by Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO
The 3 Resources for which you should ask funding early in a Transformation Initiative
I spent about 75% of my 27-year public service career leading transformations. I enjoyed seeing progress in the organization and the people’s development and how it positioned the procurement function within the entity. That growth brought positioned Procurement well within the entity. Having a voice and a seat at the table made the journey worth traveling. One can attribute the success of the transformation to the collective efforts of the team. The team lived the daily struggle of getting out of their comfort zones. They also experienced individual rewards with the changes. Each individual’s standards measured personal and professional growth.
“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” —John F. Kennedy
My team and I learned many lessons. Some were less painful than others. Those painful lessons help us build strength; even though some may have been unnecessary. Those situations help build grace and courage. There was higher awareness that everyone reacts differently to change, and despite their desire for things to remain the same, the organization no longer provides the value that it once did. It also gave us courage to continue down the transformation path despite the opposition.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
The process of transformation requires a lot from people, particularly procurement professionals already overloaded with work. Perhaps stamina is a valuable ally for anyone going through a transformation process. Often, the leadership of organizations doesn’t fully understand the energy and effort required to go through a transformation process. There is usually a long list of demands and a brief timeframe to accomplish them. Paradoxically, the group expected to produce under a new definition of value has not benefited from new tools or resources to create such value.
Whenever I went to a new agency, I faced similar circumstances to those I had seen before. In most cases, upper management assumed that the procurement personnel were not working as hard as they should have or were not fit for the job. Rarely did upper management acknowledge the lack of investment made on the procurement group. It was not uncommon that those who wanted the procurement organization to transform did not understand that they needed to think about the function differently. The changes that come with transformation have an impact both internally and externally.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” – Niccolo Machiavelli
I learned the hard way to ask for resources upfront, even when I did not know with certainty what I needed. Why? Because there is a very narrow window after the transformation announcement to obtain approval for the resources required. If you wait too long after that, it is much more challenging. Prioritizing the request for enablers that required financial investment and budget dollars is essential. There are three areas that I focused my attention on right away. These were training, staffing, and technology.
- Training – I found that securing a budget for training in a transformation initiative is not as tricky if requested upfront. In many instances, upper management recognizes that the current staff will require some type of training at a minimum since, in most cases, there had been little to no offered. If personnel are not up to speed with best practices in the field or have a network of colleagues they can reach out to, it’s hard for them to develop. Membership to relevant professional organizations like NIGP and the local chapter can be part of their educational experience and network development.
- Staffing – Organizations tend to be unwilling to recognize “understaffing” as one reason for the slow procurement process speed. The end-user and upper management do not fully understand the time impact of specific regulations on the procurement function. There is a disconnect between the expectations of the time that procurement should take and the effort required to meet the expectations. While it may be acceptable to guestimate the original request for staffing budget, the leader must make an effort to justify the number of positions requested or the redesign of the existing job descriptions if they no longer serve the organization well. Staffing is a hard sell and requires sufficient analysis and justification. Ensuring that salaries are competitive and positions offer growth opportunities will increase the chances of attracting talented individuals to the organization.
- Technology – Many organizations already have some type of technology primarily related to the financial aspect of procurement. However, the procurement team often does not have the features necessary in existing systems to ensure their success. The need for new technology or the optimization of existing technology will become evident once the leader has had a chance to evaluate daily tasks’ efficiency and determine whether there is a need for automation or the need for additional technology. Depending on the situation, this might be the most significant investment. Therefore, it is crucial to plan the functional requirements well to maximize the benefits to the operation.
“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” —Woodrow Wilson
I should note that upper management support is a critical component of a transformation initiative. Once changes start rolling out, end-users and stakeholders will experience the discomfort of change. It is then that upper management support will become critical to the success of the transformation. The Human Resources Director and the Technology Director’s support and commitment are crucial as the early request for funding are to these areas. Any strategy associated with personnel and technology depends significantly on the support received by the people responsible for these two areas in the entity.
Change is not easy, and those who advocate for change generally expect someone else to make the changes. When the tables change, those advocates will feel the discomfort of adjusting to changes as anyone interacting with the procurement function will need to make adjustments. The best way that I found to handle this challenge is through communication. Communicating change should be done with as much transparency as possible. A well-developed communication plan should include a strategy that considers each layer within the organization and adjusts the communication accordingly.
“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often” – Winston Churchill
In summary, some enablers do not require additional budget but are necessary for a transformation. When the organization makes a high investment, particularly in staffing and technology, it will expect a high return. Those enabling resources that require an investment of money should be requested upfront while the initiative is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Early requests will increase the likelihood of obtaining the resources needed to effectively make the necessary changes and elevate the procurement team’s performance.
About the Author: Lourdes Coss is a former Chief Procurement Officer living her purpose. She’s the author of “Procurement Methods: Effective Techniques” and uses the lessons of her 27 years career in government procurement and transformation to coach, train, and provide consulting to leaders and aspiring leaders in the profession. Post-Pandemic, you may find her in a café writing her next book.