You had to ask
The first question often is spurred by a course of action that has been proposed to create change. This question, which tends to linger throughout the change process, can come from any direction and at any time. That question simply is: “Why are we doing this?”
Having decided to propose a course of action that will spark change, the purchasing manager should be well-equipped to answer this first question and speak to the benefits and necessity of pursuing the change. Answering this question while the change still is in the proposal phase will sharpen and refine the reason, purpose and justification for the change and equip the manager to address the question as it comes up during the change process.
The second question is: “Why are we not doing this?” Sometimes there are legitimate reasons that certain changes and process improvements cannot be implemented in particular environments. Being able to respond to this question shows that the purchasing manager has considered the change and has determined that it cannot be implemented for any number of reasons.
This second question creates an opportunity to address a deficiency or obstacle that stands in the way of change. For example, I know a colleague who, a few years ago, was being questioned continually about why his organization did not have an online ordering system like other similar organizations. The simple answer was that his organization did not have a reliable connection to the Internet that would make such ordering feasible. While this lack of a reliable connection affected the organization in many ways, the inability to order online added fuel to the fire that ultimately produced a reliable high-speed Internet connection.
Sometimes the reason that something is not being done is simply that the change is not right for or in the best interests of the organization. We all have faced such questions about why we do not do something in a certain way or why we cannot purchase things like someone else, and we need to be able to articulate those answers.
The times when the “Why are we not doing this?” question are most intimidating – and most revealing – for a purchasing manager are when the manager is unable to answer the question. When certain process improvements and the savings associated with them are being trumpeted in numerous journals and publications and at professional conferences, the “Why not?” question is sure to arise.
“Why are we not using procurement cards?” “Why do we lack fully electronic requisitions?” “Why are our bids not distributed electronically?” “Why does it take two weeks for my order to be delivered when similar organizations can get the same thing in 24 hours?” These are a few of the questions that a purchasing manager could face, and he or she should be able to answer them.
In most cases, the “Why are we doing this?” question indicates that the purchasing staff is being innovative and is driving change. That is a good thing if the initiative is recognized as change and is being implemented based upon a determination that it will save time or money, improve efficiency or control, or some combination of these.
Sometimes the “Why are we not doing this?” question arises from some deficiency in the organization’s infrastructure, politics, resistance to change or just plain old bureaucracy. But sometimes the question crops up because of a purchasing manager who is resistant to change and has his or her head in the sand, hoping that if he or she ignores the changes long enough, they will just go away. Once the “Why not?” questions begin to arise, such a person will find himself or herself greatly at risk within the organization. Once people within the organization begin to realize that there are process improvements to be made and savings to be realized that other organizations are making and realizing, a status-quo purchasing manager may find himself or herself on the receiving end of many varieties of questions that start with, “Why are we not doing … ?”
Change is hard. Driving change can be harder. However, the effort and discomfort of quickly implementing or driving change pales in comparison to the discomfort that results from ignoring change for so long that one’s organization begins to ask: “Why are we not doing this?”
J. Kevin Beardsley, CPPB, CPPO, is the director of purchasing for the Virginia Beach City Public Schools.