Why understanding the business, procurement landscape and building goals and wider support are key.

In a recent Efficio survey every CPO emphasised the importance of “making a positive impact” early on in a new job.

You don’t need to have all the answers but you must demonstrate a ‘listening and learning’ mentality, quickly understand the company’s strategic issues, and establish the strategic priorities of your main executive stakeholders.

In your first 100 days as CPO, you’ll need to tackle three broad challenges:

1. Understanding the business

Meet key executive stakeholders to identify their key priorities and understand how you can help them best deliver against their objectives. Visit operational units and customers to understand the key aspects of the business, and identify how procurement can best support wider business strategies and objectives. This will help you understand how the function is perceived.

2. Understanding the supply chain and procurement landscape

Gather internal and external perceptions of opportunities and weaknesses, the spend landscape, key suppliers and contracts, risks, procurement policy, process and practices, resources and procurement capability.

3. Building a vision and building wide support across the business

Build a compelling vision that is aligned with business strategy, supported by quantified benefits, as well as a sound business case for action and investment, which is widely supported and anchored around the business.

Understanding the business

It is important to quickly establish the key strategic priorities and expectations of your key stakeholders. While the CFO may feel that procurement savings are the first priority, other key stakeholders may be looking for a more strategic approach to the supply chain – improving resilience, reducing risk, enhancing corporate reputation, or speeding up product innovation or delivery performance.

Keep an open mind in the early phases of your new role to ensure that the strategic plan you develop addresses all the key stakeholders’ needs and identifies any trade-offs or conflicts.

Keep an open mind in the early phases of your new role to ensure that the strategic plan you develop addresses all the key stakeholders’ needs and identifies any trade-offs or conflicts.

It is not just executive stakeholders that matter: get out into the core operational business, whether that is offices, factories, retail units or distribution centres.

As one surveyed CPO put it: “You cannot beat getting out and meeting the people who run the plants – they are often the first-line customers for the goods and services my teams are procuring. It is important to treat them like customers and ask them how they find the service and value – it can be eye-opening!”

Your eventual plan will be much more likely to resonate and be supported if you have taken the time to understand the business context and the key priorities.

It is also important to meet with direct reports and explain to the wider procurement team what your short-term priorities are. The objective is to build a wide perspective on the procurement team and strategic priorities.

Understanding the supply chain and procurement landscape

Gain a clear factual understanding of your functional scope, budgets, spend, strengths and weaknesses.

Any business case for change and investment in the function must be based on wide engagement, rigorous analysis, quantified benefits and sound resource estimates. It is therefore critical that the CPO develops a clear understanding of the situation, and is able to quantify potential benefits and the road map to deliver them.

It may help to delegate this activity to a group of direct reports, but it can also help to get an external perspective so that areas for improvement can be identified and an understanding of how the key parameters benchmark against best practice can be achieved.

  • Staff: Engaging with the wider staff is also important, and the first communication will say a lot about how you intend to act.As one of the survey respondents noted: “I developed a short survey that I sent to all my staff – it was anonymous and encouraged honesty about the opportunities and issues. Within a week I had a 360° view of what most needed to be fixed and what people thought were the most important objectives – this helped me much more than the initial meetings with my direct reports. It also established a degree of trust and confidence that I was interested in my staff’s opinions.”
  • Supply base: Meet with your key suppliers to understand how your company compares with their other customers in various areas. While suppliers can be nervous about being critical in early meetings, the right encouraging style can coax some very useful perspectives about how their competitors behave, how well organised you are as a customer and where opportunities to improve and innovate exist.
  • Operating model: Assess the effectiveness of the organisational structures, scope and remit, processes, policies and practices, as well as the capability and capacity of the staff.

Building a vision and building wide support across the business

A client CEO complained: “I didn’t recognise one objective from the CPO that is on our Board’s list of issues and imperatives – he needs to make his agenda more relevant and wider than just savings. What about growth, competitive advantage, innovation, customer service or reputational harm? These are the issues I care most about.”

In the final stage of the first 100 days, you should be in a position to shape your vision for the function, and articulate in a comprehensive business plan:

  • how the vision and objectives support and align with the business’s strategic imperatives
  • how they support the various business units and functional stakeholders’ objectives
  • an assessment of the current supply chain strategy and a view of how fit-for-purpose it is
  • a comprehensive plan of what is working well, what needs to change and what benefits can be achieved
  • an assessment of the function’s capability and capacity to deliver the transformation plan
  • a compelling benefits case, with sufficient fact-base to show the ROI for any change cost or investment in additional resources.

Overall momentum and support

In the early engagement phase it is worth identifying opportunities to deliver some ‘quick wins’ that help build your credibility, and show you are action-oriented and that you listen.

These need not be savings, but might be a broken process, or a supplier’s performance that is causing a problem for a stakeholder. If you can resolve it quickly and on your own initiative, it can go a long way towards building a wide support base, especially if you plan to expand your remit and drive significant change.

The final phase should be spent building buy-in and approval from all senior management and those elsewhere in the business so that the transformation has a wide support base, and it has been well discussed prior to any final presentation.

The focus should be on creating a powerful first impression on the people who count, and defining a compelling and powerful vision that reflects key stakeholders’ priorities.

The 100-day plan is more than just a list of actions – it is about starting as you mean to go on. The behaviours demonstrated should be about humility and listening, with the energy and passion to make a difference.