Can Purchasing Bootstrap and Lead the Transformation of An Organization?

By Dr. Tom DePaoli

Purchasing’s role in an organization touches across many departments, suppliers, countries, and competitors. This situation requires that purchasing professionals possess excellent communication skills and the ability to quickly adapt to different cultures, perspectives and crises.

Transforming your own organization’s culture is a grueling challenge. Expecting purchasing to “bootstrap” or use its own resources rather than external help, in organizational transformation, is a demanding goal. Purchasing, however, has many of the qualities and capabilities to act as the prime catalyst for this quest.

In fact many, purchasing organizations have radically changed or reengineered themselves from traditional clerical type organizations. The supply management or supply chain concept is rapidly becoming the norm. This type of change was monumental and transformative.

Could purchasing pull the bootstrap off? Most would say highly unlikely, but below are some tactics that could lay the groundwork or accelerate a successful transformation of an organization. Many have been previously used to transform purchasing into supply management.

One of the best ways is by breaking down department silos by involving diverse cross-functional teams in sourcing decisions. Including internal and external customers in as many decisions as possible is a sound empowerment tactic that pays off dramatically. Teamwork in such efforts deepens the understanding of participating employees in the overall purchasing cycle, and helps imbed the concept of total cost of ownership.

Incorporating grassroots efforts to ask internal customers what they want to help simplify purchasing transactions is another powerful tool. People usually appreciate colleagues who try to make their jobs easier and are not afraid of criticism. Making all transactions pain free, fast and intuitive is a strong way to increase value of and improve respect for purchasing. Acquiring strong base business knowledge for purchasing, by working side-by-side with production and sales, both improves product knowledge and enhances purchasing professionals’ credibility and business perspective. This helps expand the understanding of the voice of the paying customer.

Marketing the importance of purchasing and the supply chain with visible metrics creates a clear focus that others appreciate. Purchasing has to aggressively market its importance to the organization and develop a formal internal marketing plan of its goals.

Crafting a long-range purchasing plan that aligns with the organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan helps to justify purchasing’s efforts to the rest of the organization. Communicating with as many colleagues on a one-on-one basis should be especially encouraged. This gives purchasing professionals a chance to make their pitch to as many folks as possible and develop strong relationships.

Conducting training and inviting people from other departments to participate helps sell purchasing’s goals and metrics. Vital feedback can be obtained on the usefulness of purchasing systems and procedures in such sessions.

Finally, but most important, developing leadership skills and practicing leadership in groups is a good long-term skill-building course of action for all of purchasing. Most experts agree that one skilled leader can turn an organization around. Purchasing needs to be ready with leadership skills to help lead or encourage the organizational transformation process.

Any department would face and probably fail at the nearly impossible task of bootstrap transformation of an organization. Purchasing however would be the best place to start the transformation quest and develop the passionate and powerful leaders required to execute it.

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