Unlock your Procurement "GOD" Mode

Ashokk N Menon
November 14, 2023

After the past 2 years, many businesses are facing a whole host of constraints on their procurement function. Instability in the supply chain and inflationary pressures coupled with talent shortages and rising labour costs are requiring procurement teams to deliver more results with fewer resources, the classic "do more with less."

To rise up to this challenge, Procurement professionals need to level up, unlock their potential, and activate their “God Mode” at work.

What would it be like as a young and upcoming procurement professional, to access "god modes" or "cheat codes" to get good at what you are currently focused on, deliver great results and further your career?

Imagine beginning your career with such a clear focus in a complex environment that you could navigate any hairy project or complex social dynamic.

On top of that, imagine having such deep understanding of business needs, market dynamics, and technology that you can confidently make the right call in just about any situation.

Does that sound better than just trusting your intuition and waiting to see what happens?

The God Mode Formula

Executive coach Ravi Raman, in his article says,"we all have the same amount of time in the day, and we get all sorts of work done and create various levels of impact. It is not just about luck, but the cumulative focus we have applied to things we care about."

Here’s the procurement-focused version of Ravi’s God Mode Formula::

Goals + Focus + Learning + Agile Operating Models = Amazing Results

Let's break down each element on the left side of the equation.

1. Clear Goals

If you're looking to maximize the value that you're adding to your organisation at each stage of your career, you need to start with what's already getting measured. Whether your company calls them OKRs, KRAs, or KPIs, there are a few key metrics that will help form your target. Specifically, there will be metrics along the lines of  Cost Savings, Revenue Generation, Supplier Performance / Relationship, Spend under management, Social Procurement, Transactional Procurement, Utilisation of Technology, Internal User Surveys.
Now you have to decide which of these to focus on improving, given your limited time and resources. Experience has shown me that trying to move the dial on more than 3 of the above areas in any given quarter is asking to be overwhelmed. And, if you want to advance quickly in your career, you should make sure your goals overlap with those of your executive team.

Sweet Spot Prioritisation

If you outperform on 1 or 2 of your executive team's biggest goals, they'll take notice. They might even start putting some 'positive pressure' on you to produce more of the same. I can tell you from experience, being singled out in a large management team meeting by the Managing Director of a business and asked for advice on a particular matter, was a feather in the cap for me at my first job. It opened up more doors for me within the organisation.
Top focus areas for leaders in my experience are around #1. Cost Reduction, #2. Revenue Generation, #3. Supplier Relationships and #4 Social Procurement.  However, these will change depending on the industry sector and priorities within the organisation. So pick your 3 goals wisely, and commit to focusing on them (and measuring them!) for 3-6 months.

2. Clear Focus

Steve Martin once said, “be so good that they can't ignore you!" and that became the title for Cal Newport's book where he explains why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love. So how do you get that good? It's all about focus. Not only do you need to focus on your work... you need to focus on your ability to focus!
Getting great at procurement (or anything else) is all about maintaining a high level of focus on the right things over time. So then, improving your ability to focus will have far-reaching effects throughout your entire career.
As your focus deepens, you'll start connecting more and more dots until you reach expert-level understanding of your topic. So, with the right focus, that new sourcing project or cost optimisation problem become the very ways that you sharpen yourskills and unlock God mode. Every focused run through builds your skills even more. Try reading this Harvard Business Review article on training your brain to focus for some tips that you can start putting into action right now.

3. High Learning Agility

I used to think that people are either born with the ability to learn and are just plain smart.... Or they weren't. Now, I think that it is only partially true. Anybody can learn to think more nimbly if they want it. In his book, Teach Yourself to Think, Edward De Bono describes a simple five-stage process that anyone can learn to think better. It starts with assessing the goals, sort and finding the most viable option, deciding, and executing. Simple,right?
To accelerate learning and thinking differently, especially in the context of procurement, here are some elements that I recommend focusing on:

a. Frameworks

Most of problem solving is typically executed using frameworks that are adapted for the client situation. Frameworks help structure your thinking and help to work through the problems and answer the question more effectively, and usually, faster. Not only does using a framework help speed up the process, but it’s also a great way to train your brain to effectively solve a particular kind of problem. Here are a couple of links (Streets of Walls, Kraljic Matrix) to frameworks that I googled, there are several out there published by leading consulting firms.

b. Variety

Don't get stuck on your frameworks, though. Our brains thrive on variety. The more industry sectors we are able to cut across through our work experience orleveraging the experience of others, the more we learn about different practices and challenges. Sometimes even just hearing about the challenges gets our minds to start to think or find ways to relate to similar challenges in our own work and even potentially come up with out of the box solutions.

c. Mentors,Coaches, Networks

Individual competence takes you to a point, but it is the combined knowledge of the people around you, which may include coaches, mentors and your network that will take you further. Eventually you'll reach a point where you need to lean on the learning of people that have walked the path before.

d. Connecting the dots looking forward vs backwards

Steve Jobs, in one of his speeches said" You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." If you think about this, predicting the future is always a tough exercise, but ones that can sense where the market is headed or how some of the challenges /solutions can pan out, are the ones that are able to reap significant benefits.
So learning to think big picture and possibilities, connecting the dots looking forward is a skill that few people have and ones that do it well go on to become legends in their own right.

4. Agile Operating Models

This one, will add that exponential factor to access your God Mode. Imagine metrics like 1.3x to 3x in throughput.

Adopting an Agile Operating Model is the key part of the approach that lets you use your new skills to quickly and effectively implement what you’re learning.

By focussing on collaboration upfront, and aligning the organisation on the problem and the objectives. It helps then, to break up work into sprints, reevaluating success frequently, and focusing on results rather than clinging to plans that are chiselled in stone, you’re in a far better position to respond to changing conditions.

Further, the Agile Methodology lets you answer the all-important question: “Did we achieve what we wanted to?”, sooner than the traditional waterfall approach.

Too many organisations try to get out of tough procurement scenarios by hiring more and more FTEs, without doing anything to address the ways these employees are going to work & solve problems.

To clarify, here is how it is different to traditional models

  1. A high focus on collaboration and transparency - a focus on individuals and interactions and having the difficult conversations upfront
  2. Competency based teaming - bringing in diverse skill sets
  3. Focus on failing fast - working in sprints and rapid iterations and reduced time to market
  4. Reduce waste - reduce efforts upfront and final,
  5. Focus on non linearity over traditional linear processes

A truly agile procurement/supply chain function can deliver a high P&L impact through solving complex problems concurrently in a short period of time, typically far less time than a traditional waterfall method.

In a recent survey,  92% of CXOs indicated that going agile is critical to their business strategy. The resultant improvements have been impressive for the early adopters according to McKinsey Research - 30% increase in customer centricity,  30% increase in operational performance, 5-10x speed of execution, increase in employee engagement, 30% efficiency gains and 15% increase in financial performance.

The agile operating model is gaining recognition to accelerate result deliveryin both volatile and stable environments, ensuring that the Procurement Teams have the capability built in to be proactive and rapidly respond to thechanging business environment.

In summary -

The Procurement God mode is inside you; you just need to learn to tap it. Here's how:

1. Have a clear set of goals to achieve, be ruthless in what you pick

2. Focus on improving your focus

3. Increase your learning agility so you can connect the dots with a forward-looking view better and faster to accelerate results

4. Consider an Agile Operating Model

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