Be the 25% - Procurement Change

Guest post:

Procurement, like any function, company and industry, is challenged to change right now. The old cost-cutter one trick pony enforcing stale policies and still trying to figure out how to create an effective operational underbelly and treating relationships with internal and external stakeholders just like transactions, is still very much a reality.

As a Procurement professional, you may be lucky to work for a company that has already "got it" and is driving something more radical, with leaders committed to it and feeling truly in charge. But more often than not, change, despite the writing on the wall that only the agile will survive, the organization changes at glacial pace. If it's big and in a heavily regulated or more traditional industry, change may feel more impossible even. Even as a CPO, those around may not get why a function often seen as auxiliary should need to be prioritized for change.

A recent study published in Science found, that the critical mass in any group to effect change is 25%. If you work for a company of 100’000 people, that would be a massive 25k. This seems impossible, even if you were the CEO. So if you work for a large (Procurement) organization, how can you be the 25% to successfully pivot change:

-       Select a group or several groups where you alone or the group willing to fight for change with you constitutes 25%.

-       In the mini version, this is a group of four, including you. And you’re the change.

-       Select a group that is diverse in some way. This ensures you have to be straight with your message and are not tempted to just kowtow a single agenda

-       Select seniority and professional scope of the 75% carefully to match the change you want to drive

-       Be prepared to face challenge and stand up to it

-       This doesn’t necessarily mean a fancy power point or waiting until you have every credential under the sun. But make sure you’re ready

-       Also, be ready to face consequence if it goes wrong. The 25% alone does not guarantee success.

-       Prepare for your next group to change if you succeed. In a large organization, you’re unlikely to just have to talk to one group

-        Maybe you find someone in your original group to come along this time

-       Don’t get overly obsessed with the exact number of 25%. Yes the study says it, but then it’s just a study…

- And: only do it if you truly believe what you say, not if it's just a means to an end. 

Pushing change faster than the organization would otherwise like to go, requires courage but also preparation. It’s not about the perfect TED talk or extremely specific detail, but you need to tell a story that can resonate. Speak calmly, but firmly and confidently. Don’t get side tracked into answering too many detailed questions. Speak to the micro and macro level of why change is needed – why does the individual in the organization need it and why the organization as a whole. And you need to make it clear, that you want to work with and not against the 75% as well, especially if you don’t have a strong lever. Have a vision, but be somewhat flexible in how to achieve it. 

The change you try to drive could be a specific change in an area, say you’d believe that your Procurement organization is behind the curve on digitization and needs to quickly step up its game to keep delivering Procurement value with specific measures around P2P transformation for example. Or it could be something more abstract which involves several or all parts of the organization.

Act with speed, but also take time to read a lot and gather ideas from different sources, different industries and maybe from functions outside of Procurement. Verbal, visual and written sources from different disciplines. Today’s challenges, despite much advice around education focussing on the very specific and practical disciplines like engineering or accountancy, require broader thinking which could involve elements of philosophy, psychology, game theory, design or pop culture. Don’t just use popular clichés and if you do, use them tongue in cheek or you risk sounding like a major event of bullshit bingo…

Finally, stop thinking that you were always the 25%. Really, you were too scared and not ready many times. You were part of the 75% that resisted change or didn’t know how to make it happen many times. So remember and honour those that were part of the 25% that eventually pushed you to act, from the most distant to the most recent, from personal to professional connections. And be grateful for the advice, mentorship, love and support you got to dare to be the 25%. 

Oh yes, and if you totally mess up or the 75% turn out to defy the expectation, be prepared for plan B, C, D... If you dare to be the 25% you'll be fine either way.