For Director of Global Sourcing for Medline Industries Brian Chaplin, being a sourcing hero means listening, learning, and taking action.

“It’s about being an active listener, being able to learn... and then driving change. That’s key for me. The people that I think are heroes are able to put aside what they think and truly listen to buyers, purchasing managers, and senior managers, and really learn from those individuals. As long as we are continually listening and learning from others and then driving those things that we learned into really effective change, that is what I would define as a sourcing hero.”

The value proposition of procurement

Why is listening so important in procurement? Because it is the essential first step towards repositioning the profession’s value proposition.

In episode 78 of The Sourcing Hero podcast, Chaplin provides some great tips on listening (something that doesn’t come naturally to everyone in the workplace):

“For me, being humble plays a really big part in being a great listener and being a person who is willing to learn from everybody. [Humble people] don’t think their ideas are bigger than anybody else’s; they are able to say, ‘Oh, yes, that makes sense. You’re right.’ I think that’s big.”

Educating stakeholders about the value of procurement

The procurement profession has been talking internally for so long about shifting from tactical to strategic that it’s sometimes easy to forget that many stakeholders still view procurement as a support function with limited roles and capabilities.

“We need to reposition and redefine what procurement is, and what procurement does internally,” says Chaplin. “It’s about how we educate our internal stakeholders [to transform the way they see us] as a value-adding partner versus a mere support function.” 

In other words, procurement needs to overcome tired old stereotypes like, “We’re just here to create a PO” or, “We’re like a roadblock.”

“How do we work with stakeholders internally and educate them on what we can do?” asks Chaplin. “We’re not just here for purchase orders and we’re not just that person who’s there when they flip it over the fence. I try to be more strategic from that perspective.” 

The key is to spread the message that procurement is about more than cost savings in indirect sourcing. “Consider how we can help stakeholders achieve overall department goals, rather than just cost savings,” says Chaplin. “[Obviously the need for] cost savings will never go away, but how can we help the IT department or HR with their overall department goals?

It could be small wins here and there: maybe it’s implementing a piece of technology, tracking temp labor or helping track our IT assets. It could be helping with efficiencies within each department.”

Inspiring and empowering teams

Chaplin also talked about empowering a procurement team in Mexico and helping them shift the perception of procurement to a value-oriented function. Part of this involved distributing decision-making responsibilities. 

“When I first took over this group in Mexico, there was really just one person making decisions and the other team members were there to support,” he says.

“What we’ve focused on achieving down there is to push the decision-making on everyone and allow every team member to make decisions based on their experiences. A team is never going to learn if they can’t make their own decisions. The message was, ‘Listen, sometimes, the decision may not be right, but it’s okay to make mistakes and this is the reason why,’ and teaching them [to take responsibility] that way.”

For more insight, listen to Brian Chaplin's full episode of The Sourcing Hero podcast here: