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Monday, 24 April 2017

How to use one of the Soft Skills Postcards

"How do we use the Soft Skills postcards?" was one question arising from a discussion about the newly launched Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit.

The toolkit contains a series of postcards written to Procurement from a selection of Soft Skills - there's been a couple of blogs to give you a flavour so far - one on Change Management and one on Emotions.

As with any of the unconventional tools I use in my coaching or training there's always a positive intention behind using them. ALWAYS.

In this instance the postcards have been written with the aim of starting a conversation about Soft Skills - what are they? what do they help you achieve? what are the implications of not using a Soft Skill well or at all? how is your relationship with them currently helping or hindering you? what does good look like? what about not so good? what steps might you want to take to develop a particular Soft Skill more fully? when will you take those steps? how will you check the outcome or impact of those actions? and so on.

The postcards just provide these discussions with a different perspective or two.

Let's consider the postcard sent to Procurement from Change Management:

POSTCARD

Dear Procurement,

In preparation for the launch of the Hays Procurement Salary Guide and Insights 2017 we were looking at the insights from 2016. Unfortunately I'm not sure it was such a good idea, as we ended up being very upset to see that only 46% of those participating thought Change Management was an important skill, where as 80% thought Communication and Soft Skills were.

Ignoring the semantics of whether Change Management is a soft skill, we're a little puzzled by the outcome. To that end, we've invited Problem Resolution and Creativity over for a meal during the week to help explore what we could be doing differently to raise awareness of how much of what Procurement does involves Change Management.

If you're putting in place a new system, a new process or wanting a wider set of KPIs we're involved. If you're changing suppliers we're involved both internally and externally. If you're developing sourcing, category or relationship strategies were involved. We're also involved if you're wanting to implement or roll out a new contract. In short there's very little of what you do that doesn't include us.

We agree Communication and Influencing skills are great, but how you use them is informed by what you're wanting to do, and if that involves change then there's other factors at play that you need to be aware of before you can decide on a communication or influencing strategy.

It would seem we need to adopt some of our own models to help you change your views about what we're saying. We may need to go back and review the different words we use to depict change.

We look forward to making the journey with you, so that together we can truly transform organisational Procurement.  

With Love from Change Management 

The aim of the Postcard is to provide some food for thought about your relationship with Change Management.

Questions you may want to consider or, if you're working in a group, might discuss or explore include:
  • What is change management? 
  • What other words are used instead of change management? 
  • Does the choice of word have an impact on the recipient of the words? is that impact positive or negative?
  • What are the different models of change management? When would you use them? 
  • What procurement activity does change management apply to? What activities would it not apply to?
  • What are the implications or ignoring change management?
  • What elements of change management do you need to consider before developing a communication or influencing strategy?
  • What will you do to develop this skill further? 
Hopefully this example has given you a sense of just how useful these postcards could be as personal or team prompts to develop soft skills within your organisation.

Always happy to help with coaching, training, facilitation or development of a (conventional or unconventional) soft skills programme.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking Procurement Potential Using Unconventional Tools.

alison@alisonsmith.eu +44(0)7770 538159

How to buy, and more about the Purchasing Soft Skills Toolkit here.

© Alison Smith 2017

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Dear Procurement, with love from your Emotions


POSTCARD 

Dear Procurement,

Like many emotions the timing of this card could be better.

Here we are just starting to let the world know about the series of postcards from your Soft Skills, and we're already writing about emotions! At least Change Management managed to get a word in first yesterday.

That's emotions for you - they're not exactly the thing you can predict nor manage - excitement can just come upon you with no advance warning, so too despondency.

The reason for the card today is because we went to Falkirk at the weekend and saw this, and felt it was such a great image to represent your emotions.

Yes of course, we could have waited a while before sending the postcard, but wouldn't we just be doing what it's too easy to do, and hold back emotions just like the lock gates in the postcard.  

What's your relationship like with your emotions? Who has responsibility for and access to the keys to open the lock gates to release the emotions being held back?

Just a thought!

With love from your Emotions

For more on the Dear Procurement, with love from your Soft Skills Purchasing Coach Toolkit see here. A more generic version entitled Dear Human Being, with love from your Soft Skills is also available here.

Follow the link to a post providing an example of how to use the postcards to develop you or your team's Soft Skills.
© Alison Smith 2017

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Dear Procurement, with love from Change Management

POSTCARD
Dear Procurement,

In preparation for the launch of the Hays Procurement Salary Guide and Insights 2017 we were looking at the insights from 2016. Unfortunately I'm not sure it was such a good idea, as we ended up being very upset to see that only 46% of those participating thought Change Management was an important skill, where as 80% thought Communication and Soft Skills were.

Ignoring the semantics of whether Change Management is a soft skill, we're a little puzzled by the outcome. To that end, we've invited Problem Resolution and Creativity over for a meal during the week to help explore what we could be doing differently to raise awareness of how much of what Procurement does involves Change Management.

If you're putting in place a new system, a new process or wanting a wider set of KPIs we're involved. If you're changing suppliers we're involved both internally and externally. If you're developing sourcing, category or relationship strategies were involved. We're also involved if you're wanting to implement or roll out a new contract. In short there's very little of what you do that doesn't include us.

We agree Communication and Influencing skills are great, but how you use them is informed by what you're wanting to do, and if that involves change then there's other factors at play that you need to be aware of before you can decide on a communication or influencing strategy.

It would seem we need to adopt some of our own models to help you change your views about what we're saying. We may need to go back and review the different words we use to depict change.

We look forward to making the journey with you, so that together we can truly transform organisational Procurement.    

With Love from Change Management 


The above image is one of the postcards sent to Procurement from Change Management. Where ever they go Change Management always seem to end up having to deal with the stick in the muds, as they shared in the postcard included in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit: Dear Procurement, with love from your Soft Skills! 

The toolkit includes a selection of postcards sent to Procurement from a number of their Soft Skills. Their aim is to engage procurement in a discussion about how to use Soft Skills more effectively. Yesterday's post was an introductory postcard, tomorrow's post is a postcard from your emotions. Follow the link to a post providing an example of how to use the postcards to develop you or your team's Soft Skills.

To buy the toolkit please see the right hand side of the screen, or follow this link where you'll also find out more about the toolkit, and about bespoke versions of the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that can be developed to meet organisational or professional needs. (A variant entitled Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills has been developed, and is also available and applicable to a wider audience.)

There's also a few vlogs that provide insight into how a different perspective provided by the postcards might help.
© Alison Smith 2017

Friday, 21 April 2017

Dear Procurement, with love from your Soft Skills

POSTCARD

Dear Procurement,

Like this iceberg we saw on a recent trip to Greenland there's more to Soft Skills than meets the eye.

To understand more about whether your Soft Skills are hindering or helping you achieving your goals requires you to bring those very skills into your conscious awareness. To help support you in doing this, we've brought together a series of postcards written to you from a selection of your Soft Skills.

For instance your Values and Communication went to the beach and enjoyed reflecting on the different motivations they had for what they did whilst they were there. Rapport went to Buckingham Palace, but as they looked for common ground they ended up sending a picture of the sky! Language went to the Kelpies, and Change Management went on a bit of a busman's holiday, and sent you a picture of a stick in the mud!

We hope you'll agree that, whilst potentially unconventional, they're a very effective means of providing different perspectives to skills that are often taken for granted, ignored or even abused!

We certainly hope you'll enjoy reading what we got up to on our holidays, and what insight we shared with you to help you develop your use of us more fully.

EnJOY

With Love from your Soft Skills

There are examples of the postcards in posts from Change Management, and another from your emotions. Follow the link to a post providing an example of how to use the postcards to develop you or your team's Soft Skills.

To buy the toolkit containing a selection of postcards for personal use please see the right hand side of the screen, or follow this link where you'll also find out more about them, and about bespoke versions of the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that can be developed to meet organisational or professional needs. (A variant entitled Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills has been developed and is also available applicable to a wider audience.)

Do get in touch if you're interested in discussing costs and rights to reproduce for organisational use. alison@alisonsmith.eu

There's also a few vlogs that might help give you insight into the different perspective provided by these postcards.

© Alison Smith 2017

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Is your communication clear?

How often have you vented your frustration because someone has misunderstood something you've asked them to do, or got confused about the data you've sent them? It's easily done, especially when we think what we've communicated is clear and unambiguous. And it is - for us.

When communicating with others however it's useful to remember we don't all think the same. It's just like the difference between the iphone and android phones, or a Mac and PC - to make them all do the same thing we might have to press very different buttons. 

What we need to do to achieve the outcome we want only becomes clear therefore when we understand the operating model that the device is working to. It's only then that we'll understand that pressing a certain sequence of buttons means we get what we expect rather than the opposite.

The Met office weather app is a great example of this - although it's me, the receiver of the communication, who's frustrated and not the Met Office.

Which of the following views do you think it easier to understand? 


I suspect your answer will depend on a number of factors:
  • Preference to view the data in smaller chunks rather than assimilate all the info at once 
  • Preference for visuals rather than data
  • Preference for vertical presentation of sequential data (top to bottom, left to right) rather than horizontal presentation (left to right, bottom to top)
  • Preference for black or white background
  • Current design of the diary they use every day - which is how they're used to visualising time - ie mine is: Days - left to right, Time - top to bottom in both electronic and paper formats.
  • Length of time you've been using the view in question  
  • and so on
As I wrote the list I realise being happy with the left hand option for years is making it difficult for me transition to the new look. I also find the sheer volume of data on the right confusing. The biggest factor that my brain is finding hardest to assimilate though, is to look to the bottom of the page to pick a time to then look up for the forecast! Perhaps if I persist I may start to find meaning in the data - currently it just might as well be in a different language and I could cry with frustration. I'm certainly looking for alternate weather apps with views that meet my preferred means of taking info in.

This is such a great example of what could happen every time we communicate. Like the Met Office I'm sure we think our message is clear and unambiguous, and as we understand the message so will the other person. I'm sure many many people will - just like I'm sure many Met Office app users are finding the new visual presentation helpful. However, sometimes, we might just have chosen to present to our stakeholder using a means that is counter to their preferred means of making sense of the data. Which will certainly make it much harder, if not impossible, for them to understand what we're telling them. 

Despite MS's best efforts when we move powerpoint documents between Mac, PC, Iphone, ipad and android we do lose some of the message. Next time you're getting frustrated with your stakeholder about a misunderstanding therefore, you may want to consider if their communication preferences might explain the misunderstanding, and what you can do to plug the gap in their understanding. 

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal and procurement potential using unconventional tools

Communication is one of the postcards included in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that brings together a series of postcards from your soft skills - it's entitled Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills. More here.



Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Alignment of organisational values and procurement behaviours

I remember having a conversation with a supplier’s lawyer who said “we’ve never agreed to doing that” in response to something their MD had very much agreed to. The lawyer even went so far as to say “We’d be mad to agree to doing that.”

When I tell the story about the supplier and buyer taking equal ownership and responsibility for a new additional cost for delivering the service – a cost they could both impact in the future – the solution we developed is often described as fair, or acting with integrity.

When I look up the organisational values of the supplier I find integrity, and doing the right thing - is in fact one of their stated values.

That’s what organisational values are supposed to do – provide some criteria for the behaviours we demonstrate, and decisions we make every day. Not just aspirations, or when things are going well, or for the soft stuff. Values that inform every decision, every day of the year, year in and year out. (It’s certainly how our own personal values work.)

In the case of this supplier the “we’ve never done that before” behaviour was certainly demonstrating doing the right thing.

Do you understand how procurement actions align with your organisation’s values? Are procurement’s actions encompassed in the values statements? 

One company that has included procurement in their values statements is Whole Foods.

On first looking it feels little aspirational and out there, with their higher purpose statement being:

“With great courage, integrity and love – we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities and our planet can flourish. All the while, celebrating the sheer love and joy of food.

Dig a little deeper, and they have identified a business value that addresses procurement behaviours;

Whole Foods say “Our supplier partners are our allies in serving the interests of our other stakeholders in bringing to market the safest highest quality products available. We treat them with respect, fairness and integrity at all times and expect the same in return.”

I could ask what happens to suppliers who are not partners, but that feels petty when they then go on to identify four behaviours Whole Foods Procurement can be expected to demonstrate:
  •          Honesty and communication
  •          Transparency - farm to fork
  •          Education (of the supply chain)
  •          Innovation and differentiation
How do your actions align with the stated values of your organisation?

If we take common values seen in many organisations, would you agree, and perhaps more importantly, would your suppliers agree that your actions are:
  •          Open
  •          Honest
  •          Respectful
  •          Fair
  •          Integrous
If you used these five criteria each day to determine what you do and how you do it, and also what you choose not to do, would it change how you act?

Last year I was delivering a workshop to a room full of suppliers who said procurement were still like MrWolf. I’d like to think that that’s just the minority of procurement professionals. What do you think? Have we moved with the times, or are we still stuck with behaviours that feel a little like the dark ages, and misaligned from the rest of our organisations? It certainly might explain some of the stakeholder resistance many of us talk about when expressing frustration at the lack of support for our strategies and work.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking procurement potential using unconventional tools

Values and Behaviours are two of the postcards included in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that brings together a series of postcards from your soft skills - it's entitled Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills. More here.


Monday, 27 March 2017

Why all maps are wrong

Understanding the following concept 17 years ago resulted in my stakeholders saying I was easier to deal with - and me thinking they were!
The world map is a great analogy that demonstrates what we're doing all the time when we're developing our own world view & beliefs.

The video explores different projections of the Earth and mirrors what we're doing every day of our lives - making our own projection of what we see, hear, feel and understand, and storing that map believing it to be the truest projection available.

It's no wonder misunderstandings occur when we realise we're all using different projections.

17 years ago understanding that how I saw the world was only my projection/perception of it meant the words and tone I used changed, and as a result made my communication easier to hear. No longer where people told that my world view was right. Instead a world view was offered for them to make sense of from their own world view. Common ground was then found, and relationships much more harmonious as a result.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking procurement potential often using unconventional tools

Communication is one of the postcards included in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that brings together a series of postcards from your soft skills - it's entitled Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills. More here.





Wednesday, 22 March 2017

No one is a 100% brick wall

"It's just talking to brick wall" They said

"What would you do if they were a brick wall?" I asked
You have to be careful what you say in front me - especially if you're describing a situation you're wanting more insight on, or wondering what to do next about.

I have a belief, that the words we use to describe challenges we're facing also contain the solution.

You might be thinking you're stuck when you use the words "they're like a brick wall", but what happens if those very words contain the solution too?

This is the 11th in a series of blogs applying unconventional tools to procurement and business challenges. Each post is given an unconventionalness score out of 10 to give you a sense of how far from conventional thinking the post might take you. Some guiding principles are also available to help you get the most from these posts.

I'll repeat the premise of this post:

If you're describing someone as being like a brick wall - those very words will also contain the solution.

To make the most from this exploration think of a situation you feel like you're talking to a brick wall about, and identify a score out of 10 on how satisfied you feel about the situation, and another score out of 10 on how you feel about the current solutions that are available.

There's two different ways we can use the words to get a different perspective on the situation. The first is a 3/10 on the unconventional scale, and the second is an 8/10. Not unsurprisingly, let's start with the 1st perspective.

1. What would you do if you did really have a brick a wall in front of you. 

In reality if we were really just trying to talk to a brick wall we'd at best laugh, and rush away quickly wondering why we even thought that was a good idea. Alcohol might be involved too !?!

I'd suggest therefore that what we're really saying is there's a brick wall between us and the other person ie if the brick wall wasn't there we'd be able to talk to them?

Which means the words we're using are saying it's the brick wall we need to remove.

As with any metaphorical exploration we need to put the real situation to the back of our mind as we explore the metaphor - we'll come back to real life strategies once we've finished with the metaphor.

If there was real wall in-front of us how would we get around it:
  • Walk around it
  • Climb it
  • Jump it
  • Hop over it
  • Find a door in the wall and open that and walk through it
  • Use a ladder to help us climb it
  • Fly over it
  • Glide over it
  • Hammer holes in it
  • Tunnel under it
  • Grow ivy up it to help us climb it
  • Be catapulted over it
  • We could knock it down
  • or drive a car through it! (not the most safe choice it has to be said)
We could spend more time getting more ideas, and the more people the merrier to help because as with any creative session be get ideas from hearing other people's ideas, and sometimes you have to wade through the obvious first before the more creative ideas emerge.

The aim is to identify all the different ways of getting around a wall. Like we did in the post where we said we felt like we were talking to a brick wall because people ignore experts, we then need to take all these ideas and see what they mean in reality. Which would start to look like the following list:
  • Ignoring the silence and keeping talking (walking around it)
  • Trying to understand the reason for the silence - ie get a different perspective (flying over it)
You may think flying over the walls would mean a totally different solution and that's perfectly fine. The premise of all of these tools is to allow the part of you that does have access to solutions to provide them to you. Which means our brains will each go off at different tangents, and all suggestions are good suggestions. We can always decide which ones make most sense later.

You may also have already tried some of these ideas - this is just a different technique to more conventional ways of getting a longer list of potential options.
  • Trying different strategies to motivate the other person (find a door through it)
  • Asking for help from others to win the person over (put a ladder up it)
  • Learning new skills to help convince the other person (jump over it)
  • Not trying to do it all at once and take one step at a time (grow ivy up it)
  • Addressing all the reservations the other person has (knock it down)
  • Trying different communication methods (hammer holes in it)
We could keep going, it would certainly be easier if there was a few of us doing this together.

Do you get a sense that by doing this you could discover the one strategy that would make a difference and remove the wall between you and the other person? After all by using the words "It's like I'm talking to a brick wall" I could surmise you've sort of given up. Easy to do in the circumstances I'm sure, but along with it comes the "I've tried everything", "they're just resistant" and a spiral down into a belief it's impossible to change. By using metaphor we ignore the reasons for thinking it's impossible and remind ourselves, via the metaphor, of why it might just be possible.

Do you remember your scores from the start, as you reflect on the above ideas and any suggestions you came up with as your read mine what's your score out of 10 on how satisfied you now feel about the situation, and your score on how you feel about the current solutions that are available?

Now for something completely different - option 2.

2. Change the image you've got of the wall that's in-front of you

Remember this is going to be a 8/10 on the unconventionalness score so you may want to refresh your memory of the guiding principles for getting the most out of this series of posts. which includes staying open to new ideas, playing lightly, allowing yourself to go down the tangents your mind presents, and noticing what you notice.

The premise of this option is that it's our own perception of the situation that is getting in the way of finding a solution - the brick wall is of our making not the other person. (In NLP speak we're going to explore the submodalities you have for the metaphor you're using to describe the situation.)

It's similar to all those occasions when you'd been struggling with a problem for hours, days or even weeks and a friend or colleague comes along and tells you what they'd do, and you say " Why didn't I think of that?"

You didn't think of that solution because of a variety of factors:
  • Values 
  • Beliefs 
  • Assumptions
  • Judgements
  • Past history
  • Relationship with the other person 
  • State of mind and body
  • Personal preferences 
  • and so on
It's as if in this case each of these factors are the bricks in the wall we've constructed between us and the other person. Although, you'll be glad to know that to find a solution you don't need to logically understand what these bricks mean in reality nor how they got there, just be able to visualise the brick wall!

To make the most from this exploration please do think of a situation you feel like you're talking to a brick wall about, and identify a score out of 10 on how satisfied you feel about the situation, and another score out of 10 on how you feel about the current solutions that are available.

Let me ask you - that brick wall that you said you were talking to - could you describe it?
  • How high is it
  • How wide and long is it
  • What is is made of 
  • How far in-front of you is it - or perhaps it's off the side of you, above or even below you
  • What colour is it - or is in black and white
  • Is it in or out of focus
  • What about the contrast between colours
  • Is is a picture or are you in it as if it's there in front of you
  • Is there anything to notice about the top of the wall, or the bottom, or the middle 
Stick with me - it's an 8/10 but it's a very effective tool for unlocking situations. Also remember its okay to only know the answer to 1, 0 or all of the questions I'm asking - no right or wrong just a different way of exploring the situation.
  • Are there any sounds associated with the wall (perhaps it has a sound track, or the wind makes a noise as it blows around it) are they loud, soft, from a specific instrument or direction? 
  • Or perhaps it's more about feelings - what about the temperature of the wall?
  • What's the weather like by your wall - if it has one
  • Is there anything else that you think would be helpful when you describe the wall between you and the other person?
  • Are you seeing the wall through your eyes or can you see yourself as if in a picture?   
The theory suggests that if the current internal representation you have for the situation means you're stuck, then making changes to it might help shift the situation. (We're doing this all the time unconsciously when we change our minds about anything, we're just using the process very consciously to help us.)

The idea now is to make changes to your image of the wall and notice what happens
  • The size, shape, height etc
  • The location or distance from you 
One change that often makes a difference is distance and size - ie zooming your image of the wall out far into the distance so it's very small. You could even bring it back as something totally different that's more helpful - a bench for you both to sit on perhaps?  
If anything negatively impacts how you're feeling just change the representation back to where you started.

The key is trying out the suggested changes to your own representation - it won't work if you logically read the list, and then decide "this won't work" . Try it and notice what you notice. Remember it's 8/10, and so I don't use it that often, and it won't work for everyone. For example there are some clients I would never use this tool with, and apologies if you might just be one of those clients, and thank you for persisting and reading the post.

Continue to review the first list of questions to understand what changes you might want to try.
  • The colour or no colour
  • The level of focus and contrast 
  • The sounds - on or off, up or down
  • Temperature up or down or off
  • Different weather or time of day (trust me this can make a huge difference) or year
  • Add or change the sound track  
  • Move where you're located with respect to the wall
Keep going until you have an internal representation that looks, sounds, and/or feels different, with new solutions starting to emerge.  

If that last exploration wasn't absurd enough, and it's certainly easier to do when being guided in person rather than here in the post, absurdity and laughter can also help shift something if the solution is being a little resistant to emerge. 

Let's therefore go a little more playful with the changes that we make: 
  • What happens if the bricks are made of marshmallow, or
  • We fix a hot air balloon to it and it floats the wall away :-), or
  • Blow it up with air, and let it float away all by itself 
  • Make it a rainbow wall, or
  • Dissolve the bricks, or 
  • Make the ground very muddy under the wall so it falls down it self, or
  • Give it bouncy castle like walls 
  • And so on. 
The more absurd the better, anything to jolt the current way of thinking from one track onto to another.

Once you've had a play with all these ideas go back to those scores you had for the situation. As you reflect on the above and any changes you made to the visual representation you had of the wall what's your score out of 10 on how satisfied you now feel about the situation, and your score on how you feel about the current solutions that are available?

I can't say what scores you've got after reading this post I just know having used this process with 'oos of clients for over 17 years that many of you will have noticed a positive difference, and will as a result have identified some actions to progress the situation that were previously eluding you. (It is however always easier to help you do this in person.)

I hope this has given you food for thought on how the language we use, and the way we think about a situation can contribute to our ability to find solutions. Changing either the language or our internal representation can unlock what ever blocks we've had to accessing the solutions. The index of blogs has many other examples of applying unconventional tools to our language and beliefs - with many 2-3 / 10 too.

Do get in touch if you'd be interested in coaching, facilitation or training, whether using these unconventional tools applied to challenges you're facing, or more conventional soft/people skills training. An earlier post described the outcome from a team building day I facilitated some years ago.

I do also provide category management and supplier management training and coaching too, directly or as an associate via other procurement consultancies (and I am always open to discussions about being an associate, partner or collaborator with others too) alison@alisonsmith.eu +44 (0)7770 538159

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools 

Hypertext links take you to posts on the subject highlighted.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Standing in their shoes

“What would happen if a relationship in your life was significantly improved? What would the benefits be?”

Consider your own answer to that question for a moment – personally, departmentally, organisationally?

“Would you be willing to do what it takes to obtain that improvement?” 

More here on a Linkedin article written today on standing in the shoes of other people to help find resolution to often long standing issues.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal and procurement potential using unconventional tools

Collaboration is one of the postcards included in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that brings together a series of postcards from your soft skills - it's entitled Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills. More here.


Monday, 20 March 2017

Improving team relations

"Wow - team communication is noticeably much better since the session" said one CPO after a workshop I'd facilitated.

Yesterday I shared the outcome of a workshop where a procurement team were invited to consider how they were setback by arrogance. Use of some unconventional tools allowed the team members to give themselves advice about how their language and behaviours might be getting in the way of them positively influencing their stakeholders (follow the link to find out more).

One of the other agenda items was on communication preferences - on face value something that's fairly straight forward:
  • We all have different preferences on how we take information in, process it and make decisions. 
Not so easy to adapt our style though when we often think other people just need the same information as we do. It's simply too easy to think our stakeholders will need the same perspective of the info that we find interesting or enlightening, or will understand the information to the same level of detail that excites us, in the same format that pushes our buttons, etc.

If other people in our lives are like a door - then understanding between us and them can only be achieved if we can open the door.
You only have to think therefore about all the doors you've opened since leaving home this morning to realise how making an assumption that one size key fits all is ludicrous - with respect to opening doors and therefore, by implication, when communicating with others.
  • Pull back the bolt
  • Turn the key(s)
  • Push up the gate lock
  • Car door released when the key was in proximity of the car
  • Or pressing the 'door open' button on the key fob (not as I can do when tired and press the door lock button!)
  • Or if you went by bus - you had to put your hand out to stop the bus to get on, or press the bell for the driver to stop and open the door for you
  • Or if on a train press the top button
  • or is it the bottom button
  • Hover the electronic pass over a sensor for the car park
  • Push the revolving door 
  • Press the lift button for it to open, then push the floor level button to get the lift door to open/close
  • Push or pull the office door - with handle or not
  • Or use an entry 4 digit code, or thumb print or retinal scan (I may be going a little far with that)
  • and so on
There will be as many ways to open a door as communication preferences those you're wishing to influence will have such as:
  • Detailed & specific/global & big picture
  • Visual/Words/diagrams
  • Benefits you'll be getting (toward /the carrot)/ things you'll be leaving behind (away/the stick)
  • Motivators of achievement/affiliation/influence
  • Options/ procedures
  • Sameness/ difference
  • Primary interest: people/place/thing/activity/information  
  • Matching/mismatching
  • Proactive/reactive
Other strategies we need to consider might include someone's
  • Frame of reference - do they need others to tell them what to do - or do they only listen to what they want to do
  • Decision making: looks right, sounds right, feels right or makes sense
  • Relationship to time: in time/ through time
  • Learning styles: activist/reflector/theorist/pragmatist
  • Convincer strategy: the type of information needed to do this (see it/hear it/do it with them/read about it) + the process we adopt to be convinced: automatic/x times/y period of time/ consistency   
  • Response to stress: feeling/choice/thinking
  • and so on and so on
If you're familiar with Bolton & Bolton, DISC, Insights, Myers Briggs and other personality profiling tools, these each in their own way try to pull the above individual preferences into some common stereotypes offering a continuum of preferences which might include:
  • Judging/perceiving
  • Sensing/intuiting 
  • Thinking/Feeling
  • Introverted/extroverted
  • Assertive/unassertive
  • People/Task 
  • Cooperativeness/Assertiveness
It was one such preference the CPO had that made the biggest difference to team communication after the workshop.
  • Time required to make a decision
The CPO was unable to make a decision unless they had time to weigh up the information - so sending the information ahead of a meeting, preferably allowing it to sink in over night, resulted in more positive outcomes of meetings.

I remember one person asking "Are you telling me if I give you 24 hours to read my report first I'm more likely to get a positive response"

"Yes" was his reply.

The team all looked at each other and shared their frustration that sometimes it felt like they were not
trusted, that the CPO just didn't like their idea, or was just being awkward.

None of these were true for the CPO. The way their mind was hardwired just meant they couldn't say yes or no without giving the info time to settle, to weigh it up, and perhaps even view it from all angles.

Such a great example that we judge others based on our own preferences rather than take time to understand what will best facilitate increased understanding and therefore improve influencing.

I wonder might this be the underlying reason for your 'resistant' 'awkward' or 'difficult' stakeholders, suppliers or colleagues - you're just pushing and you should be pulling!

As with any door when you've got the right key and use it correctly the door opens easily and effortlessly.  

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools

This is the 9th in a series of blogs applying unconventional tools or thinking to procurement challenges. On a scale of unconventionalness this post only comes in at a 1/10 - there are others in the series that are much higher, and require an open mind in order to obtain maximum insight from them.

Judgement is one of the postcards included in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that brings together a series of postcards from your Soft Skills - it's entitled Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills. More here.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Are procurement setback by Arrogance?

"Are procurement setback by arrogance" was a question I asked a procurement team a few years ago.

Their initial response was "who us? ....never", and slowly as the day progressed moved to "Oh - I can certainly see why some of our stakeholders might consider our language and behaviour to be arrogant." Which then allowed them to develop a different strategy for stakeholder engagement than the one they'd been adopting.

As part of discussions around the Procurement challenges series of blogs I've mentioned the outcome of a session I facilitated with a procurement team a lot so thought I'd share the highlights here.

The title of the session was:

Our Journey to world class - making the boat go faster!

And the CPO's stated objective was:

Bringing the team together, and understanding what needs to happen to ensure team behaviours support achieving personal and stretching objectives.

The agenda included a mix of sessions: communication & influencing training, facilitated discussions/breakouts, and some unconventional tools.

The underlying structure of the day followed the process I'd developed for when you're feeling like you're up a creek without a paddle (follow hypertext for more on the use of this saying, which also explains why we used the 'how to make the boat go faster' in the workshop title).

Use of the saying meant agenda items included putting the anchor down and taking time to consider: how to get back into the main flow of the river, what was needed to keep them afloat, what guides and travellers were there to help them, calibrating their compasses, and taking paddles in hand and getting going. (More here on why I use metaphor in much of my work, and why it's such a powerful, and yet under used, change management tool.)

As part of the day I used cards from the Frameworks for Change Coaching Process *, and the following setback cards came out in succession. As setbacks they're inviting us to consider how the behaviour on the card might be setting us back from achieving our stated outcome/goal.
When the two cards were selected by two team members in succession, whilst some team members were open to the suggestion, I was also met with some dismissive statements.

Even when I asked "How could your behaviour be seen as arrogant" some responded with "It can't".

It would have been easy for me to label some of the things I heard as potentially arrogant, but how easy would anyone find receiving that feedback? And would that facilitate the change in behaviour needed?

I then decided to use another unconventional tool and asked them all to all stand up and move to one side of the room. I then talked them through the standing in their shoes exercise.

In this exercise they imagine looking back at themselves, and noticing what it feels like to be their stakeholder, on the receiving end of their own words, tone and behaviour. It was then that the penny started to drop - a realisation emerged that some of them were stuck in a stereotype of what procurement should, ought and must act like, rather than be more flexible in their approach and use the different communication and influencing styles we'd discussed earlier in the day.

As a coach my role is not to tell others what they should think or believe. My role instead is to provide the right environment and stimulus for them to tap into their own inner knowing and potential. Thus facilitating change inside and out for themselves. (It's certainly why I use the unconventional tools that I do - because they're great at helping people to unlock their own potential rather than have someone force the locks for them!)

As you consider standing in the shoes of your stakeholders, suppliers or colleagues would they consider your behaviour to be arrogant, and in what way might that arrogance be setting you back? As a result of that insight what advice could you give yourself to allow changes to be made that engender a more positive relationship with those individuals you wish to be influencing?

Another insight of the day significantly improved team working with their manager, and involved a conversation about the communication preferences of their CPO. I'll share that in tomorrow's post.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools

There's an index of posts that I'd adding to as I write post like this - using unconventional tools to unlock procurement potential to resolve challenges faced. The challenges addressed are being provided by responses to a LinkedIn discussion.

* Frameworks for Change Coaching Process (FCCP) copyright Innerlinks www.innerlinks.com I used the FCCP process more fully in a post earlier in the series - more here

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Ten out of ten on unconventionalness


7th post in the series applying unconventional tools to procurement challenges - with scores from 1-10 on the weirdness unconventional scale. You'll find more advice on how to get the most from these explorations here. The premise is to use the tools to obtain a different perspective on a situation - one that you're currently unsure what direction to take in. 

Be warned I'd suggest this exploration is a 10/10 so approach with an open mind, and be prepared to be confused a little before clarity emerges. I've certainly not found it an easy topic to explore on my own. 

So let me begin, and let's see what emerges ....

As we returned to the hotel after the walking meeting breakout in Warsaw during a category management workshop I said that walking could be used in other ways to find the solution to problems we encountered.

I've written previously about walks taken to resolve personal life challenges (‘not wanting to burn bridges’ and a more general ‘what next’). Today I want to share a walk to identify alternative strategies for the provision of ‘spare parts’.

This metaphorical walk would generally take place as part of the creative options generation session, ie after an indepth analysis of data has taken place. More here on the need to do this thoroughly, in a post written for a procurement consultancy I'm an associate for.  

As we walked back to the hotel, having discussed earlier in the session about the process to develop more conventional strategies for buying spares, and upon seeing the multitude of cars – parked and being driven -  I said “let's assume the cars are the spare parts”. Due to time constraints the exploration that day didn't come up with a conclusion – so this blog is my response.

Once we've selected the landscape we’re going to use as a metaphor for a challenge we're wanting more insight on, the aim is to then discuss the metaphor without reference to the problem. 

In this instance to discuss how to manage cars in the city without wondering initially what that means in reality for a procurement strategy for spare parts. In fact it's crucial that the real life situation is put to one side whilst the metaphor we've decided to use is fully understood.

From my perspective the aim for cars driven on the Warsaw roads would be to:
  • Efficiently get where they're going
  • Reduce holdups and delays
  • Minimise cost of travel
  • Obtain access to fuel/energy
  • Find adequate parking when needed
  • And to do so safely and sustainably
This could be achieve by:

Efficiently get where they're going
  • Use of well maintained cars
  • Satnav set to efficiency setting
  • Accurate and timely signposts
  • Appropriate use of roundabouts and traffic lights
  • Traffic lights with correct timings to manage traffic flow at different time of day and week
Reducing holdups and delays
  • As above
  • Speedy response to breakdowns on the roads
  • Prohibit parking in some sections of the city
  • Encouraging use of others transportation - possibly even offering park and ride
Minimising the cost of travel
  • Use of efficient cars
  • Effective policy for replacement of cars – assuming fuel efficiency increases as a car ages
Obtaining access to fuel/energy
  • Appropriately positioned petrol startups
  • Conveniently positioned charging stands for electric cars
Don't judge the suggestions just yet – the beauty and simplicity of metaphor is keeping the judgements about what is or isn't applicable or practical to one side. Remember this is a situation we're struggling to find a solution for. I'd suggest stuck because of the assumptions, musts, oughts, shoulds, resistance, fear and / or barriers to change we’re throwing in front of us. That is our current thought processes are what are keeping us stuck and unable to find a solution.

Metaphor allows us to put those doubts and barriers to one side and explore a totally different situation with the belief that once completed some of the solutions found in the one situation can be used on the currently stuck situation.

Yes it feels weird – it is weird – or should I say unconventional but since when has weird or unconventional automatically meantineffective? The first time we do anything new it feels weird, until it's the most natural thing for us to do. Most inventions and innovations are weird at first.

Let's continue ....

Finding adequate parking when needed
  • Do we charge for it
  • It is street parking or via multi story car park
  • What about out of city centre park and ride to reduce traffic in the city
Safely and sustainably
  • Set appropriate speed limits
  • Provide adequate road signage
  • Ensure satnav information re one way streets etc are up to date
  • Ensure drivers have a valid driving licence
  • Provide city driving lessons 
  • Provide fuel efficient driving training
  • Provide road safety police or cameras
Queries then arise about whether it's important to:
  • Reduce the number of manufacturers of the cars used
  • Reduce or restrict the colours of cars driven – or are your cars already just the red ones on the streets? with other colours of cars representing other buying organisations? 
  • Mandate the route taken by drivers
  • Prohibit certain vehicles from certain locations
  • Charge for access by vehicles negatively impacting the environment 
And to consider whether the following are important:
  • The building/offices and shops people are visiting
  • The other vehicles on the road
  • The pedestrians
  • The condition of the road
  • The control centre looking after the traffic lights etc 
If we apply the objective we normally have for spares to the cars then what does that mean to the above thoughts? It seems to be more about how they move about rather than what they are - is that right? Could that be right? What might it be suggesting we do differently?  

I wonder too whether I was too quick to decide the cars were the spare parts? After all the aim of the cars is to get the people where they want to go? Which would bring in other considerations such as:
  • Car sharing
  • Using the subway
  • Using other means of transport – bus, helicopter, bike, and so on
  • Reducing the need for people to come into the centre of the city – which could mean exploring the different ‘why’ for people travelling
  • Exploring the different options for accessing a car - buy or lease or simply rent it daily when needed
Once all the possible ideas about moving cars and passengers around a city centre have been explored then it's time to consider what insight we may be able to offer to the situation we're wanting more clarity on. Having access to the conclusions arising from the research & analysis, and strategic analysis phases will certainly help in being able to do this better. So too having a breadth of category stakeholders involved.

Suggestions might be:
  • Don't worry about the cars just concentrate on the traffic lights – ie what would the control centre for the cities traffic lights be like in the spare parts situation – a centralised delivery or payment process for buying spares
  • Or perhaps the control centre is where the store-men need to be located to ensure they're involved in the movement of the cars 
  • Set up park and rides in the suburbs and bring everyone into the city centre by bus – which might involve centralised distribution for spares
  • Ensure everyone has accurate satnav – ie do the stores managers know who the potential suppliers are 
  • Ensure everyone complies with safe driving standards - ie it doesn't matter who they buy from just as long as certain criteria are met
What I find interesting is this exploration would suggest reducing the make or colours of car are impossible to do. So it's very much about managing the flow of cars better, and getting inefficient cars and unsafe drivers off the road. Does this mean we shouldn't spend time trying to reduce the number of spare parts suppliers? 

Working in a group with this would allow for richer ideas, analogies and solutions. It's not so much about the new options definitely arising from the exploration of the metaphor, as much as following up on any ideas / tangents that emerge as a result of spending time looking at the metaphor.

I'd love to hear from those involved in buying spares to see if this has shed any additional light on the subject.

Other posts using metaphor which were a little easier to understand have used gardening as a metaphor for procurement, and applying thoughts about weather, busses and dancers to procurement talent.  

I'll get back to a 3/10 later this or next week as I continue with the series applying unconventional tools to procurement challenges.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools

Hypertext links take you to posts written on the subject highlighted.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How to have a flourishing procurement garden

Metaphor is such a powerful tool for facilitating change - it can get overlooked as too fluffy or even too unconventional.

I believe you ignore metaphor as a business change management tool at your peril.

Ignore it at your peril that is if, where you or your team currently are is not where you'd like them to be.

Change is hard, and resistance to change all too common, and yet change management is often overlooked when exploring either how to bridge the gap from where you are to where you want to be or, how to resolve the challenges being faced to get there. (Follow the hypertext link for more on Implementing change using Kotter's 8 step process for leading change).

I don't want to repeat the whole of an earlier post on metaphor, but if you'll forgive me repeating the main reason why metaphor is so good at facilitating change, it's because it bypasses the following beliefs:
  • We've always done it like this
  • If it ain't broke don't fix it
  • We tried that before, and it didn't work then
  • But what will I do then
  • I like doing it this way 
  • It won't work
  • We're not going there 
  • I don't want to talk about it
  • I'm bored about talking about it
  • No
Or other variants in the same vein that mean we defend our position, and reinforce our current point of view. All beliefs that make it hard to be able to stand back, get some perspective and find a solution.

When using a metaphor we are asked to put the current real life situation to one side, along with those unhelpful beliefs, and consider what a solution within the metaphor looks like. As we explore the art of the possible within the metaphorical situation we leave our resistance and preconceived ideas to one side. 

Metaphors also carry a large amount of information within them - I like to say if a picture paints a thousand words then a metaphor paints a thousand pictures. Which means it's laden with potential to be unlocked and applied to the real life situation we're comparing it to.

For 20 years I've successfully used gardening as a metaphor for supplier management with non-procurement managers. It has worked because those managers know more about gardening than they do procurement. There's much to learn, especially when they realise we do mow, prune, weed, feed, mulch, water and put plants in the greenhouse, and yet often fail to do the same for suppliers.

No surprise therefore that non-procurement managers become more accommodating of procurement's involvement once they've explored a garden full of suppliers in a session.

As part of the series where I'm using unconventional tools to provide a different perspective to procurement challenges I wondered what gardening might have to add to the resolution of these challenges.
     
First a more general exploration of our procurement garden full of suppliers with a few vlogs from the archives:

The challenge many of us face is we may have a procurement garden like this:
Or suppliers who are just like these dandelions: 
Or this rhubarb
The answer may lie in companion planting
or ensuring adequate KPIs are implemented?
or providing sufficient support to suppliers? 
Examples that I hope have provided you with an understanding of the power of metaphor.

You may find reading the guiding principles will also help provide guidance on beliefs or actions that will help you in getting something from the above or following explorations. In essence using these tools just provides a different perspective from which to view the current situation - which may or may not provide additional insight.

I wondered how might gardening apply to some of the challenges people raised in the LinkedIn discussion I posted. 

We'll only know if I try.... Although first I think we need to put the idea of suppliers being plants to one side and explore gardening afresh. 
  • Behavioural procurement: All plants are unique. A successful gardener needs to understand the different needs of the different plants, and to then provide the right conditions for growth for each of them. The same is certainly true when dealing with people, and yet easier to remember when dealing with plants than dealing with people. Perhaps because as a fellow plant we assume other plants. think and behave the same as we do. (Another post in the series takes an alternate viewpoint to consider how we can release the bad cop image.)
  • Talent: Plants also meet different gardening needs - for example you wouldn't expect a rose bush to do the same job as an oak tree. We do however sometimes expect this of our teams. Which is okay if all you want is ground cover, or to simply fill up the garden. If you want variety, year round colour, highs and lows, interest, features, fragrance or simply grass that will cope with the kids playing football on it then you need to careful select your plants/people. One size fits all will never work. (Another post in the series takes a different perspective to look at how to resolve the issue of talent.)      
  • Talent: Plants grow if we give them the right conditions for growth - we need to understand what these conditions are, and which of those conditions we can realistically provide. Living in Scotland I certainly know many plants I could grow in Yorkshire would just not survive here. It's the same with people - each person is motivated by and requires different things. We can't just provide a sheep dip like approach, and hope to keep everyone happy. 
  • Expanding the vision of what's possible: If we're doing this in the context of a garden then I think of Kew gardens, Chelsea Flower Show, or someone going on expeditions into the Peruvian mountains to bring back cultivars to experiment with in the greenhouse - where success and failure are close companions. For me 'expanding the vision' doesn't get done within the garden but outside it - and if successful is only then applied to a small part of the garden first to see what happens. If as a result of a successful trial we bring in new plants, the old plants being replaced are composted or moved to another garden. Interesting to consider this applied to our teams - where expansion of the vision can't come when they're doing their day job. Only by having time outside the garden can they hope to develop the skills, to test, trail and be able to get things wrong so that their vision of what is possible is expanded. If we've changed the vision we may also need different plants. (Another post in the series has taken an alternative view on how to get procurement to expand their thinking about what's possible.)
The aim, as with any of the unconventional tools, would be not to critique nor judge the ideas just yet. To continue with the metaphor and expand the options and perspectives. To keep going, be open, have fun, and just use the metaphor and dig into those thousand pictures to unlock what may be hidden - to find and nurture that kernel of an idea that might just make a difference. There will be plenty of time to critique later, and that's when you can discard the unhelpful.
  • Shape the strategic agenda: Let's assume the garden is part of a wider stately house and garden that's open to the public. The aim of those responsible for running the garden then becomes ensuring that the paying public want to visit the garden as much as the house. They'd achieve this by having year round interest, interesting and rare plants, well maintained gardens, a great set of web pages showing the results of their efforts, special events (for red nose day, bank holidays, Chelsea flower show, quizzes for children and so on). As a result of these efforts there would be no possibility of being omitted from the strategic review for the stately house, because the garden would be a key part of the leadership team. Isn't that true for procurement? If we focus on the reliance on the organisation of the suppliers we engage then we should be a key part of the strategic agenda. Perhaps that's where we've got it wrong in the past - focusing on the price of the plants rather than their positive impact once planted! I suspect there could be much much more behind this exploration if a few people were to get into a room to expand it further. It's one drawback of trying to share the efficacy of the tools here - it's just me typing, and therefore just me inputing ideas too! Events and internal marketing come to mind too. Although there is a whole other exploration we could have about whether procurement are the general gardeners or the landscape gardeners - although I suspect landscape gardeners don't worry about whether they're part of the strategic agenda or not? (A post from the archives on No seat at the table may also provide an alternate and unconventional perspective.)
  • Maximising value rather than minimising costs: I think the above exploration provides some insight to this. We're focusing on the cost of the plants, as are some of our stakeholders. Where the focus should be is on the performance of the plants once they're planted and in situ. Use of metaphor might be a useful means of conveying to stakeholders where the focus is currently, and where it should be. (Although a more conventional means might be to show them the horror stories of procurement gone wrong.) 
  • Getting early engagement of stakeholders: I think these last 3 points are aligned when viewed from the stately home/garden metaphor point of view. Early engagement is a given if plant selection, location, and the general theme of the garden and it's events are seen as central to stakeholders doing their job well. We just have to find a means of doing this within our own organisations. (Another post in the series has taken an alternative view to why experts are ignored.)
How did you get on? What did you notice?

Did any of these suggestions help you understand what you might be missing? Or perhaps reading these ideas had you going off on a tangent that provided some additional insight? There's no right or wrong just thought processes that take us on a journey that may uncover something we've been missing, and that may just be the difference that makes the difference. 

One of these days I may think of a way of getting pipe cleaners into this series :-). They're certainly a very powerful coaching tool that removes the blocks for individuals in their 1:1 and 1:3 coaching sessions - if the evidence of recent weeks are anything to go by.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal, procurement & organisational potential using unconventional tools  

Hypertext links shown in the post take you to blogs on the subject highlighted.

I'd be very happy to further discuss your 1:1 coaching, 1:3 coaching, training, facilitation needs to support your team unlocking their personal, procurement and organisational potential. alison@alisonsmith.eu +44 (0)7770 538159