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A Value-Added Vocation

Nov. 7, 2008
Purchasing pros need to start taking a broader view of the business.

As a purchasing professional, are you seen as an equal partner in your organization, or merely as a technician? If it's the latter, then it might be time to step out of your comfort zone and adopt a broader view of the enterprise, according to Howard Guttman, principal of management consulting firm Guttman Development Strategies Inc.

"If you're playing a high-performance game, not only is it permissible to provide input to your peers, it's expected," says Guttman. "Purchasing professionals need to demonstrate evidence of their willingness to provide input into areas that aren't just purchasing related. Because without anything to suggest otherwise, executives are only going to see them in that technician's role."

In his book, entitled Great Business Teams (Wiley, 2008), Guttman discusses five factors that create alignment within a department or division: strategy, goals, accountability, protocols and business relationships. When underperformance occurs from an organizational development standpoint, it's usually a symptom of one or more of those factors not being in place.

"When two parties don't agree on a strategy or goals, they often -- inadvertently -- start competing for resources," he explains. "And disagreements on accountability can lead to misinterpreted expectations -- where one department has certain expectations of another to perform a given task, but that department doesn't think it's their job."

Howard Guttman, principal of management consulting firm Guttman Development Strategies Inc.In what Guttman considers a "great" business team, departments learn how to work horizontally and hold each other accountable in those situations. In addition to agreeing on protocols for decision-making and how communications are conducted, they reinforce the importance of establishing clear-cut relationships that simplify whatever intradependencies might exist. Otherwise, silo structures are created and usually remain intact -- a scenario with which those in the purchasing function are all too familiar.

"In most companies purchasing people tend to stay very functionally focused, which means they don't often play an enterprise role and they're focused in their own zone," he explains. "But what they end up accomplishing, inadvertently, is they start to marginalize the impact they can have."

To avoid this effect, purchasers need to realize the importance of each member of the team taking responsibility for the entire enterprise -- meaning that any issue should be fair game. Normally this isn't done enough to be perceived as adding extra value to the purchasing function, according to Guttman. Of course, that perception can change if something new is brought to the table.

Once purchasing managers gain a better understanding of the total enterprise beyond their day-to-day purchasing calls, Guttman suggests they start showcasing their talents as a mediator. By taking on the role of an internal consultant, skills typically designated to a purchasing function can be refocused to facilitate discussions between business teams or help resolve issues when they arise.

"Purchasers are actually in a perfect position to assume that role," Guttman explains. "In fact, the most successful purchasers, beyond their technical acumen, are the ones who have the greatest ability to play consultant internally. And it's those sorts of skills that can help take them to the next level."

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