The True Impact of Procurement

By Hugo Britt | August 11, 2022

It’s no secret that the U.S. workforce, as a whole, is re-evaluating its priorities after the experience of the pandemic. First there was the work-life balance revolution made possible by remote collaboration technology, followed by the Great Resignation, an ongoing talent shortage with no end in sight, and – more recently – the “Quiet Quitting” movement.

Employers, stressed to the edge of endurance by Covid and inflation pressures, have found attracting and retaining great talent to be the number-one challenge in 2022. Most have moved fast to ramp up their EVP (Employee Value Propositions) with varying results. But in a candidate-driven market, there’s one factor that makes an enormous difference in the war for talent: meaningful work.

McKinsey found that when employees find their work to be meaningful:

  • Performance improves by 33%
  • They are 75% more committed to the organization
  • And 49% less likely to leave.

In other words, meaningful work is a key weapon in the never-ending battle against employee attrition. But what exactly is it? The concept of what brings “meaning” to a role is difficult to pin down and ranges from interesting projects to societal impact, contributing to company success, being part of high-performing teams, having a positive impact on customers, and personal growth.

The impact of procurement

For procurement professionals that continue to treat the role as a back-office function, it can be difficult to discern meaning in the role when we are simply reacting to “buy” signals and carrying out purchase requests.

But by taking the time to consider how our work contributes to the organization’s overall mission and seeing the impact of your decisions on real people and real communities, it quickly becomes apparent that we work in a high-impact profession with the potential to create meaningful and fulfilling careers. 

For example:

In episode 57 of The Sourcing Hero podcast, international procurement and legal specialist Magda Theodate speaks about the need for procurement professionals to step outside their comfort zones and day-to-day workload in order to generate a real impact.

“I think [the art is to find] an equilibrium between taking risks that have a positive impact and moving your organization or country forward or playing it safe and just getting your certification but not contributing to any progress.

I got excited about procurement when I realized it’s a field that turns ideas into reality. Most lawyers will tell you that we spend a lot of time pushing paper in the legal world, and I wanted to spend time working on real issues and solving them.”

Magda Theodate

Aligning your day-to-day role with your organizational and personal missions

In episode 72 of The Sourcing Hero podcast, Kelly Barner interviewed Iris Cooper, a dedicated procurement professional who has worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of the Treasury, and in the State of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services.

All of Iris’s work is “mission-connected” and based on her belief that each procurement team can make a significant impact in the communities they serve. Iris makes a point of drawing a connection between the organizational mission and her personal story:

“[With every career choice they make], I think people need to look at how it’s less about promotion but more about mission alignment for [their] personal beliefs and values,” she says. “For example, working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, my son was active-duty army and deployed in Afghanistan, so that mission meant something to me every single day.”

Similarly, after experiencing the tragic death of her daughter following a battle with mental health, Iris finds strong personal meaning and impact in her role at the Department and Health and Human Services beyond simply “doing contracting.” 

“Yes, I can do contracting. I’ve done this all my life. But I understand from an advocate perspective how critical those services are to people. Every contract we put in place, every procurement we make enables a customer or a resident of North Carolina to access the [health] service. That’s my mission story for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Every vaccine, every test, every personal protective equipment, mental health service, financial assistance – everything has a contract that supports it. That’s why procurement is such a critical piece of the mission delivery.”

Iris Cooper

Every dollar saved can have a positive impact

The term “cost savings” is thrown around constantly in procurement, to the point where it risks losing its meaning. But part of finding meaning in your procurement role involves considering how the money you have saved can be put to use for positive impact. Iris shares the story of how a purchase card program generated a modest $20,000 rebate, but it translated into a significant community impact: 

“Our organization also contracts with agencies to help us with special needs adoptions. This is another personal intersection for me. I adopted two children. I deeply care about adoption and foster care,” Cooper says.

“It matters so much and it’s so important. Every special needs adoption – meaning a child with a disability or special needs – costs the state roughly about between $6,000 and $7,000. So, $20,000 buys three special needs adoptions, meaning three children will have permanent safe homes. We need to think in terms of dollars savings as to what is the actual community impact.”

Connect with the ultimate customer

One way to better understand procurement’s impact involves thinking beyond your immediate circle of stakeholders and consider (or even meet with) the ultimate customer who will benefit from your activities. For example, Iris’s organization buys vehicle modifications for people with disabilities. “Until you see the need of that person and why that matters, I think you are pushing paper in the background,” she says.

“It is critical to connect to your ultimate customer. Prior to the pandemic, I spent several weeks traveling to each state-operated healthcare facility here in the state of North Carolina because my staff supports the facilities – psychiatric hospitals, neuro psych facilities, drug treatment facilities – just so I could visualize and feel what the vibe is in that facility, what they need, how quickly they need it, and how we best support that.”

And it’s not just the public sector where we can make an impact. Private sector procurement professionals are fighting modern slavery, reducing waste and other forms of pollution, enabling the circular economy, and supporting diverse suppliers. In addition, every dollar saved in the private sector has the potential to support charities and other worthy causes. If your organization doesn’t participate in these initiatives at present, procurement professionals can volunteer to help get a charitable program up and running.

Once you start considering the positive impact of your role on the environment, climate change, diverse suppliers, and your community, it becomes much easier to glean the meaning in your work and the importance of your role in helping the organization fulfill its positive mission goals.

The key to increasing procurement’s impact, says Iris, is to build trust in the organization. Meet with internal stakeholders to understand their challenges and establish the “team sport” nature of procurement, meet with the ultimate customer to decipher their needs, and concentrate on building supplier relationships and relationships with trusted partners within the community.

Listen to these full episodes of The Sourcing Hero podcast for more actionable takeaways on how the impact of procurement plays out every day. 

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