Don't Be a Dilbert Character in Procurement

Don’t be a Dilbert! How to escape the traditional stereotype of procurement professionals and broaden the appeal of the function’s brand.

By Hugo Britt | February 29, 2023

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We love Dilbert, but Scott Adams, unfortunately, isn’t helping procurement’s mission to broaden its appeal! His comic strip regularly features employees arguing with bull-headed, uncaring, and officious procurement officers who represent the worst of the profession.

One such character is Bob, the procurement dinosaur (ouch):

Image: Scott Adams, Dilbert

Don't be a Dilbert...

As you can see, Bob not only fails to bring any value to the organization, but he’s aggressively mistrustful of the stakeholders he should be supporting, all in the name of “claiming the savings.”

So, how can we start to broaden the appeal by changing the procurement brand? How do we start to escape that traditional stereotype represented by Bob?

In episode 146 of The Sourcing Hero podcast, Kelly Barner interviewed A’Keela Johnson, Director of IT and G&A Procurement at Molson Coors, where she is focused on strategic operations management. A’Keela is on a mission to evangelize the benefits of working in procurement, attract talent from other professions, and re-energize people already in the profession.

Procurement can be rebranded by passionate practitioners who are willing to stress the importance of their roles as strategic partners.

How do we start changing the brand?

“The way we do that is to become more and more passionate about what we are doing, and continue to stress the importance of our roles as strategic partners,” says A’Keela. “If you are an individual who loves to learn new things, get exposure, manage relationships, and the list goes on and on, then I think this a dream job. I feel very fulfilled in this role.

We have to tell the story. Our story is a lot sexier than what we let on. It is not just penny-pinching. There is a bigger picture because we have a contract that we have negotiated. If we allow people to deviate from the contract, then we are missing out on value in other areas of the organization. That has an impact on the solution that we have created.

Sometimes, we need to use our storytelling skills when delivering bad news. Not everyone will get everything that they want or desire out of every negotiation, so we have to think holistically and put that compelling story together about how may not be able to do these things in this particular phase; however, in years two and three, we should definitely look at optimizing our existing relationship or innovating. Most of the time, it goes over well. Other times, we do have to go back to the drawing board. But there are not a lot of scenarios where people get exactly what they want every time. 

Delivering bad news is part of the relationship – as is being transparent, upfront, and honest. That is what they are expecting you to be – almost like an advisor. As procurement professionals, we owe it to ourselves to provide our stakeholders with that upfront information. There are times when something is confidential and you cannot share it as early as you want to. We want to be involved in the process early – we don’t want to come in at the twelfth hour – and they don’t want to find out bad news at the twelfth hour.”

How can we win talented people over to procurement?

“It depends on the generation that you are speaking to,” says A’Keela. “For me, I feel fulfilled in my role. I feel like I can re-create and re-invent myself, so to speak, from indirect categories to direct categories. It is about exposure for me. I am a problem-solver. I like to identify those problems, bring people together, and come up with solutions.

There are plenty of selling points to help attract outsiders to the profession. It really offers a great work-life balance. It gives you a sense of empowerment. You have the reins around the data and the people to a certain degree. You are influencing others to come up, think outside of the box, and come up with solutions. That is going to impact everyone in the organization.”

Do suppliers see procurement as Dilbert characters?

“I think it’s a 50-50 split,” says A’Keela. “We still have some suppliers who see the procurement organization as the Dilbert comic strip. However, the more innovative organizations understand that developing relationships with procurement is important for them to get an insight into the organization. On the flip side, our internal stakeholders need to understand more about what the supplier is offering.  We are that conduit. We are selling on both sides. Having procurement on your side is very instrumental for internal and external stakeholders.”

For more insight into rebranding procurement, listen to A’Keela’s full episode of The Sourcing Hero here:

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