Resilience matters: The pandemic and procurement
Procurement professionals practice resilience and resourcefulness daily. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) started the search in February for emergency supplies. They sourced and ordered PPE and other emergency supplies without requisitions. A blanket emergency procurement determination was issued, giving buyers carte blanc authority to find and order by phone or email, provided the source was responsible and the price within acceptable parameters. Soon masks, disinfectant wipes, sanitizer, and other supplies were flowing into the warehouse. Procurement worked with engineering and maintenance staff to order plexiglass and fixtures for operator screens and dispensers for masks and sanitizer for buses and trains. Contracts were modified to provide extra cleaning services for the vehicles. With ridership down dramatically, operators and contract providers delivered meals to students and the elderly.
We can learn a lot about resilience from health care workers. Certainly, our frontline workers serve under acute and unrelenting pressure. One resilience strategy they use is developing a close-knit team, a community. Members lean upon the strength of one another. They ask their colleagues how they are doing and provide an unwavering sounding board for whatever may come out. Another vital ingredient is self-care. In the February-March issue, I wrote about the DISC personality indicator, which provides information about personality and communication styles. The “S” or “Steady” personality style makes up about 70 percent of the population. These are the people that are most likely to place themselves last (if on the list at all!), wanting to know what more they can do for others, while denying themselves critical self-care. They feel a responsibility to remain strong for everyone else. It’s important that these leaders, the people that others go to whether or not they are in a position of authority, know that they, too, can unburden themselves. If you identify with this description, what would it take for you to give yourself permission to let go?
In addition to our careers, procurement professionals are also family members, contending with Wi-Fi issues, air conditioning breakdowns, and spiking water bills due to leaks. As we balance personal and professional demands, the pandemic has brought us, uninvited, into one another’s homes. Just as lines have blurred between goods and services, for example, the combination of hardware and software used by a library checkout system, our home and work environments have become increasingly entwined. Children’s voices and the barking of dogs punctuate and sometimes overwhelm virtual meeting platform discussions on the future of schools, businesses, and nations. And it’s not just our conference rooms that have been upended. Necessity and ingenuity have helped us transform our homes into multiuse classrooms, playgrounds, offices, and television studios.
In addition to all the clatter and upheaval of our physical space, many of us may feel isolated and disconnected. The notion of impromptu conversations around the coffee machine or water fountain now seems quaint and nostalgic. The traditional escalation of communication from a simple email to picking up the phone to an informal walk down the hall or more formal, scheduled face-to-face conversation is no longer practical. We miss those human interactions. As the pandemic keeps us from beauty salons and barber shops, conference participants often elect not to use video. Lacking body language and other signals, we may experience more friction with those with whom we have difficulty communicating. Feelings of disconnection can lead us to withdraw, thereby denying ourselves access to needed information.
There is nothing “normal” about these times. Our worlds have been turned on their axes. What was up is down and out. The rest is spinning out of control. Whatever our assessment was about how well we communicated before COVID-19, it has since decreased. Businesses have adapted. With staff members now working remotely, entity executives try to stay in constant contact, which means more virtual meetings and personal calls. They are discovering that it takes a lot to keep up morale.
CEOs hold weekly check-ins with the entire staff. Each department is inclusive in their meeting invitations. However, these meetings can tend to have packed agendas with many staff members, an environment that may unintentionally discourage participation. Individuals may hesitate to ask their question or bring up their project, not wanting to “waste” the group’s time.
Each of us must be intentional about directing energy to communicating and connecting with one another. That may mean reaching out to colleagues and employees to check in and see if they need anything or scheduling regular time in smaller, more intimate groups. It may mean more one-on-one or small group meetings.
Change has been thrust upon us, but there’s a silver lining. COVID-19 has increased our awareness of our world and each other. It has woken us up and taught us gratitude and appreciation for things we took for granted such as handling mail or walking side-by-side. It has called out our resilience and resourcefulness and we have answered.
In the swirling mayhem of chaos and unpredictability, Procurement is the steady engine that moves us all forward. Procurement connects departments, entities, and communities, ensuring that life-saving goods and services are delivered. We make things work. The resilience of procurement professionals can be summed up by John Adler, Vice President, Procurement of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), “I would not miss this for the world.”
Lisa Frank is Program Content Manager at NIGP