The Great Procurement Makeover

As portmanteau words go, "makeover" is one of the more interesting, with a couple of somewhat opposed meanings. In its popular culture context, it’s a familiar concept. The application of a new layer of color and design creates a transformation of a house, a face or an entire neighborhood.

Entire TV shows, and careers, have been built on the effectiveness of the makeover in delivering the “after” as a dramatic departure from the “before.”

The genre has even inspired an antonymic — the makeunder, whereby overly enthusiastic devotees of cosmetics and fashion have their usual work-up stripped away in favor of more sober, natural or societally normal styles, to the combined astonishment and delight of friends and family. And the same applies to homes as they are de-cluttered and tidied up for sale, all for our entertainment and delectation.

But whether the makeover is applied to a person or a property, the apparent transformation is almost always profound, amazing, incredible.

It could be argued that this is only an apparent transformation. Painting the walls and hanging new window blinds is a change, certainly, but it is just cover-up. Makeover to mean: apply a layer over what’s there.  

But, to transform a space don’t you have to knock down the walls, or knock down the whole thing and start again?

The other way to interpret makeover is as a make-over.  A starting again. From scratch.

Well, it is true, transformation results not from doing the same things as you’ve always done, but from doing something radically different.

The proposition then could be that procurement transformation comes about as a result of ripping up the rule book and starting again. But how desirable, indeed how possible is that? After all, the business has to keep going, and doing the same-old-same-old is part and parcel of that business continuity. We can’t just stop, make over, and restart.

Thus, there has to be a compromise position. If you can’t tear down the walls and start again, and if painting the walls is a just distraction, how do you make and change in a way that can deliver any kind of difference at all?

Or, to translate this into our language, if your systems and processes and people have to keep running and working, and if simply throwing a new piece of technology into the mix makes no material difference in and of itself, how do you even begin the process of transforming the value that Procurement can deliver to the business?

Perhaps the secret recipe is to see the people, processes and technology not as separate subjects with loose connections, but to look upon them as a single whole. Choosing the right technology and crafting the right processes, indeed hiring the right people will be like selecting the outfit, the make-up and the hairstyle that actually suit the person that is within, rather than sticking with the same old (bad) choices.

Sometimes it really is the case that those apparently superficial matters — a choice of shirt or a choice of sourcing software — are not superficial at all but go right to the heart of who we are and how we conduct ourselves.

A makeover in the original sense could be exactly what procurement needs to start to transform whereas a make-over, could be a disaster.

It is so often a mistake to believe that, in order to look good we need cosmetic surgery. The knife is always disfiguring and always destructive and does nothing by way of improvement. It is no accident that those despicable TV shows, which espouse cosmetic surgery as the route to happiness, include huge elements of hair, clothes and make-up in their final “after” presentations.    

The final, impressive “look,” and the confidence that goes with it is, in nearly every case, all down to the apparently trivial makeover element. The painful and dangerous surgery is nearly always totally, absolutely unnecessary.  

Instead of putting our enterprise under the knife and hacking about in the hope that we will emerge swan-like, what we need is a top-to-toe makeover into a mode that is more “us,” more suited to who we are and which will permit us to stride out, in confidence, to a transformed future.

Source to Pay


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