Who do you work for?
Who do you work for? Some of us might respond that we work for the city, or the county, or the state. Some might say that they work for the Purchasing Director or the Chief Financial Officer. This question is very relevant to purchasing professionals because our understanding of whom we work for shapes the way that we make decisions. The decisions we make determine how efficiently and effectively we perform our jobs.
I am troubled by purchasing professionals who appear to believe that they work for the vendor community. They might not respond to the question, “Who do you work for?”, with the answer, “my vendors”, but the decisions that they make, and the way that they make them, clearly seem to be made based upon what is best for the vendors.
Responses to a colleague’s recent questionnaire support my concern. Purchasing professionals were asked how they would deal with a vendor requesting a fax for small purchases quotes when the entity was doing all such quotes by e-mail. Eight of the eighteen responses displayed decisions that were being made based upon what was in the best interest of the vendor, not the entity. In another example, colleagues continue to mail bids and Requests for Proposal (RFPs) to vendors who refuse to download the documents from the Internet.
Who do we work for? We definitely work for our direct supervisors and for our supervisor’s supervisors. It can be fairly stated that we work for the head of the entity that we serve, such as the superintendent or the city manager. And yes, we also work for the governing body that we serve, be it a school board or a city council. But ultimately, we as purchasing professionals work for the taxpayers whose taxes support the entity that we serve.
We are the stewards and custodians of the taxpayer’s dollars. They have entrusted and charged us with getting the most value for them. When we loose sight of that fact, it will show in the decisions that we make, and then in the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations.
Providing value goes beyond getting fair and reasonable prices for goods and services. It also includes all of the processes that we use to achieve those prices. Processes cost money. Inefficient processes lead to increased lead times, loss of confidence from our end users, and increased staffing.
In the fax example, those who advocated accommodating the vendors request for a faxed quote when an e-mail was the most efficient process are advocating adding a second, less efficient process. Who is served by such a decision? Is it the taxpayers or the vendor? Who do you work for? When we make such accommodations we are undercutting our own efficiency and limiting our own decisions.
It is not far fetched to foresee a time when it would be feasible to completely eliminate the fax machine from a purchasing operation and do all transferring of documents via e-mail. Such a move would eliminate the costs of replacing and supporting the machine, the consumables, and the recurring phone line charge, as well as reduce electrical usage, and free up space. Such a decision should be made while considering what would be in the best interest of the taxpayers. Is it more efficient and effective? Does it provide the best value for the tax dollars? The decision should not be made based upon how it might effect some vendors.
As governmental purchasing professionals we are required to have fair and open processes. We are also charged for providing the best value for the tax dollars. We should strive to do both while keeping in mind that we work for the tax payers and all of our decisions should be made with that in mind. Often we will find that decisions made in the best interest of the tax payers are contrary to the best interest of a certain vendor or vendors. That is when it is critical that we clearly understand who we work for.
J. Kevin Beardsley, CPPB, CPPO
Director of Purchasing
Virginia Beach City Public Schools