing an example of how to use the postcards to develop you, or your team's, Soft Skills.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking Procurement Potential Using Unconventional Tools. +44(0)7770 538159

© Alison Smith 2017

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Have you taken your eye off the ball on coaching

Have you taken your eye of the ball on coaching in business?
It goes without saying that sports gold medallists have a coach, so too championship and grand final winners. Yet when it comes to business we often feel as if it's of no merit to have a coach! Is it just easier to keep an eye on the ball when there's a real ball involved I wonder? In this post for Future Purchasing, for whom I'm an associate, I invite you to consider the benefits to be obtained if you do have a coach, even if it is for the more mental activities we do when in the office.

For more on the coaching I personally offer do see here.

Another post for FP that aligns with this post, is about the similarities between parenting and procurement.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

With love from your suppliers' mental health

It's Mental health awareness week (#MHAW17), and with that in mind I wrote a postcard yesterday entitled Dear Human Being, with love from your Mental Health

Today I wondered what postcard our suppliers' mental health might write to procurement. After all, we all have mental health, and that includes our suppliers. 

Please note: This is a postcard I'd suggest that is written to the wolves that still exist within procurement, and not to the more enlightened procurement professionals. (A term coined by a group of suppliers at a workshop last year).

Dear Procurement,

I'm sending this postcard because I know your supplier won't. After all, like you they believe it's just the way business is - dog eat dog an all that!

We just wanted you to understand how your actions negatively impact us, and plead to your own sense of humanity to think about the repercussions of those actions. After all, we're human beings like you, not bar codes or robots!

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that there are six key areas of work that can cause stress, and in turn impact mental health. The six areas are; role, relationships, demands, change, control and support. 

Let's consider the impact you can have on each of these.

Clarity of role is often a given in buyer/supplier relationships. Although there are times when your actions bring up conflict when you ask your supplier representative to take your side against their own organisation. Perhaps an area our own organisations can impact the most, by understanding this will happen, rather than pressuring them about it. Perhaps even championing our staff for being client centric.

The HSE talks of avoiding conflict, and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.

Conflict is often a given in buyer/supplier relationships which means it's up to both parties to understand how to manage their own reaction to conflict, and to understand their style - both the pros and the cons of that style - and on self and others.

Just letting a supplier have it in a rage, and believing your behaviour to be an acceptable reaction to the 'poor' performance you're receiving is unacceptable. So too bullying behaviour, and abuse of your power. Don't leave your humanity at the door - you wouldn't act like that out of the office 5-9 - so why do the rules change 9-5.

If you want to know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of your behaviour, and it is such a great technique for facilitating change, try standing in our shoes for a moment.

And for anyone believing this postcard is aimed at others and not them - you may want to look at the behaviours you've buried your head in the sand about - those behaviours that others see and you deny.

This area includes work load, work patterns and work environment.

It's perhaps the key area where you impact us. For example tenders with questions you'll never assess, short deadlines, deadlines that mean we have to cancel plans, work the weekend and late into the night. Often passing your own ineffective planning and organisation onto us.

Or what about telling us we are in with a chance when we're not! Or setting selection criteria that might as well mean it's useless us responding to you.

Change management is something managed ineffectively in many organisations, and we're not sure procurement is the sole contributor to it done badly. We'd even suggest that it's one area where suppliers impact procurement's mental healthy badly.

Mental health is achieved by having control over the work we do. Procurement has such a huge contribution to make in this area. Output vs input specs being just one of many contractual changes that could be considered that would significantly impact the mental health of those responsible for delivering a service to you.

When did you last say thank you to a supplier, or show them your support? And before that, when did you do it. A thank you can go a long way, and when stressed I'd suggest it can go even further.

We hope something we've said has triggered a thought about how you can behave differently to your suppliers to support their mental health. In turn we will encourage the suppliers to do the same, and to consider you're mental health - after all you are human just like us, and not a bar code or a robot.

With Love from your Suppliers' Mental Health

It's also interesting to consider what behaviours buying and supplying organisations demonstrate that are counter to their own organisational values statements. After all the majority of values statements include openness, honesty, trust and respect - more here. Adoption of these values would certainly support everyone's mental health.

If you like the idea of aspects of yourself writing postcards to you, you might also like my Soft Skills Toolkit where different soft skills have written postcards to you.

The aim of the toolkit is to provide discussion points for personal or group exploration of your soft skills, allowing you to understand what options you have, should you decide to develop a particular soft skill.

There's 2 versions of the toolkit - Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills aimed at procurement professionals, and Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills aimed at a wider business audience. They're only £4.99 for personal use, with pricing available on request for organisational use.

Alison Smith
Unlocking personal and organisational potential using unconventional tools +44(0)7770 538159

Monday 8 May 2017

Dear Human Being, with love from your mental health

It's Mental health awareness week (#MHAW17), and with that in mind I wondered what postcard my/our mental health might write to us. After all, we do all have mental health. 

Later in the week there's a postcard To Procurement, from their suppliers' mental health.

Dear Human Being,

I saw this postcard and it reminded me of your relationship with me!

It can often feel as if I'm the invisible part of you - always there and yet not always acknowledged.

Do you know what that feels like? To know that my own existence is denied by the very person I love and support.

Denying my existence is like denying you have a mind, or a body, or, if you've had them, denying you have children. It's a lie, and a lie you seem to feel comfortable telling.

Your relationship with me should be very similar to those you have with your children; nurturing and supportive and allowing me to flourish. Planning for the day when you don't have to look after my every need as I can now fend for myself.    

I thought that the style of parenting where children are seen and not heard, told to speak only when they were spoken to, and sent to their bedrooms for some minor indiscretions, were only stories told from days gone by. Yet that's how I'm treated - in 2017 no less - told to be quiet, ignored, and pushed away.

How do you bring out the best in your children: you listen to them, you believe what they tell you, you support their strengths, you help them develop the areas they require development in, you encourage them, and you help them build their resilience and confidence. You love them.

To bring out the best in your children you don't ignore them, disbelieve everything they say, call them a liar, or act as if they mean nothing to you. You also don't bully them or shout at them when they make a mistake or don't know what to do. You certainly don't hate them.

As someone I consider to be my guardian all I ask of you is to apply your very best parenting skills, so that we may flourish, grow and succeed - together.

With Love from your Mental Health

If you like the idea of aspects of yourself writing postcards to you, you might also like my Soft Skills Toolkit where different soft skills have written postcards to you.

The aim of the toolkit is to provide discussion points for personal or group exploration of your soft skills. Allowing you to understand what options you have should you wish to develop a particular soft skill.

There's 2 versions of the toolkit - Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills aimed at procurement professionals, and Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills aimed at a wider business audience. It's only £4.99 for personal use, with pricing available on request for organisational use.

Alison Smith
Unlocking personal and organisational potential using unconventional tools +44(0)7770 538159

Sunday 7 May 2017

Your world you see is not the whole truth

I'm a witness in court this week, and will be asked to swear to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Which I will do, but even then it can only the truth as I saw it, from my perspective.

These 3 images are the truth too.

The images were taken from the same spot - that is, they are all representations of the same whole - just from a different perspective. None right or wrong just one aspect of the truth based on the filter they view the situation from.

Just like we're doing everyday for every communication we enter into.

The insight that our truth is not other people's truth is No2 in my top 10 of things to remember when communicating.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking procurement potential using unconventional tools