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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What’s Really in a Name?

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Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Now hear this: An Olympian will lead a PowerPoint presentation detailing the impact of External Resource Management on corporate strategy at the next board meeting.

If some terms in this sentence — External Resource Management, Olympian — sound unfamiliar in the context of a board meeting, it’s because they’ve probably never been used to describe procurement and those who make it a career.

But the terms emerged from a contest announced earlier this summer by Guy Strafford, chief client officer and a blogger at Proxima, a London-based consultant specializing in procurement. As I wrote in a previous posting, Strafford, whose blog is well worth reading, wondered if the word “procurement” has become toxic and encouraged his readers to submit alternative names that better describe the job. The winning entry would receive a vintage bottle of 2004 Bollinger Champagne.

More than 100 people responded, and there was a winner, as well as an honorable mention (my term). Strafford judged that “External Resource Management” (ERM) best fit the “supplier and customer-facing element” of procurement, while assuring that the profession is “seen as more than just sourcing.”

“Olympians” was deemed worthy of an honorable mention as the best way of describing those who labor expertly in the business (It’s difficult to be more descriptive than that).

Strafford’s concern about the merits of “procurement” as a job description is worth pondering. But if, as many of his readers think, procurement fails to accurately brand and market the position’s function within an organization, which is at fault: word choice or the actions of those involved?

Among the questions Strafford asks based on comments that accompanied contest entries, is this: “I wonder how systematic and successful we have been at understanding how [an] organization looks at us”?

And herein lies the issue. When it comes to perception, a new name is not going to change how people view procurement. One can be an Olympian engaged in External Resource Management. But senior executives set corporate culture. If they don’t see the benefits of procurement to strategic planning, revenue growth and other vital areas, no name change will affect this. It’s up to procurement personnel to make sure colleagues understand and appreciate their work.

A new name could merely confuse people and wouldn’t address the real problem of how best to convey the strategic importance of procurement to an organization.

A procurement officer who successfully does that would certainly deserve a bottle of 2004 Bollinger.

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