Why the future of supply chains is symbiotic An essential aspect of a fully evolved procurement process is the quality of supplier relationships, explains GECA’s Sarah Sannen and Kendall Benton-Collins. Though an ancient practice, procurement, along with all the players involved, has recently been through a significant evolution. From the ad hoc employment of ‘materials men’ to telling people what they can and can’t buy, and finally to becoming an essential part of an organisation’s strategy and risk management process. Procurement has moved from a purely ‘cost-cutting’ function toward a more holistic lens focused on economic, social and environmental benefits. The days of competing on price alone are long behind us. For your organisation to maintain its social licence to operate and even be compliant with the law, there are many more factors that you need to consider. An essential aspect of having a fully evolved procurement process in your organisation is the quality of your relationships with your suppliers. This means infusing your relationships with authentic dialogue, mutual respect and a spirit of inclusion.
Moving from checklists to conversations The very term ‘supplier’ implies a one-way, if not parasitic, relationship. In reality, these are your business partners. Reframing the language may help to shift the power dynamic associated with ‘suppliers’ and encourage collaboration. In the past, for instance, many organisations sent questionnaires to their suppliers that didn’t allow for nuanced responses. Closed-form questions can result in a skewed version of your supplier’s reality and certainly doesn’t allow them to discover more about your organisation’s wider vision. Practical steps you can take when reaching out to your suppliers can include using open-ended questions and setting up face-to-face meetings where possible. Remember to treat this as the development of a business relationship. 28 INCLEAN July/August 2019
What are you both hoping to get out of this relationship? How can you meet your shared and different goals? Ensure you invite feedback from your suppliers on your organisation’s performance. Use reviews to encourage both buyers and suppliers to adopt improvements for mutual benefit. Have you communicated your organisation’s sustainability priorities? For instance, your cleaning service might revolve around your commitment to creating healthy spaces for people and planet. Do your suppliers share your vision? Do the people within your supply chain work in healthy conditions? According to Edge Environment, most of their clients have found that more than 80 per cent of their impact is in their supply chain. Procurement practices are hugely impactful. You can make that impact meaningful by finding out how to support and strengthen communities and their environment. Ask your supplier if they have a passion for a certain cause or if they are working to champion a social or environmental initiative in their local community. How can you help make this come to life? If your suppliers do something positive, don’t forget to celebrate this! For example, you can feature them on your social media channels or submit them for an award. If your new approach to supplier engagement is met with resistance, remember that this is a valuable learning opportunity! Seek first to understand and then to be understood – meet your supplier where they are rather than dictating requirements and solutions. It’s about moving from having separate to shared objectives.
Responsible disengagement Even the strongest business partnerships can come up against some issues. If you find something going on in your supply chain