It makes a nice change to actually report on a public sector ‘good news’ story. This one in particular is a successful procurement transformation story in the UK Blue Light, or emergency services, sector. It was undertaken by Mike Fairbotham, Associate Director of Procurement and Logistics at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust. At eWorld in London last month, we listened to Mike’s speech on how he carried out the procurement transformation, and, impressed by his vision and tenacity, we asked him to give us an overview of how he achieved a transformation that led to being shortlisted for the CIPS Supply Management Awards this year. So we are fortunate to have first-hand insight into Mike’s personal procurement transformation advice.
Transforming Procurement is the remit given to so many of us, and if we are very lucky, this comes with both senior management support, and some kind of budget. In January 2015 I joined Yorkshire Ambulance Service with such a remit, and after almost three-years in the role, it’s time to reflect on where I’ve come from, and how my approach led me to (almost, but not quite) winning the CIPS Supply Management Awards in 2017. These five lessons might help you with your own Procurement Transformation journey …
Understand where you work
Let’s start by talking about the importance of context and operating environment. Thankfully, for many of us, the closest we come to seeing the inside of an Ambulance is when watching the fly-on-the-wall TV series on the BBC. When purchasing for a Blue Light emergency service , the life-and-death nature of the work, makes the transformational journey even more challenging, but understanding the needs of the end user (in this case usually a Paramedic), and deploying a well-rounded skill-set to fulfil their needs, is critical to achieving success.
My first lesson is to understand the critically of where you work – what happens if it goes wrong, you buy the wrong thing, it gets delivered to the wrong place, you end up paying too much? For some organisations this may just be an inconvenience, with only a small opportunity cost, but for others, the stakes could be much higher.
Get close to your stakeholders
So many stakeholders think that Procurement is just about paying the lowest price – sadly within the Public Sector, this is a common perception, and one that we as an industry are not doing enough to break, or maybe recalibrate? In the Public Sector, we often talk about achieving best value for money, but with many of our customers thinking that this means that we always buy the cheapest thing on the market, there is also a view from more senior managers that we aren’t commercially minded enough and don’t manage our supplier to deliver what was promised at the agreed price.
My second lesson is therefore to get close to your stakeholders, earning their confidence and respect – be reactive and achieve some quick wins in areas that matter to them.
Plan with your people
As clichéd as it may sound, you are unlikely to achieve any kind of transformation without planning your activities and taking your team with you. In my experience, this is achieved through good situational leadership, and applying the right people skills to the right situations. I would usually put aside around three months to planning my actions; getting to know the team; establishing my leadership; and stabilising the ship – identifying key risks and issues and addressing these in parallel with developing the way forward.
My third lesson is that you should plan meticulously, but not to the detriment of engaging with your staff or addressing key issues and risks. Involve your team in the process – you will get a better result faster than doing it alone, and you are less likely to miss those hidden hazards that will stop your transformation in its tracks.
Set an ambitious goal – then go for it!
Articulating a vision should be the end result of you describing what you personally want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. In my most recent transformation role, my aim was to achieve Confidence in Procurement, so I split this into a few easily remembered chunks: Building a professional team; gaining the commitment of customers; and working closer with suppliers. Success would be measured through: customer feedback, a blend of performance statistics, and external Professional Accreditation.
My forth lesson is to articulate a clear an ambitious goal which satisfies all levels of stakeholders, in this case a detailed paper strategy document, and a simple graphic which included the key words and phrases. Once this is articulated, delivery starts immediately.
Try to achieve Procurement Efficacy
In transforming procurement functions, I think about Procurement Efficacy as being commercially minded and getting the best price, but also achieving the best possible procurement outcomes. In simple terms, those who have worked with me know I talk in terms of better for cheaper – the idea that we are buying a better product or service than we had before, but for less money than we paid for it last time around. Difficult to achieve, yes, but in my opinion, this kind of thinking has been instrumental to successfully transforming the function.
My fifth and final lesson is that Return on Investment is important, but it isn’t everything. I’ve managed team delivering between three and twelve times their cost, but reflecting back on my career, I wouldn’t say that all of them truly delivered Procurement Efficacy, so understand your costs and get the best possible price, but without sacrificing your outcome.
If you would like to know more about successful Procurement Transformation and achieving the often illusive Procurement Efficacy, Mike also runs Perigean Ltd, a consultancy that advises on procurement transformation, sustainability and how to work with the public sector. Or you can connect with him here on Public Spend Forum.