How Procurement Can Re-invent Itself In The Workplace – Kelly Barner

This interview is taken from an episode of the Spend Culture Stories podcast. In this episode, Kelly Barner from Buyer’s Meeting Point chats with us on the new role of the procurement executive, and how procurement can reclaim itself as a key function in an organization. She explains the hilarious and shocking stories behind how the role of procurement is behind everything that we see. 

About the Podcast:

Your company culture might attract talent, but your Spend Culture will make or break your company. The Spend Culture Stories podcast helps finance leaders learn the tactics, strategies, and processes to build a proactive Spend Culture. In this podcast, we have human conversations about the messy and sometimes hilarious stories that happen when people, organizations, and money meet. Learn how to pick the right tools, implement the most efficient processes, and how to develop the right people to transform the Spend Culture of your organization for the better.

How Procurement Can Re-invent Itself In The Workplace

Kelly Barner owns, manages, and edits procurement resource hub Buyer’s Meeting Point. She has a unique perspective on procurement from the numerous roles she has held during her 15 years in procurement. Kelly worked for Ahold USA (parent company of grocery chains Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Giant Landover, and more) on their not for resale sourcing team, specializing in systems implementation and hired services category sourcing. She spent three years as the Associate Director of consulting services at Emptoris before it was acquired by IBM in 2011.

In this episode, Kelly chats with us on the new role of the procurement executive, and how procurement can reclaim itself as a key function in an organization. Procurement is often seen as boring and ‘unsexy’, but not to Kelly. She explains the hilarious and shocking stories behind how the role of procurement is behind everything that we see.

Speakers: Kelly Barner, Managing Director and Owner, Buyer’s Meeting Point

Listen to the Episode Here:

Notable Quotes:

Q: What are some of the new skills that you think procurement professionals need to develop in order to really move forward in their career especially today?

Having Strong Active & Passive Communication Skills

Kelly Barner [00:09:23] Sure. So, I think for me this kind of falls into two buckets. The first bucket is, I would say around communications. I mean obviously, there’s been a lot of talk around procurement has to be able to present, we have to have the skills to influence. We have to be able to write good emails sometimes on very sensitive topics either to the Csuite or to a supplier.

So we have to have good outgoing, overt communication skills, speaking, written, all of that kind of thing. But there’s also the more passive communication skills that in some cases I think are even more important. So, for instance, the decision around timing. So, I receive a critical email from a stakeholder or from a supplier. Do I e-mail back or do I call? How long do I wait? Do I involve anyone else? There’s a lot of strategic decisions around that. And then, of course, all of the things involved with absolutely anything face to face.

I was having a conversation with somebody earlier today about being in a people business and really when you think about it except for maybe very hands-on manufacturing, every single business in the world is a people business because it doesn’t matter what you’re doing you have to be good at working with other people.

So, reading situations, reading body language, being able to handle a difficult situation on the fly. Also, thinking through the little details, like where do you sit people in a meeting or how do you open a meeting, how do you handle conflict resolution whether you’re an intermediary or whether you’re one of the involved parties. I think a lot of those I’m calling the passive communication skills. But they’re still actions required, sort of the reading of other people and the interpretation of situations, I think that’s incredibly important.

Understanding Business Context and the Bigger Picture

I think it’s a need that continues but it’s general business acumen. You must understand what’s going on the greater context of the company and that might be following news about your own company, it might also be setting time aside to read the Wall Street Journal.

I think it’s very easy to focus on exactly what’s on our desks every day and forget why we do it, the bigger system that we have to fit into. So, really being educated about the business world in general.

Learning Beyond Your Function

But then on a detailed level, you have to be comfortable reading financial statements. But you also have to understand the unique rules that go into creating those statements. In some cases, they shape how procurements results are captured.

It’s not as simple as saying we saved a million dollars on this product or service. The bottom line got a million dollars bigger. It’s not that simple. We may gain incredible value. The same is true when maybe we’re working a cost avoidance-type project and we can’t mitigate all of the increase. So, you’re still absorbing an increase. But not all of that increase is going to be immediately evident on the financial statements.

And so it’s understanding things, like the difference between consumable supplies versus a capital expenditure that has a depreciation schedule that’s going to affect how the company recognizes the acquisition of that asset as well as the savings that go along with it.

 And a lot of times it also comes down to what the working capital policies are of that organization given you know what’s the current cost of capital, what are the other projects that are going on. All of those things should either be affecting procurement priorities or should be affecting how we report our results.

Q: What are some of the main stakeholders that you think procurement really needs to collaborate with?

The Obvious Answer: The CFO & Buyers

Kelly Barner [00:13:55] The obvious stakeholders are the CFO and all of the distributed buyers. One of the things we’ve seen happen over the last few years is an increase in procurement strategy. We distribute buying activity to different people in the organization. Sometimes this means globally, sometimes it just means different desks within our own building.  

Decentralizing the Buying Process Through Technology

Allowing technology to take people through a guided buying process or giving people greater autonomy is incredibly empowering. But it also creates a lot of different kinds of stakeholders.

Kelly Barner [00:14:48] So, there are stakeholders in the form of budget owners that are looking to us to help them achieve what the business needs of their team or their function and do it in a resource efficient way.

Everyone is a Procurement Stakeholder

But then there’s also the person that needs a new keyboard, the person that needs access to a temp. If there’s anybody in the company that needs a product or service to do their job, that’s a problem.

These are procurement stakeholders, and we need ensure that the procurement process is simple and easy for everyone. Whether it’s the user interface they’re dealing with or a governance thing, the process must remain uncomplicated. Almost everyone in the company is some kind of stakeholder to procurement.

Q: How can procurement as a department work together with other departments to make spending more proactive? What are some of the processes that you recommend some people take?

Kelly Barner [00:17:54] So I think the important thing for procurement to remember is, when we prepare for these meetings, we’re looking at dollars and cents, we’re looking at supplier names, we’re looking at category taxonomy. But the people that we’re meeting with think about their business plan. They think about the objectives and KPIs that they needed to fulfill for the year.

Kelly Barner [00:16:34] And I think procurement can really make serious progress if we can find a way to connect those two things. Talk to me about how that product or service connects to achieving objectives.

Talk Procurement in Terms of the Product or Service, and Connect it To Their Mission

Kelly Barner [00:19:45] And so procurement can avoid having that mistake keep being made and in perpetuity by don’t talk about it in procurement speak when you’re sitting down with stakeholders or budget owners, talk about it in terms of the product or service that they’re buying and how that’s connected to their mission as a team.

Kelly Barner [00:20:05] I think putting a little bit of effort into that and preparing a mental translation because let’s face it, you know we do spend time with this in our taxonomy or the way that the supplier information has been standardized and enriched and presented back to us.

What do you think?

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