Friday, 19 July 2019

Don't you ever do that to me again

“Don’t you ever do that to me again” said my boss. “Well done, a breath of fresh air, congratulations” said another senior manager. I was in my twenties, & I’d just done a very "Alisony" presentation to 80 senior managers. “Alisony” involves enthusiasm, laughter & the unexpected, all aimed at achieving the goal. In this instance, conveying the outcome of a cross-functional project looking into how visitors were treated when arriving at the factory, & identifying a plan for improving it. What "Alisony" isn’t is: reading the slides, with a monotone voice, hands by my side, in a dark pressed suit. My boss wanted convention & nothing that drew attention to being different. The other senior managers reacted to my refreshing energy &, I would contend, remembered what I said as a result. Since that time, it’s been a constant challenge of which of those two voices I listen to. Having recently connected to a number of procurement leaders on LI, I could hear my old boss warning me to tone myself down, & be more conventional. Then I remember, convention & its lack are equally effective when in the hands of an expert. There are plenty of experts using conventional means, and I can do conventional. Yet I’m certainly more effective when I’m being unconventionally Alison(y).

Monday, 15 July 2019

My ideal client

Just to say, my ideal client is a procurement team I can get to know and spend a few days every month training, mentoring, and coaching individuals or small groups on ‘how’ they do what they do.
This will most likely include developing the team’s stakeholder engagement, communication, influencing, and creative thinking skills.
Other topics covered might also include mindset, confidence, values and beliefs, and other topics that increase individuals’ self awareness, which are the building blocks to having an affective and adaptable approach to ‘how’ things get done.
I’ve been a passionate procurement professional for over 30 years, and for 20 of those years I’ve been a NLP and soft skills coach and trainer, and geek on new and innovative tools for personal development and transformation.
If you’re interested in me supporting your procurement team to fully embrace their potential, do get in touch.
With capacity to only provide this to a small number of organisations it’s not something everyone will be able to get access to.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Forget digitising procurement, I want more humanity

Digitisation is coming to Procurement.

We’re embracing 4.0.

It will deliver huge benefits and transform how we work.


If we talk to our suppliers or to our internal stakeholders they’re telling us there’s one thing missing.

Our humanity.

It feels like we’re running before we can walk with many of us still struggling to get to 2.0.

Of course there are some trail blazers getting the mix right and delivering real value, but there’s plenty of examples that suggest there are Procurement peeps stuck at 1.99.

Someone on a category management workshop once said “oh, I didn’t know I could do that” when I simply suggested they use a wider range of their behavioural skills with a stakeholder i.e. be human; not a computer running a stereotypical programme from the 80s.

On another workshop we had a heated debate about whether there was room for kindness in procurement. Ok, it was me that got heated when I was told their KPIs wouldn’t let them be kind.

Which is why I don’t apologise for bringing the following qualities others have used to describe me into the soft skills procurement development I do:

Heart-led, intuitive, insightful, real, creative, trustworthy, unconventional, and passionate.

Because these are the qualities I want to see more of in Procurement.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Do you have a leak in your life?

Life can be a little like the plumbing in my flat’s kitchen last weekend - we don’t know where to look to find the source of the problem until we’ve got visible evidence of a leak. By which time, it’s starting to make a mess downstairs!

The leaks in our lives might include those found in our energy, motivation, focus, resilience, communication, patience and so on. With the symptoms being observed in our thoughts, feelings or actions. In life, much like my kitchen, it’s about taking action as soon as the evidence of a leak is observed. No burying our head in the sand hoping it will sort itself out; no denying the evidence, nor looking elsewhere for the source of the leak. It's about taking action before the negative impact gets worse. The first step is observing those small changes in mind or body that point towards something being off kilter or out of balance, and then taking appropriate action. With my kitchen, as I do not have the skills to replace the broken lead waste pipe myself, I rang my water pipe insurer.

In life we might have the resources to act ourselves, or may need to call a friend, mentor, coach or doctor. What evidence do you have of a leak, and what action can you take to stop it leaking further, and then resolve the cause?

Monday, 1 July 2019

The difference that makes the difference

As I watched their disappointment yesterday I could also imagine their earlier excitement - the sun was shining, wind was calm, they had a new jet-ski, had borrowed a trailer, left work early, and driven to the beach. Once at the beach, they carefully reversed down the ramp, and then excitedly jumped out of the van to manoeuvre the jet-ski into the water.

And then the dream disintegrated - where was the water? Low tide had only been a couple of hours earlier, and high tide a further 4 hours away. It was a low high tide so by my calculations they were at least 2.5 hours away from being able to take the jet-ski into the water. It’s funny... and then you start to realise this is a great metaphor for many areas of our lives where, when planning, we’ve not taken into account the difference that makes the difference between success and failure. I’m assuming the jet-ski guys will have learnt about tide height and tide times for this beach and ensure they check them for future excursions. During procurement training I hear many horror stories “oh yes that happened to me too” with no mechanism in place to learn from them. What post-activity reviews do you undertake and how can they stop you from being on dry land when you want to be in the water?

Friday, 28 June 2019

What do Procurement people tweet about when they get together?

The inaugural #procurementhour took place last night and as the invite didn’t get to all our procurement professionals in time I wanted to encourage you to join next Thursday evening at 2000 BST.

If you’re not familiar with a #twitterhour it’s much like following a person on Twitter but you follow a hashtag for a specific hour instead and everyone uses it during the discussions and peeps exchange ideas, ask and answer questions and generally have a chin wag over a drink of your choice about a topic you’re passionate about. Which means there will be one for where you live, for hobbies, passions and professions etc #cumbriahour #LDchat #BBCQT and now #procurementhour

This hour was facilitated by @deltaprocure @kershaw_MCIPS and whilst many future #twitterhours may involve more questions, and focusing on specific topics, it was q3 that got the party going.

Q3 if you could change one thing about procurement (processes, legal, governance, culture, other) to make delivery better what would it be.

What would you have said? And how would you have provided solutions to facilitate that change?

With so many tangents from this question I suspect this is only my interpretation of the key topics: 
  • Culture – to make embracing change easier
  • Stakeholder engagement – engaging them and doing so earlier because we understand the process but they understand what they want “we’re in this together” 
  • Mindset – to stepping outside our comfort zones
  • Process – ensuring it’s fit for purpose not a hurdle for innovation
  • Performance measurement – what would Unilever or Steve jobs do and would it really be so reliant on compliance?
Tweets that had me going “hell yes” included

@MCulleyMCIPS procurement isn’t boring, it’s there to change the way goods/services/works are purchased to deliver better things, it’s not all about saving money.

@noursidawi leadership is the difference – and we lead, and are led, at all levels.

#ProcurementHour reminded me we’re not alone, and need to work together to be the change we want to see.

Hope you’ll join the conversation next week to help do that.

Alison Smith @purchasingcoach

Thursday, 27 June 2019

"I was able to experience a profound shift"

I’m so much happier as coach than coachee - and yet I have to dip a toe out of my comfort zone and accept that keeping feedback to myself isn’t helping potential clients know what others think of the work I do for them. With that in mind, I’m starting with this fabulous feedback from Mel Sherwood - I can’t think of a better response to a session:

“I was able to experience a profound shift”. The outcome Mel achieved is why I do what I do to support others in releasing the blocks to achieving their goals. Whilst the majority of coaching clients are procurement team members (1:1 or group clinics focusing on behavioural skills) I do also provide one-off intensive coaching days/weekends or a programme of personal coaching for individuals. With a wealth of coaching tools in my LANDSCAPE toolkit there’s always something that will be the difference that makes the difference. Thanks so much to Mel, and thank you for reading.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Next time suppliers or colleagues are ‘ignoring’ you, best to check your language for clarity

“My manager has told me I need to provide less detail to stakeholders, and I don’t know what they mean.”

This quandary arose in a coaching session and is a wonderful example of people using language they understand and assuming others understand it too. I can imagine the frustration as the manager thinks “I told them they need to be less detailed. Why are they still giving too much detail? They’re just ignoring me”, and so on.
The challenge was the words “less detail” because, whilst the manager had a clear sense of what they meant, the recipient of those words had no idea. For that individual the instructions just weren’t detailed enough. “I only provide the detail that’s needed” “If I provide any less detail it won’t make sense” They just didn’t understand the request and, despite being very willing, had no idea how to change their behaviour. The resulting strategy we developed in the coaching session was something along these lines: 1. Provide short overview 2. Pause and wait for a question 3. Provide short answer 4. Pause and wait for a question
And so on. What this helped them model was if people wanted more detail they could ask for it. Next time suppliers or colleagues are ‘ignoring’ you - best to check your language for clarity.

Friday, 21 June 2019

"It's taken me over 100 hours to compose"

“It’s taken me over 100 hours to compose” Jon Schmidt from the Piano Guys said last week at the SECC in Glasgow, as he introduced his version of A million dreams.

A little later, as they played a mash-up of Beethoven’s 5 secrets - onerepublic, this quote from that great composer appeared on the screen in-front of us: “Don't only practise your art, but force your way into its secrets” Isn’t that what Jon was doing spending 100 hours exploring a song where the majority of the musical composition was already known that lasts less than five minutes? In his book 'Outliers', Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert. 10,000 hours to force your way into its secrets perhaps? As I listened to Jon demonstrate his musical expertise, a lyric from the song came to mind: “I think of what the world could be” Isn’t that why Jon spent 100 hours on just one piece, why experts spend 10,000 hours on their art, because they think of what the world could be and are motivated to take action? How are you forcing your way into the secrets of how the world could be? Me - I spend my time forcing my way into the secrets of coaching tools that help people be the catalyst for change for how they want the world to be - in procurement, business or personally.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Absurdity: how it can help us find solutions

Absurdity and laughter (turn the sound down first) could be my mission statement - but it is also one of the tools in the LANDSCAPE coaching toolkit, because sometimes it’s the only thing that will shake us out of our current ways of thinking.

If our mind is going round and round...and we’ve no idea how to find a solution, getting a little absurd might help. The theory suggests that absurdity pushes our mind to try to make sense of all the nonsense. As we laugh at the lack of logic it’s as if the laughter breaks the chains tying us to our repetitive thinking. In coaching sessions the absurdity has included: 💥Naming beliefs that will really hinder finding a solution - e.g. only one person in the whole world can do this 💥Different wording of well-known sayings - e.g. can’t hear the wood for the trees, can’t see the mountain for the molehill 💥Different interpretations for someone’s behaviour - e.g. PoTUS is telling them what to do You only have to listen to 'I’m sorry I haven’t a clue' for other ideas for absurdity - singing one song to the tune of another anyone? The aim is to shift the current thinking in order to have more choice going forward about what to do next. Don’t keep doing the same thing & expect a different response - try something different and notice what you notice.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Landscaping Your Life e-zine

I'm very, very, very excited to share with you the first Landscaping Your Life ezine aimed at helping you to Landscape your life whether it's your goals, confidence, motivation or other behavioural skills that need a little support.

To give you a flavour of what's included, there's a special feature about taking the learning from attracting bees in your garden to having a similarly buzzing life.

There's a number of regular features such 'In the potting shed' where we learn about the tools needed to landscape our lives.

and, in this edition 'Plant of the season' is Thyme where we learn from nature about time management ;-). 

And the Landscaping Your Life walk invites to consider the insights from deadwood row, let the light in avenue, unfurl corner and clear ahead copse.

I hope you'll join me by signing up for the Landscaping Your Life ezine here.

Monday, 20 May 2019

What do Chelsea and Procurement have in common?

It's that time of year again when Chelsea Flower Show reminds me of the origins of a process that I've used with clients for over 20 years.

Despite the image above, I'm not talking about gardening clients but procurement clients.

In the late 90s we were struggling to get the managers at the bank that I worked for interested in supplier management. My love of gardening provided a means of getting them a little more interested - in that questions about when they last pruned back their suppliers, or allowed one time in the greenhouse, or what tools were they using to develop their suppliers piqued their interest.

Since then I've shared many a post looking at the analogies between gardening and procurement such as
  • Anyone can buy - the difference between the tools in the buying, purchasing and procurement potting sheds
Since it's early origins the metaphor got bigger and I wasn't just using gardens as a metaphor for supplier management but nature became a metaphor for our lives and Landscaping Your Life (LYL) was born.

For over 20 years I've had a foot in two camps - purchasing and wider personal development. Whilst often delivering both to clients I've kept my social media separate. That double life has confused clients, and me, which has led to the decision to move my blogging to my personal development blog - Landscaping Your Life.

This week to celebrate this merger I'm going back to my gardening roots. I do hope you'll join me for vlogs, blogs, posts and insights as I visit different landscapes and explore many aspects of landscaping your life, and specifically:

  • Mon 20th: Landscaping your potential
  • Tues 21st: Landscaping your time
  • Wed 22nd: Buzzing with life
  • Thurs 23rd: Landscaping your relationships
  • Fri 24th: Taking a landscaping your life journey
  • Sat 25th: Landscaping your success
I certainly think its time that I allow the Landscaping Your Life seed to germinate, and plant it out into the garden for all to benefit from its insight. 

Alison Smith
Head Gardener
Landscaping Your Life - making life more beautiful

Sunday, 19 May 2019


The origins of Landscaping Your Life (LYL) date back to the late 90s when I used gardens as metaphors for supplier management. Whilst I later expanded it to include all of nature’s landscapes to all of our lives we’re going back to LYL’s gardening origins this week.
As Chelsea Flower Show shares the best in garden design this week we're going to be our own garden designers designing aspects of our lives so that we may flourish and share our beauty for all to see 🌸.
Join me daily over on the Landscaping Your Life blog for vlogs, blogs, posts and insights as I visit different landscapes and explore many aspects of landscaping your life, and specifically:
  • Mon 20th: Landscaping your potential
  • Tues 21st: Landscaping your time
  • Wed 22nd: Buzzing with life
  • Thurs 23rd: Landscaping your relationships
  • Fri 24th: Taking a landscaping your life journey
  • Sat 25th: Landscaping your success
I do hope you can join me as I finally allow the Landscaping Your Life seed to germinate, and plant it out into the garden for all to benefit from its insight. 

Alison Smith
Head Gardener
Landscaping Your Life - making life more beautiful

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The Mental Health Continuum

Much like the sky has a continuum of cloud cover we all have a continuum of mental health.

Which is why my good friend Amy Macdonald at Headtorch frequently reminds us in their workshops, training and elearning that the answer to "how many of us have mental health" is

You'll find some short stories I wrote to support my own mental health over on my Landscaping Your Life blog.

Monday, 13 May 2019

We all have Mental Health

It's Mental Health Awareness Week the above video shares insight from the sea relating to our mental health.

As those at Headtorch remind everyone at their conferences, workshops and elearning the answer to "How many of us have mental health" is

Yes, we ALL have mental health, not just on bad days, not just when we’re feeling down, not just when we’re off work.

Every minute of every day of every year we have mental health - 100% of the time, 100% of us.

Mental health, that just like our physical health shifts up and down a continuum. Which means there’s different strategies needed to support our mental health dependent on where we’re at in any moment. Sometimes the strategy involves visiting the doctor, other times medication, other times talking, a walk, painting, the gym, time with friends or in nature, writing 😉 and so on. As many different strategies for mental health as there are for physical health.

Mental health awareness week is an opportunity for us ALL to consider what we can do to support our own, friends’, family’s, and colleagues’ mental health.

In previous years I’ve shared here insight from Headtorch’s conferences, explored what we can do to support suppliers’ mental health over on the Purchasing Coach blog, and written about strategies for taking care of my own mental health, and even the menopause, a time that significantly impacted my mental health.

This year I thought I’d share some short stories I’ve written. Short stories that explore different aspects of our own mental well being. Not at the very edges of the mental health continuum but of the every day thoughts and beliefs that impact our mental health. They're short stories I originally wrote as a means of reminding myself of the need to support my own mental health.

Short stories I hope you’ll enjoy - you'll find them over on my Landscaping Your Life blog  

Friday, 15 March 2019

What I do for Procurement Teams

Whilst I do work in the personal development arena, I also do a lot of coaching with Procurement teams – especially for larger organisations.

In this vlog I share a little more about the soft skills coaching I can provide to Procurement teams.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

What's your strategy for action?

What’s your strategy for refuelling your car?

Or more precisely, what’s your trigger for action?
  • Seeing the fuel indicator get to 1/2 full or perhaps a 1/4?
  • Maybe it's reframing the dial and seeing that it's 3/4 empty?
  • Hearing the alarm tell you the tank is approaching empty?
  • Filling up every Saturday morning?
  • Heading for fuel when you’ve a long journey ahead?
  • When you notice a cheap price?
  • Only when you start to feel the panic about running out of petrol?
  • When you pass your favourite petrol station (for a while I frequented one such location due to the M&S food shop on site)
  • When you stop for a comfort break
  • When waiting to pick up the kids from a class
  • Or something else entirely?
  • Perhaps it's about exploring other options instead of a petrol fuelled car - electric? taxi and/or car hire.
Are you aware of the decision making criteria that you're using to support this trigger?
  • Lowest price
  • Lowest total annual cost
  • Lowest total lifetime cost
  • Retain maximum resale value for the car
  • Managing cashflow
  • Engine friendly - which I believe supports not leaving it till the alarm has gone off as we stir the bottom of the tank!
  • Minimising disruption to your day
  • Minimising detours
  • Efficient use of time
  • Access to car 100% of time with 150 miles capacity
  • Reducing stress
  • Predictability of your schedule
Criteria that each result in a very different trigger for refuelling.

The reason I ask, is that shortly I’m headed to refuel my car using a different strategy than the one I’ve used for years. A new strategy that will I believe will reduce my stress, use my spare time efficiently, minimise detours and I understand improve the performance of the engine.
You see, I’ve always resisted refuelling the car and my strategy for years, ok decades, has been the sound of the indicator telling me I have x miles till I run out!! Little did I know, whilst using this example on a recent supplier management workshop, that in addition to helping expand delegates’ thinking about the triggers suppliers might have for taking action to avoid problems, it would help me solve my own resistance to refuelling.

Understanding the decision making criteria and arising trigger people use for action can be a very useful tool for problem solving.

For example, in the supplier relationship management workshop we were discussing complaints being received about the service provided by a supplier. A supplier who believed their service was 5* worthy, and yet user feedback suggested it was *2. Once we started to explore the criteria both parties might have for taking action, it wasn't hard to see how problems might have arisen.

Even in the LikedIn post on the subject of refuelling the car it's easy to understand how the different criteria people are using could lead to heated debates if we were needing to find one optimal strategy for fuelling the car:
  • One fueller discounting the criteria for minimising stress (ie avoid the alarm strategy),
  • Another calculating the annual saving of always buying at the lowest price, and
  • Another getting annoyed at the frequency of arriving late for meetings having had to refuel to get to their destination.
What triggers for action might be fuelling ineffective practice in your life?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach

You might also find the post about using nature as our coach for supplier relationship management interesting.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Dear Organisation, with love from Procurement xx

Dearest Organisation,

A year has passed since I first wrote to you professing my love for you, and disappointment that we weren't doing more together.

Disappointment that our main role was firefighting,


chasing the low hanging fruit,

and ignoring the elephant in the room.

The elephant in the room that time and time again contributes to getting procurement wrong - such as in these very public disasters and gets bigger every year.

The elephant in the room that means, against our better judgement, we give you what we think you want and focus on price not cost!

This year let's make a commitment - a commitment
  • to listen,
  • to communicate, 
  • to understand each other's needs, 
  • to work together,
  • to support each other,  
  • to challenge the status quo, 
  • to be the change we want to see, and 
  • do great things together
I'm in - are you?

With love from Procurement xx

For a PDF of the full letter do email me or see my LinkedIn profile - because together we can do great things.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Insight from nature applied to Supplier Management

I love my job - but you know that right?

I particularly love it when I am able to bring everything I do together into one workshop.

Last week I facilitated a 'supplier relationship management' workshop. Although we decided it should really just be entitled 'relationship management' as we acknowledged our own contribution to the relationship and outcomes we get (50:50).

I say facilitated, but perhaps the better word for it was coached, because whilst we did cover some theory and models there was also lots of discussion to help attendees to explore a subject they're already doing on a day to day basis.

Discussion that touched on coaching improved performance, rapport, influencing, developing trust, managing meetings, conflict, and rewarding great performance. 

The aim of coaching is to help people to learn something for themselves - not to be told what to think. Coaching leads to long term changes in thinking and behaving - teaching not so much - unless its supported by coaching once back in the office.

We did touch on the GROW model for coaching performance of suppliers but we also tried a number of unconventional tools (see an advent series of posts from the archives introducing many of these).

Using nature as our coach and metaphor for supplier management was one of the tools that we used on the workshop that I was very pleased with the outcome about.

Imagine the following location:

"Idyllic rural location, ideal for hiking and climbing enthusiasts. Very sociable atmosphere with guests hanging out in the evenings, live music most nights. Unobstructed and breathtaking mountain views. Ideal for single travellers" 

What landscape do you imagine as you read these words?

For IP reasons I can't share with you the image used in the workshop but if you imagine the image at the top of this post with a series of hammocks hanging across from one cliff to another you'll get the idea.

The description above, that one delegate read out to us before showing us the image, had us all imagining something very different. It was used as a reminder to ensure we have the same interpretation as our suppliers about the specification and 'spirit' of the contract.

Of course, we know this insight logically and intellectually. By using nature we're tapping into our unconscious and creative mind. Tapping in more deeply to our inner wisdom might just ensure the insight is not forgotten when we jump to blaming a supplier for not meeting our expectations. Or when we're drafting an action plan and believe the words we're using are obvious and could never get misunderstood - could they? 

Other images and insights chosen in this exercise are shown below, although again I've had to use different images. You may want to view the pictures first and consider your own insights:

What action have these images inspired you to take?

Here's what we got on the day:

All the elements coming together and getting the balance right.

Penguins take it in turns to be on the outside of a huddle and take the brunt of the wind and cold. That is, they understand that can't do it alone and need the support of the whole colony to survive.

All parts of the garden need to be nurtured - watering, feeding, weeding, pruning etc. Other wise we'll just end up with an over grown garden. Which links to many post I've written about the link between supplier and plant management.

Rather than get too distracted with the trees we need to look beyond to the bigger picture to focus on the sky and what's at the other side of the current situation. To remember where we're headed rather than get side tracked or too despondent with the current landscape.

We should be this proud of the relationship we have with our suppliers. Relationships should look calm and serene from the outside even if there's plenty going on under the water.

Back to basics - we can only squeeze so much.

And one image that reflects another insight from the session was - that too much noise can dilute the message you're trying to make and you can lose the clarity both parties need in order to work effectively together. Which is why it's important to not over use the word "urgent" (but that's another post for another day!).

What did you notice as you read this post - what thoughts came to mind that might provide a different perspective on a situation you're facing at the moment?

I'd love to discuss how I may coach your team on any aspect of category management, or supplier management adding in or focusing exclusively on the very important aspects of emotional intelligence and creativity.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
+44 (0)7770 538159

For a wider use of nature as your coach see my Landscaping Your Life blog and also my book Can't see the wood for the trees aimed at helping you get back on track when you're stuck in a rut, up a creek without a paddle, going round in circles, are out on a limb, feel like a fish out of water or can't see the wood for the trees.