REPRISE: Vision. Drive. Winner’s Circle.
Day-to-day, we focus on immediate tasks and the obligations put upon us by virtue of our professional roles. As dedicated professionals, we strive to complete each task to the best of our abilities as efficiently as possible. Yet, at the end of the day, have we moved closer to fulfilling the substance of our vision?
For some of us, that is a question without need of answer. A job done well has merit of itself, its value unquestionable, and feelings of fulfillment deserved. To this, I agree, and applaud those who commit to this standard of performance as it will only build and strengthen the positive image of the profession. It is the image of the profession, however, that is at the root of the change that NIGP seeks to influence and what so many of its members speak of in dream-like terms.
I have often heard the desirability of procurement being recognized as strategy- versus task-oriented; of being included at the table with the decision-makers. Similarly, I have been asked how a purchasing department can describe the value it brings to its organization or, at a personal level, the value a certified professional brings to the organization.
Value is, of course, subjective and determined individually based on personal experience. Even in the face of financial or other performance data that would seem to clearly reflect value, why would a perception persist that buying (forget about any negotiation or contract-management skills often required as part of the process) is nothing more than an administrative function? I believe this is where emotional subjectivity comes into play and why this is such a frustrating point for government purchasers to argue. Subjective evaluation is completely opposite to the way government purchasing agents are trained. The purchasing process is a rationalized, rules-based process developed to insulate the buyer and contractor from seemingly arbitrary, subjective decision-making, so any arguments we may make in support of value tend to be based on more rational, concrete terms. Unfortunately, as we may be reminded in our personal lives, logical arguments don’t always win over our significant others!
How then do we change the image of the profession and enhance the impression of value it brings to government and community? (This is not a question unique to public procurement, by the way, but is commonly asked by individuals and disciplines throughout public and private organizations.) In brief, it begins with understanding the vision, goals and motivations of our bosses and those we must work with or support. It requires that we learn how to align and share a common or complimentary vision, and demonstrate through collaboration how we strengthen the other’s opportunity to achieve their goals. We must use a language that is broader and more organizationally oriented, not only Procurement-oriented. Finally, as necessary and for the sake of sanity, we can recognize when we simply are not working with someone who is willing to be a partner for success. In such a case, we can remain committed to our internal goals and consistently achieve a job well-done in hopes of gaining the positive attention and change of image we hope to develop.
The skills outlined above do not necessarily come easy. They are, however, the leadership skills that begin to change perceptions and recast the expectations of a procurement agency. Should you have the opportunity, speak to those procurement leaders fortunate enough to have earned the respect of their governing bodies, and ask them of their vision and their drive. You may need look no further than your regional NIGP Board representative or a recent NIGP award winner. The message of the Charlotte Forum – “Vision. Drive. Winner’s Circle.” – will take on new meaning and will probably even give you a thoughtful pause to consider why we’ve named the 2009 St. Louis Forum the “Gateway to Excellence.”
Brent Maas is director, marketing, for NIGP. Care to share your own experiences and insights about enhancing the recognition of your agency? We welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.