• Tuesday, November 28, 2023
businessday logo


Procurement perception – the elephant in the room

Nwariaku: Bold ideas for sustainable future

Let me address the “elephant in the room” I prefer to confront elements that may create bias and restrict open conversations before going deep into the discussion.

This is just to ensure that people don’t leave the debate with thoughts that may cloud their judgement. It is no secret that people view Procurement personnel with some suspicion and bias.

We are exposed to a lot of undue influence and opportunities, so it is only normal to carry this cross.

There are many instances of procurement people who have betrayed the trust of their organizations and donated fodder to this bias, but there are also examples of employees who have demonstrated high levels of integrity and professionalism despite the temptations and shortcuts placed on their path.

There is no statistical basis for determining the exact population, but there are also CEOs, CFOs and members of other professions who have been lured into the same trap. I think it is unfair to place the reputational badge for corruption on Procurement people without looking at the data.

Every profession has its bad eggs – accountants and finance people falsify reports, engineers take shortcuts, doctors lose licenses for mismanaging patients, big pharma is always under the radar for influencing addictions, salespersons exaggerate numbers, et cetera.

Read also: Why you must have comprehensive procurement policy

This is not a mudslinging contest; I just want to put it out there that there’s enough to go round: the bad elements in any profession do not represent the whole.

I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that we have a bad rap for things we are not always guilty of. No one is talking about it either, so it remains there in the minds of people we work with, yet it affects everything we do. Allow me to talk about perception for a bit.

The dictionary definition of perception suggests that it has more to do with the person “perceiving” than with the thing being “perceived.”

A chief executive officer or chief finance officer who has interacted with a few procurement people may have formed an opinion based on office gossip and is going to carry this perception for years to come. Every action comes under scrutiny and becomes the subject of an investigation. Nothing wrong with this when there is credible evidence to support it.

It becomes a problem when even after the outcome of such an investigation finds the individual cleared of all allegations, the person remains tainted and cannot regain the trust he/she once earned.

This is a perception problem and unfortunately lies with the “perceiver” to fix. This discrimination sometimes goes too far and creates a burden of proof on Procurement people for crimes they are not guilty of. Procurement people seem to walk around with a target on their backs and do not always get the benefit of the doubt.

People avoid discussing this because talking about it might mean that one is “guilty as charged.”

Well, if no one else will talk about it, I will, and I say that it is enough.

We are already in a high-risk profession, and this comes with the territory. I am comfortable wearing the label of good and ethical procurement, and I will be happy to engage with anyone who has a different view about us. Perceptions can be fixed if one is open to discussion. I have a recommendation for Business Leaders who struggle to trust procurement – hire, train, and reward the best people, and review reports regularly. Good people tend to deliver on every parameter, including ethical conduct. Do not hire people who seek shortcuts because they lack the skills to resolve problems; the blowback will affect everyone and destroy your company’s reputation.

If you have a perception problem with your Procurement, have a discussion and get to the bottom of it. Do not let it fester.