I interviewed Mark Trowbridge, one of the principals of Strategic Procurement Solutions, who discussed how procurement can better align and adapt to a culture. He has been in the field of procurement ever since getting out of college. Mark has progressed through a number of different industries; transportation, manufacturing and financial services. At his last job before going into the consulting arena about 12 years ago he was in charge of ¾ of Bank of America operations and strategic sourcing activities and all of the company's contract management responsibilities.
This provided a good basis for him to go into the consulting arena. He worked with a couple of major consulting firms as a director level person on a number of their initiatives. In the year 1999 Mark and some of his colleagues with similar backgrounds formed Strategic Procurement Solutions. They have been blessed to work with some leading clients with companies as large as Apple, BP, Intel, large financial services and manufacturing companies, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Meyers, Squibbs etc. With each of those engagements they have learned more about how best practices are done in procurement. They bring value and also learn from each of their clients.
Something which Mark and his team have been working with a number a clients on recently has been aligning with the culture of the company that is represented in the supply chain. There is an expression that Mark and his colleagues use a lot with different clients when looking at their organizational alignment and the alignment of their procurement processes with the company operations and their key customer groups and also as they look at the alignment of the organization with the supplier community. There is no one cookie cutter approach that is going to work for all different types of companies.
They use the following expression within their company walls:
“Culture will eat strategy for lunch every day of the week”.
If we look at companies trying to be effective at strategic sourcing, with an emphasis on the word “strategic”, they can come up with the best text book definition of strategic that they want for the supply chain. However, unless they do a good job of aligning the company operations and the way they do business and procurement with those company operations they are not going to be successful.
There is a lot of importance in taking the time to understand the company culture, building key relationships with important business executives within the company, to make sure there is full cooperation and alignment of the company's supply chain needs with procurement teams that are supporting those acquisitions, and making sure everyone is working together as a team rather than there being silos of push back within the company on key expenditure areas. It is where procurement is not becoming involved at the start of the processes and where they are the last link in the chain and doing what Mark and his team call “PTD” which is Papering The Deal which someone else has put together.
A theme with a number of different companies has been they have been working with is how pertinent it is to properly position procurement to impact the company culture and build the processes and relationships in a way that fit that particular company's way of doing things.
Culture as it relates to procurement
A mistake that Mark sees many companies doing, especially when they have read theoretical books on supply chain and how procurement should function is that they try to impose a cookie cutter approach on how the procurement and supply chain organization should be organized in structure and function. Sometimes they fail to take into account the unique culture of the company they are working with.
In fact, Mark has seen on a number of occasions where a procurement leader who has been successful in one company culture has moved to another job with another company and not been successful because they tried to impose the same way of doing procurement on the new company and that just didn't fit the particular company culture.
Each company has a unique corporate culture and that corporate culture sometimes come from the history of the company (whether through mergers and acquisitions, led by leaders who believe in standardization and process efficiency, or an entrepreneurial company where the unique business owners within the organizational footprint are encouraged to be fast, nimble, agile and to take risks.
Depending on the company culture procurement needs to adapt its way of doing business with those lines of excellence. Procurement often fails to do that and imposes a round peg in a square hole (many times procurement is straight armed and pushed out of the involvement in important acquisitions). With the right alignment the procurement professionals can be involved at the start of the acquisition process which can make a big difference through strategic sourcing and supplier relationship management.
It really is a matter of adapting a unique approach to the company culture. As mentioned earlier, Mark has an expression within his company that “culture will eat strategy for lunch every day of the week”.
If we take the topic of strategic sourcing, that word 'strategy' is what begins that. The culture can eat the strategy for lunch if we don't approach it in the best possible way and build the relationships with the executives and the management of the different lines of business within our organizations to facilitate our proper involvement in acquisitions.
How procurement can better align and adapt to a culture
Mark believes that any culture at any organization, no matter the type, is made up of important business relationships. For example, Mark was on a conference call recently with the director of a large supply chain group with about 120 employees who has been transforming her organization both from a process and a culture alignment perspective to impact her energy company's expenditures in a more proactive way.
She has taken the time and energy outside of what we would normally think of as her normal job responsibilities and pave the way for important decisions to be made by the different vertical business owners across the company.
Regarding some of the important strategic changes she is trying to impact, she has met privately on numerous occasions with many of the key decision makers within the company's management so that when she goes to get approval for changes to policy or changes to procedure there are no surprises. She already has the votes lined up. Similar to how an attorney is trained to do in law school, you never ask a question that you don't know the answer to. You better make sure that you know that everyone will be aligned with you before you take to a very senior level to get buy in. Make sure you have had those pre-meetings and get things laid out for you.
This is an example of building the relationships and taking time to mentor those and to realize that change comes slowly to everyone. People tend to resist change. Taking the time to “grease the skids” can make the decisions go much better. Building those relationships can make a big difference for how supply management is.
Companies that are interested in the services Mark's company offers or many of the informational pieces they put together for their audience of participants can be accessed at www.StrategicProcurementSolutions.com
Strategic Procurement Solutions, LLC