Come and lie on my couch


A few years ago, I went for some counselling sessions and met with the psychologist, nice guy, and he started off with asking me some random questions such as: Why are you here? What do you expect to get out of these sessions? Who are you?

He did not like my answer…I replied with a qualifying question: “Who do you want to talk to? I have about 10 different personalities who are dying to talk to you and have all different objectives for being here so shout?” He looked worried and just asked me one further question: “ Do you talk to them? And I advised him: “ Not only do I talk to them, they talk to each other and most of the time, we are having a great time, great conversations and lots of challenges but we do get along but maybe that is not for our first session?”…. He uttered: Ok, this is not a healthy situation…

This story might worry you a little bit too… I get it, however I would put it to you that you too have these internal conversations with yourself(ves): you make decisions 1,000 times a day and it depends on the different priorities on that moment, in that hour, for that day, week, month, year that you pick your best possible decision, it depends on what voice in your head or your heart is shouting the loudest.

In an ideal world, Procurement professionals deal with these decisions every day and this is not an internal conversation, but always an external one, as we are facilitators in a real competitive environment where data has become king but trust is divine. We are the interpreters of our internal and external stakeholders who put different demands on us to deliver, the facilitators of the trade game, the referees that need to whistle when one of the players is offside. And sometimes, we are the ones who are offside and we need to be curtailed too. Procurement professionals are – redistributing a lot of money, and getting the decision, the facilitation, the interpretation, the delivery wrong, can cost any procurement professional and his company dearly.

Two things, this decision- making process has in common:

Firstly, it is always about people, people playing with people, selling to people, buying from people. All the modern technology tools of the digital world will not change that, in fact, it makes the ”whites of one’s eyes” even more important. And let’s be honest, pretending that one tool is better than the other is just arrogant. The chosen tool needs to fit the purpose of the brief, nothing more or less, the best value delivery against the objectives should always be the main driver in the choice of tool, it is the people who use it, (or abuse it), that are the differentiators in this process.

Secondly, every game, every play, every competition has rules, rules of engagement, rules of do’s and don’ts, rules that you need to obey, and if you don’t, there are consequences, you are ruled out, you get a yellow card, you lose your queen, the other is being favored. You lose, you are in negative balance, you have a lost sale, you made the wrong decisions, you picked the wrong side, you are penalized.

We as procurement professionals, in-house or outsourced, we can not do the right things and doing it right if we don’t believe and practice the below simple rules and play our role:

  • It is about understanding, qualifying and validating these demands from all your stakeholders and challenging them on all the reasons why and even more the questions why not? Before we can follow the right process to excel as trusted advisors of the decision, we need to know what our customer needs, what he wants, what his walk away minima are and what his utopia is. All these scenario’s of demands are necessary.

  • It is about researching the market, knowing what the supply base can and can not offer, and sometimes thinking outside the box to be able to deliver in the box. It is about knowing the service, product, category, competition, offering, future and past. It is about being or becoming subject, category-matter experts. We are procurement professionals, we have the expertise to lead if you are willing and able to follow the yellow brick road.

  • And last but not least, it is not following the process that will give you the right decision, it is following the process with the right intentions. The selection criteria for the decision and their relative importance to the overall outcome can not be underestimated at all. And how much we want to have the decision quantified, rationalized, analyzed and validated by data, there is always that element of subjectivity, emotionality, likes and beliefs involved that can not be put in a matrix, in a box, on an excel file or a PowerPoint presentation – it is the trust building criteria, the passion you can transfer from your company to theirs, the vision and values you stand for, the people you put forward to over-deliver. It is where the supplier’s value matches the buyers intent. It is where people come towards each other in an equal way, they blend their visions and become change collaborators for the betterment of both parties. I wish I could bottle it, no, I would not be rich, we all would be richer. As R. Satoro says: “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”

We are all actors in a wonderful play in which your rational or emotional decisions will determine the end, before the curtain falls; we are all pieces on a chessboard that either we have in hand or we have to capitulate; we are all players in a team sport and the competition is simultaneously ruthless and personable, fair and unfair; we are all big kids in the playground and some of us are bullies and most of us are not.

Let’s be clear: we are all people dealing with people and I believe that what is true in real life, is as much true in business: “Givers get” (thanks Phil). We all benefit when we take advantage of our cooperative and collaborative natures; let’s all become change collaborators in our respective worlds and guess what? We will all be winners in that play of life.


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