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Written by David Lyon

Re-Humanising the Procurement Function

Procurement teams are often perceived by stakeholders as a back-office function, myopically focused on savings and running  RFP processes. You often hear “Procurement gets in the way” or “Procurement is slowing us down”. These are indications that internal clients have adopted an “Us vs Them” stance. When this happens, procurement leaders have the opportunity to find ways to re-connect and reposition the procurement function. This article will show you how to do just that, while simultaneously building a positive workspace.

A long time ago as a Supply Chain Manager in a distribution business, we surveyed our entire customer base. We learned that, although our customers loved our speed, efficiency and next-day availability, they preferred to work with our competitors as they could make a call and interact with a real human being to place an order.

 It taught me that absolute efficiency isn’t always what our customers want.

 In this age of self-serve procurement tools, RFP templates, e-auctions, RPA and artificial intelligence, is it possible that we have lost some of those key opportunities to interact with our customers and make a difference? Have we lost our human-ness in the pursuit of the perfect procurement process?

 The answer seems quite apparent. Procurement Leaders need to take active steps to re-humanise the procurement process. But what does that really mean?

It means creating an opportunity for your customers and suppliers to see through the technology you use to make your own job easier. This opportunity helps your customer connect with a real human, a manager, and ultimately, your business.

Use this simple three-step guide to start re-humanizing your procurement process. 

  1. Personalize each part of every process. 

 We can no longer think of our business communication as B2B or B2C. To truly connect with the people that buy from you, it’s time for H2H – Human to Human relations.

 Take your first step and make sure that customers and suppliers know that they are dealing with a real person. Emails should have names and personal details in the footer. They should also be sent from an employee’s email with a human’s name – not

 All calls to procurement should be answered with friendliness and respect, starting with the person’s name: “Hey , I’m….”

 Wherever possible, create face to face connections with customers, whether through a Business Partnering role or simply assigning one person to look after the communications with one department.

 Take professional head-shots of your team. It costs almost nothing, but it shows respect for the individual. Not only does this humanize your image for your customers, but it also grows your team’s sense of worth – “I am not an inbox, I am a person.”

 Your standard processes remain the same but are also somewhat individualized.

  1. Humanize the client/supplier relationship

 Once you’ve created the idea that procurement is not a process but rather a function of experts that run a process, you need to consider how to present that human face to your clients.

 It’s here where you’re looking to connect as a real person with your customers.  

Examples include:

  •     A team photo in your company newsletter.
  •     Images of each person on their Outlook or Yammer profile.
  •     Methods to help explain to your employees how to visualize the person to whom they are talking.

 You can go even further. To create the human presence, CPO’s should encourage the sharing of more information, such as the individual and their team, skills, experiences, etc.

Promote your procurement team as one that:

  • speaks 35 languages
  • has worked for 75 of the top 100 global corporations
  • from 25 countries
  • has XYZ soft skills

In doing this, you present your team as a group of people with skills well beyond the requirements of their position, thus making them easy to relate to. 

I have had television personalities, Vloggers, ex-professional footballers, and artists work in my teams, but it was never visible to customers. This was a missed opportunity to create a human-to-human discussion and fundamental failing of what we learned in school – establish a rapport.

  1. Culturalise your workplace

 Once you have a team of people that are embracing the human element of their role, you can apply this same mentality to your workplace. Procurement Directors can encourage bake-sales, personalization of one’s workspace, increase the number of green plants, or support a charity. All of these allow an individual’s personality to grow and thrive in the workplace.

 Your team will open up and start championing causes internally and externally, feel more engaged, and ultimately create a more coherent and inclusive workspace. 

 Once I went to see 4 of the world’s largest procurement outsourcing providers. One did not allow any photos at an employee’s workstation. Two just had office cubicles where the individual had put up a few pictures of home – family and some trinkets.

 The one we worked with had whiteboards for individuals to express themselves. They had company-wide pictures of procurement events. They celebrated the diversity of the team, and they had pictures of their customers on the wall. As a result, the team was not just a group of humans but rather a team of personalities that connected with themselves and with their customers.


 Do you want to re-humanise your procurement team and function? My advice would be: Take three months to do it.

 In the first month, work on individualising everything you do. Make sure that your team is a team of individuals, not a “team collective”. Stamp out every instance you can find of people referring to “Procurement” as a department when they are referring to an individual. Use this time to build the foundations of human-ness.

 In the second month, focus on turning the individual into a human. A human is someone who has their own set of skills and experiences that can add value and diversity and enrichment to a conversation. Share these skills internally and externally. Encourage those who are willing to open up more and participate in activities across the organisation.

 In the third month, work on turning the humans into personalities, encouraging their individuality. Create a work environment both in the procurement area AND in how they interact with internal customers to show that they are more than procurement robots.

 Try it! And let us know what changes you saw in your team as well as your customer’s response to your team.

David is a CPO with experience across multiple industry sectors. Having started his career in textiles and retail, he has since had senior roles in the Electronics, Pharmaceutical and Financial sectors, including Global Head of Corporate Procurement for Pharmaceuticals at Novartis Pharma AG. David led the Cancer Research team that won the 2015 Procurement Leaders award for Transformation and has since delivered "Transformation of procurement" in several well-known multinationals. David is a multilingual professional with over 25 years of Procurement and Supply Chain experience.

David Lyon

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