The Perception Gap
I can’t think of a better place to write my inaugural editor’s note than at the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing’s (NIGP) 62nd Annual Forum and Products Exposition in Hartford, Conn. While my schedule only allowed me to attend two days of the forum, it’s been more than enough time to meet some terrific people and to begin to put my finger on the pulse of the profession.
I’ve spent most of my professional career working in the field of journalism. I started out as a cub reporter for community newspapers, and I worked my way up to the position of assistant editor. For the last two and a half years, I’ve been covering workplace safety and health as the managing editor for Occupational Hazards magazine.
As I’ve been making the transition over the last month from the world of occupational safety and health to the world of public-sector purchasing, I’ve been bracing myself for a steep learning curve. My initial perception was that there would be very little overlap between the job of a city or county procurement director and the job of a safety director at a manufacturing plant.
Surprisingly, though, my short time at the NIGP Forum has shown me that there are some fascinating parallels between the public-sector procurement profession and the occupational safety profession. I think that those parallels all boil down to one area: perception.
That realization hit home during Marcheta Gillespie’s outstanding workshop, “Marketing Your Worth and Value So People Listen.” The fact that there even is a need for such a workshop – and there must be a need, as the workshop attracted a standing-room-only crowd – speaks volumes. For one thing, it tells me that there is a sizeable gap between the actual value and the perceived value of the procurement profession.
I observed that same kind of perception gap in the workplace safety profession. Every safety conference seemed to include at least one workshop similar to “Marketing Your Worth and Value So People Listen.” While it was clear to me that safety professionals and industrial hygienists took tremendous pride in their work – just as procurement professionals do – I could sense that many of them felt overlooked, underutilized and underappreciated. (In most cases, these feelings arose because their employers emphasized production and profits over safety.)
My sense is that many of you in the public-sector procurement profession harbor similar feelings. You are passionate about what you do, you believe deeply in your fiduciary responsibilities to the public-sector agencies and taxpayers that you serve and you are committed to professional development. Yet there’s this nagging frustration that, too often, the procurement function is overlooked, underutilized and underappreciated – despite the fact that you provide a number of
critically important services.
Among those services, you:
- Contribute to your organizations’ bottom lines.
- Are responsible and accountable stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.
- Provide specialized skills (e.g., analysis and negotiation).
- Ensure open and fair competition.
- Perform service with integrity.
- Protect your organizations and minimize risk and liability.
- Serve as ambassadors to your communities.
- Support social and economic causes (e.g., minority- and women-owned business enterprises and green purchasing).
How many people outside the public-sector procurement profession can say they have a job description like that?
The point of Gillespie’s workshop was that public-sector procurement professionals have a compelling story to tell. Gillespie, who is the deputy director of procurement for the city of Tucson, Ariz., has discovered some simple yet effective ways to tell that story – from procurement open houses to public service announcements to the department’s Web site.
What are some other ways that you can reach out to stakeholders who don’t fully understand the value of the procurement department? Gillespie’s suggestions include: compiling and sending reports to stakeholder agencies detailing how the procurement department has saved those agencies money through negotiation; sending announcements to your entire organization and to the media when your staff members win awards and earn certifications; convening community meetings and focus groups; and using brochures, posters and postcards to educate stakeholders about the services that you provide.
Gillespie asked the audience to split into small groups to discuss the value of the public-sector procurement profession. In my small group, one person said that the value the profession provides is “priceless.” He said it with great pride – but without even a hint of arrogance. Everyone in the group agreed wholeheartedly.
Minding the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars is a priceless service. Like it or not, though, the onus is on you to make sure that your stakeholders know it.
Contact Josh Cable at (216) 931-9750 or at [email protected]