Monday 21 May 2018

Garden full of suppliers

For over 20 years I've used gardening as a metaphor for supplier management. It was the foundation for Landscaping Your Life, a tool I developed and use in my coaching, where nature more broadly is used as a metaphor for life.

Why gardening?

Because many of our internal stakeholders, especially those in the UK, know more about gardening than they do about supplier management.

They know that lawns need mowing.

Lawns also need weeding,

along with many a flower bed (or is it just mine?),

and the odd wall.

The power of the metaphor is realising suppliers also need mowing and weeding - just like that long tail of suppliers that needs to be reduced.

Plants also need pruning, whether it's to ensure they flower again this year,

flower again next year,

or to ensure they're fit for the purpose they're in the garden for anyway (ie like this rhubarb that once it's bolted it is too late to save it for this year's crumbles and pies!)

That's the purpose of supplier contract, risk and performance management reviews. Checking that suppliers continue to meet the needs of the business, and haven't expanded their remit into areas they're not supposed to be in, or clearly have no expertise on.

Sometimes plants/trees need chopping down as they're no longer providing fruit, and have died.
Like those Suppliers whose contract expired years ago, or that keeps getting extended, when no one is really sure what they do, nor value they deliver.

There are plants that are just coming into flower,

plants that continue to flower over a wide period of time,

plants that are just about to flower,

plants that open and close with the sun,

plants that will flower much later, 

and plants that never flower - and are there for their decorative leaves.

Always room for a picture of a cat me thinks, who accompanied me around the garden whilst taking my pics.

Remembering that each supplier has been chosen to meet different business needs. 

Each supplier also with their own needs, some needing time in the greenhouse before planting out (especially here in Scotland),

others more frequent watering,

feeding, or support.

The challenge in business is, that many managers treat suppliers like the tree planted in the corner of the garden, left unmanaged and forgotten with roots that are now undermining the very foundations of the house. Oblivious to how their own behaviour supported the undesirable outcome.

What attention do your suppliers need, and when will you give it to them? 

More analogies between gardening and supplier management can be found on this Purchasing Coach Pinterest board. There's also a number of video blogs on the subject over on a Purchasing Coach playlist.

Watch out on the Purchasing Coach Twitter, Facebook and Instagram this week for insights arising from Chelsea flower show #RHSChelsea that can be applied to supplier management.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Sowing seeds for effective supplier management.

Monday 14 May 2018

Mental Health in Procurement

Just as we all have physical health, we also all have mental health. 

A conversation about mental health is however never as easy as one about physical health. Initiatives such as #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek aim to rectify this oversight. 

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week I'd like to invite you to consider what you're doing to support your own, your colleagues' and even your suppliers' mental health.

Over on my Landscaping Your Life blog this week I explore that one place in nature that helps me find balance for mind, body and soul - the local beach here in Scotland as shown below:  
In that post I ask you to consider what landscape keeps you mentally healthy? (Having a landscape that supports me when I'm out of balance is on my prescription for positivity that I refer back to in times of need.) 

Other posts over recent years where I've explored mental health at work include:
  • That's just the way business is - my plea to bring our humanity to work with us, and not to condone unacceptable behaviour and hide behind "That's just the way business is".
  • Let's talk about it - notes from attending a HeadTorch conference on changing attitudes towards mental health at work.  
  • It's not about the Toast - notes from an earlier HeadTorch conference where a piece of interactive theatre (HeadTorch's USP) highlights the need to be aware of what's really going on.    
  • Dear Human Being, with love from your Mental Health - a post card sent from our mental health. What would your post card say? And more importantly, would you listen to its advice? 
  • How's your suppliers' mental health? A reminder of the stereotypical behaviours buyers exhibit that can have a dramatic and negative impact on suppliers' mental health.
  • A Postcard, with love from your Supplier's Mental Health exploring the six key areas that the HSE say cause stress, and exploring what buyers can do to avoid increasing stress in suppliers in these six areas. 
  • Are you a toxic leader? Not something anyone would put their hand up and admit to, and yet something I'd suggest is too easy to slip into in business, and often found where we hear "that's just the way business is".

The first of these posts says it all for me - we're human beings with continuum's of mental, physical and spiritual health. Denying our humanity, and leaving it at the office door, means these continuums are frequently compromised. Burying our head in the sand and denying their importance is counter intuitive, and is not the means of achieving a flourishing and sustainable business. 

We have a choice - ignore mental health at work and hope for the best, or embrace it's importance and ensure our actions support personal and organisational flourishing.

What can you do today to ensure your actions support mental health at work? 

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Supporting mental health at work

Saturday 5 May 2018

What role are you playing?

Son, daughter, husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, friend are all roles that come with expectations, whether realistic or not.

I was only reading this morning about a new mother finding it very difficult because of all the expectations she had around what a 'mother' should do and, perhaps more impactfully in this instance, what she needed to do in order to be a perfect mother, and found herself failing. The gap she perceived between expectation and reality was huge, and she spiralled into feeling she was failing her son as a result and did not deserve to be a mother.

Using roles helps us make sense of our day - helping us bypass having to make decisions about the appropriate way to act in every moment. Familiarity, level of honesty, the words we use, tonality, thoughts, beliefs and our behaviours are all subtly and unconsciously changed to meet the role we're playing. As a sister this is how I act, as a daughter this, and as a friend yet another.

To help apply this idea into working life there's two words I'd like to explore from that last paragraph - 'unconscious' and 'playing'. 


The majority of the time we don't consciously choose the role we're taking on. On some unconscious level we decide what hat we're needing to put on, and then act accordingly.

The need for a firefighter brings out certain qualities and behaviours, 
and the need for policing others.
The unconscious nature of role playing does however come with some disadvantages - the lack of choice.

For one client it was as if they slept in their ambulance driver hat, constantly alert and looking for people to save and help out. No wonder then that this hyper alertness led to burn out. It was only with awareness that they were able to retire the hat, and for them all the unhelpful behaviours associated with it.
The unconscious nature of the roles we choose also impacts our working life.

For example, taking on the role of bureaucrat or the role of innovator would bring out very different ways of behaving. If this is done unconsciously we're unaware that we have choice about how we're acting, and the underlying beliefs that give energy to that doing. That is, we just do what the role dictates.

A role of bureaucrat could hold beliefs around the need for a process, paperwork, approval, the right way of doing things and so on. These beliefs would inform the words, and actions we then embody and demonstrate.

On the other hand (or perhaps its on the other hat) a role of innovator could hold beliefs about there being no right way, taking the road less travelled, needing to test boundaries and so on. The resulting behaviours would look and sound and feel very different to those demonstrated by the bureaucrat.

Before a meeting therefore it might be useful to understand what hat you've got on and to consider its appropriateness for the meeting, and what behaviours it brings out in you. Is your bureaucrat hat going to help you to achieve your objectives more or less than the innovator hat? Or might another hat be more helpful?

There's no right or wrong way to do this, and that's where playing comes in.


The roles we're talking about here are metaphors. We're not really a firefighter being asked to put out real fires. When metaphorically asked to put on the firefighting hat however, it's as if the manual of how to act comes with it. Use of that manual certainly makes life easier and takes up less thinking time. We're ready to go immediately - just like the firefighter jumping into their gear and are in their fire engine within seconds.

What's useful to remember though is, the roles we play are metaphors and are therefore NOT set in stone. Perhaps for a real firefighter there's written role description, but here they've our own set of manuals that we've developed over time with our own beliefs. We also know how to operate the manual for some roles better than others, and some feel much more comfortable.

Which means we have a choice about the roles we put on in any situation. Playing lightly with those roles therefore can help us achieve the results we're aiming for.

For example:
  • If you're struggling with your expert hat - might changing to a facilitator or collaborator hat help you more?
  • Maybe it's more about having a series of hats and not starting with the expert hat, but instead putting your competent hat on first. Knowing over time it will be replaced with an experienced hat, and then expert hat and even concluding with your mastery hat. 
  • Might your business partner hat need a little millinery flourish to make it fit your head better?
  • Alternatively the manual for your innovator hat might need updating and redefining. 
  • Or perhaps your graduate hat needs to be retired so that it's not available - for you to put on and for others to see and react to?
No right or wrong - just an appreciation that they're metaphors that help our minds make sense of the world, and as such can be consciously changed to support us rather than left unconsciously to hinder.

A post from the archives on Are Procurement the bad cops explores this idea from a different angle.

The solution for the new mother I mentioned earlier was only achieved once her expectations of the role were brought into conscious awareness. Once she'd achieved that, then she was able to play more lightly with her definition of the role of mother, to release her aim for perfection, and aim for good enough instead. Perhaps realising that competence evolves over time and mastery doesn't start on day one! This post on the journey to mastery may also help if, like the mother, you're beating yourself up about how quickly you're not picking up something new.

What roles are you playing? Are they enabling you to shine? Or could playing more lightly with alternate roles help?

As ever always available for coaching to explore the roles you or your teams are currently playing, and those you may wish to embody.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Helping you break out of your comfort zones

A recent recommendation on LinkedIn about my coaching said:

"Alison is one of the best coaches I have ever had the pleasure of working with (and I've worked with a few!) She has a highly practical nature and combines it with strong intuition and unconventional tools to guide you to find insights and answers to specific challenges. 

She asks powerful thought provoking questions, but it's not just about coming up with answers in your mind; in my session she used various unconventional tools including something called The Transformation Game to help me connect with my intuition to gain new insights and awareness about my situation. Not only that, due to Alison's skill and patience I was able to experience a profound shift in relation to an ongoing challenge that had been holding me back in my life and I left the session with action steps to enable me to progress further.

As with any transformational coaching, you need to be prepared to take responsibility for personal change and get out of your comfort zone to find the answers you need, but Alison makes this easy with her approach.

Whether you're looking for a personal coach or you're looking for a highly skilled executive coach in the workplace for insights, awareness and more importantly a clear idea of the next action to take, if you're ready to try a powerful alternative, I highly recommend you get in touch with Alison."