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Friday, 10 March 2017

Are Procurement the bad cops?

I'm using unconventional tools to provide alternative perspectives to challenges you're facing (ie when the conventional way of solving a problem means the solution is still eluding you, and an alternate perspective may just be the thing you need to jolt you back on track) 
  • Challenge 4: How to get rid of the bad cop image Procurement has
  • Unconventional tool to be used: language/absurdity
  • Unconventional score (potential weirdness you might feel using it): 7/10 so stick with it
  • Things that will help you get the most from this post: Read the guiding principles - these principles provide the aims of these posts, and identify things that will help and hinder you getting the most from them.
For more on the series of blogs of which this is the 4th please see this post.

The language we use, or our stakeholders use, is such a useful means of finding potential solutions. I could easily for example have skated over use of bad cop and concentrated on how to raise procurement's profile, or improve our marketing, or even how to get a seat at the table.

However from the view point of one of the unconventional tools - language has power - every word we use has power - and therefore the solutions may lie in exploring the language, in exploring the symbols and metaphors used.  

Let's therefore consider use of the term bad cop.

It's generally used to describe a role someone takes in a negotiation. The person often taking that role is procurement. Which means over time bad cop is not just a role we put on occasionally, but the name we go by - an identity that many in procurement I suspect like to be associated with.
However bad cop has many associations which I'd suggest are unhelpful when we're wanting to develop relationships with the very people calling us those names:
  • Foe
  • Angry
  • Not listening 
  • Police
  • Force
  • Enforcement
  • Shouting
  • Brutal
  • Psychological tactics
  • Interrogation
  • and so on
And could even extend to bad cop becoming a rotten cop which expands the description to include:
  • Liar
  • Fraudulant behaviours
  • Looking after them selves
  • Bypasses the rules 
  • and so on
Which means if we associate, and our stakeholders associate, our identity and who are are, with the term bad cop our ability to collaborate and work with our stakeholders is significantly and negatively hampered as a result.

Would you pick up the phone to speak to you if all of the above words came to mind when they thought about you?  Me neither. 

By identifying and using the term bad cop that's what we're doing - reinforcing a representation of procurement that is unhelpful. 

I remember talking to a procurement exec who had sat in on one of their team member's negotiations. They were flabbergasted about how badly their team member took on the bad cop behaviours. To the point of needing to take them outside to calm them down!

So the solution is simple - to write anyway - we and our stakeholders need to stop associating Procurement with the term bad cop, and release the stereotypical behaviours that are associated with it. To take bad cop out of our and our stakeholders vocabulary. 

There's lots of different ways this could be achieved. A large number of which involve: identifying, weakening and then replacing beliefs we have about why bad cop as an identity is good. Which would be a very wordy exploration, and increase the already high weirdness score above. 

I'm opting for absurdity instead.

Laughter and absurdity are always a quick means of shifting beliefs and thought patterns we have. And certainly easier to share in a blog. If I have permission to go a little absurd then read on. 

Let's consider what a procurement team could do to release bad cop - because they have to shift their thinking and behaving first.

Please note: This is not something I've thought about before in this way - I'm applying the belief that the words we use have power, and that bad cop therefore is not helping us. The rest of this post is where my thoughts go when given that challenge - for procurement to release their identity as bad cops. If you were to explore what the words meant to you you might go off in a totally different tangent and still find a solution - so you might want to think about what you think a potential solution might be to being seen as a bad cop e.g
  • Embrace it and run with it
  • Explore how to be an even badder cop - using problem reversal
Back to my own exploration and thought process.

Once everyone in Procurement agrees that bad cop is only one role we play and not an identity then you could as a group:
  • List all the other roles Procurement play - you could get silly with it
  • You could put them in a hierarchy
  • Draw pictures of them
  • Come up with catch phrases for each of them
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of each   
  • Identify positive and negative behaviours for each (some great opportunities for CPD too)
  • Have a super hero day (suspect it needs a different name - Mr Men and Miss day - XMen day?) - where people come dressed as different roles Procurement play? 
The aim is to weaken the hold bad cop, as an identify, has on procurement team members. For them to easily be able to swap between roles, and to demonstrate the positive behaviours of each of the roles. 

This image came to mind as a means of using a visual to shift the meaning of bad cop to something totally absurd!! Don't ask!
Less unconventional ways might include:
  • Picking a role you'd prefer to identified as 
  • Find a way of reinforcing the new role - pictures, screen savers, jigsaw pieces
Don't forget we're not letting go of the behaviour - there are times when it's useful - we're letting go of the identity. 

Once procurement have let go of the bad cop identity, and behaviours change as a result, it may automatically allow stakeholders and suppliers to react differently to them. If not, then a communication plan or influencing strategy is required. This strategy might include:
  • Having the same conversation with stakeholders about the roles you play
  • Discussing the positive and negative behaviours
In other words get their input into what they want the different roles of procurement to be. As they provide their input you have the opportunity to teach them about the wider meaning of procurement, and what benefits can be obtained if we're allowed to truly transform what we do. 

Of course engagement with stakeholders could include
  • Their involvement in the super hero / Mr men & Miss day
  • Sending post cards demonstrating a visual for what to expect from procurement 
Don't forget we're using absurdity as a means to jolt people's perceptions away from a negative one to a more positive one. What we're doing is sending their and our minds on a transderivational search to make new meaning of data we're giving them. 

As I said earlier there are other more conventional means of shifting people's beliefs, and in some organisations you may need to consider using those before the bad cop identity is something relegated to the past. 

I'm more than happy to be involved in facilitating a session with your team to explore the unhelpful roles, identities and behaviours that are stopping you really delivering value to your organisation. alison@alisonsmith.eu +44 (0)7770 538159   

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking procurement potential using unconventional tools

A previous post using a similar tool of absurdity and language is No seat at the table and is another 7, if not 8, out of 10 on the weirdness unconventional scale looking at the options to Procurement when they don't have a seat at the table and want one - or do they?

Another post (2/10 this time) was written for one of the consultancies I'm an associate for and uses Kraljic to understand why Procurement isn't seen as strategic by the board.

You'll find an index of posts sharing other unconventional tools applied to Procurement challenges here.

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