Global Leaders in Procurement & Negotiations (

Purchasing Training ~ Issue #57

Who’s Managing Who With Your Suppliers?

What would you think if you entered a cruise ship and found out that the captain was not only steering the ship, but also cooking the food and cleaning the restrooms?  The thought is ludicrous, right?

Purchasing Training - Leadership

It’s ludicrous on a lot of levels.  One is that there just isn’t time for all of those activities.  Another is that if you try to do all of them well, you won’t be able to do any of them well.

Yet another is that it detracts from the most strategic goal – safely and efficiently guiding the ship.  Finally, engaging in cooking and cleaning activities represents an opportunity cost for someone who is skilled enough to be a captain of a cruise ship.

Why are we talking about captains, cruise ships, cooks, and restrooms?  I’d like to tell you it’s because I’m getting ready to go on a cruise, but that’s not the reason unfortunately.

The reason is that supplier managers in our profession are trying to be the captain and the cook of a ship, and it’s not a sustainable or an effective model.  What do I mean by this?

Well, grab a mirror, look in it deeply, and tell me who is really accountable for your supplier’s success.  Are your rolling up your sleeve and tackling supplier performance problems?

Is your supplier taking complete control of their performance, using metrics, and updating you regularly? Who discovers the problems, the supplier or you?  Who makes all the phone calls?  Who is driving the action plans for resolution?

Keep holding onto that mirror.  Now tell me, is it you doing any of these things?  If the answer is yes, then there is a high probability that you are trying to be the captain and the cook of your very own cruise ship.  Want a different analogy?  You are trying to be the maestro and the orchestra of your own symphony.  It’s not going to work.

Besides, who gets to do all the bowing at the end of a symphony anyways?  That’s right, the maestro gets all the credit.  That’s the way it works.  It really doesn’t matter that the orchestra was the one doing 99% of the work.  Heck, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and the Maestro still is the one doing the endless bowing.

One step further, who is responsible for supplier continuous improvement? Is anyone?  Or is the focus just on meeting the bare deliverables of the contract?

How about when something goes wrong with supplier performance.  Is the focus on the symptom or the root cause? Who is doing the analysis?  Who reports it out?  Who ensure non-recurrence?  I could go on and on here.

Have you seen those characters that have a banjo in their hands, a harmonica situated in front of their mouth, and a drum set someplace on their body or back, as they somehow become a one person band?  How many of those folks have landed in the Rock ‘n Roll hall of fame or won Grammy awards for best album of the year?

It’s funny looking for sure to see those people, but funny doesn’t shoot you up the  procurement career ladder and catapult your income.  And it’s definitely not funny when it’s happening to procurement professionals….. and my guess is it might just be happening to you when it comes to supplier performance management.

You see, not a single one of you is an individual contributor.  ALL OF YOU are people managers.  The people you are managing, and who work for you, and who should be at your beck and call TO ENSURE YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL are your high expenditure suppliers.  Reread this short section here (the preceding 3 sentences) a few times before moving on.  Throw away every notion to the contrary you’ve ever held to date.

Don’t be afraid to make suppliers earn their money.  Set expectations for performance results, report cards, root cause analysis on excursions, and continuous quality and TCO improvement.

And if you haven’t done it yet, it’s not too late to start.  Don’t ask your suppliers, you have the right to tell them.  YOU are the one with the money, and it is a privilege for them to be on the receiving end of your money.  It’s so easy to forget this, especially with all the misperceptions around the concept of win/win out there.

Now I’m not at all asking you to become a dictator.  What I’m saying is really only common sense.   After all, if your kid does bad in a subject in school, do you dive and start doing their homework and taking their exams for them?  Absolutely not.  And this is no different.

So exhibit some leadership.  As long as you use influence and not authority, your suppliers will respect you for it, I promise you.

Now go off and do something wonderful with this purchasing training.  Then come back and tell me about it.  It’s the highlight of my job.

We’ll talk with you next week.

Be your best!


Omid G