Managing internal communications

Internal communications are frequently forgotten but if done well can make the difference between success and failure of a business initiative. Internal communications enable business engagement, particularly for SRM if the business is to be aligned towards a single cause, prevent a unified front to a supplier and reduce the likelihood of the supplier dividing and conquering. It also helps to ensure that any supplier intervention is aligned towards the entire needs and wants of the business and ultimately corporate strategy. Communication does this by informing, inviting participation and diffusing potential resistance to change. It therefore is essential for SRM and any business initiative.

Within the 5A SCR process internal communication is part of stage 1 Activate. Here as the cross-functional team is formed we develop a stakeholder map and then a communication plan to engage with the business. These two tools allow us to identify who we need to engage with and to plan how we will do this. It also helps us to then assign specific communication actions and ownership for their delivery. This internal communications activity is specific to establishing a single strategic collaborative relationship.

Within governance, however, the approach is identical, except here we are attempting to communicate with the business, and to solicit their involvement and support, at a high level for all of the initiatives and the overall goals of the purchasing function. Our stakeholder map must consider the entire organization and the communications plan should feature approaches that are likely to have impact at an organization-wide level. Approaches that can help here include:

• establishing a 'mini-brand' for the purchasing function and/or key initiatives (subject to overall corporate communication rules);

• section on the purchasing intranet or internal website;

• direct internal marketing to those in business units;

• articles in internal magazines promoting success stories from key initiatives;

• internal roadshows;

• presentations at key managers meetings and briefings; and

• getting out there and selling the message.

A useful key tool to support all of these is the stakeholder brochure.

The stakeholder brochure

A stakeholder brochure, as touched on in Chapter 11, is an internal publication to all key stakeholders designed to help educate the business about the role of purchasing, key objectives and initiatives and what is expected of the business.

Ideally stakeholder brochures should be short, simple, professionally produced, appealing to read and typically might include:

• how purchasing adds value today and how it will need to add value in support of corporate goals in future;

• the key initiatives that support this;

• the role the wider business plays to support this;

• what to do and not to do when engaging with suppliers (see top 10 dos and don'ts in Chapter 11);

• how to report a supplier related problem;

• how to get involved or get help; and

• introduction to purchasing; who, where, how to contact.

As with any form of internal communication 'just sending it out' will only have so much impact, instead stakeholder brochures have most impact when handed out following a face-to-face engagement or presentation.

Getting the wider organization on page

Suppliers demand time. At a personal level we give our time to those who are close to us, who matter to us; who we want to help or perhaps who can help us. Most people are able to determine who is important, subconsciously applying some sort of criteria according to our feelings, beliefs, environment or needs. Most people would soon tire of devoting precious time to someone who is not important but demands time for their benefit alone. Yet organizations seem to struggle to do the same and end up spending time that adds no or little value with suppliers who simply don't warrant it. It can be hard to say no to a supplier who asks for the time. Supplier requests for review meetings, meetings to discuss performance or share developments can be hard to decline, especially if the buyer believes it is part of their role to accommodate such meetings.

A shift in mindset is required and so those who manage and interface with suppliers are clear about who they should spend time with and who they should not spend time with, no matter how keen, friendly, persistent, or enthusiastic the supplier might be. Spending time only with those suppliers it is worthwhile to do so at an organization-wide level does not simply happen by segmenting the supply base. Segmenting the supply base is just the first step and this needs to be followed by actions designed to educate and change behaviours across the entire organization so everybody that has or could have any sort of interface with the supply base understands the role they need to play (or not play). Sometimes people just need to be given permission to simply say no when appropriate.

Remember when doctors, nurses, engineers, marketeers, developers and other professional staff learn their profession they rarely receive any commercial awareness training and typically don't get taught how the game that suppliers play works. It is easy to believe the supplier is a friend and there to help. In practice this may in fact be impossible to change, but if our engagement and internal communications focus beyond that of extolling the purchasing function, but rather towards tackling real business issues and achieving real business goals that the wider organization can relate to, then they will stand the greatest likelihood of success.

Healthcare is big business globally and across the profession suppliers go to great lengths to ensure their product gets specified. This typically does not happen within the bounds of a procurement function buying on behalf of a large healthcare provider but rather happens on hospital wards, in medical staff training centres and in doctors' surgeries where suppliers

target teams of sales representatives with one single mission - to convince clinical staff to specify their product over other products. If a supplier can ensure a surgeon trains using their gloves then that surgeon will specify that brand of gloves for life. There are many instances where preferences are important to patient outcomes, however across healthcare providers globally immense patient care time gets diverted to interfacing with suppliers unnecessarily, often because healthcare professionals want to or feel they should do so. Suppliers know just how to take advantage of this to their favour and are resilient to any efforts to prevent them developing relationships with healthcare professionals.

One supplier's sales representative successfully managed to work his way through an entire hospital, giving medical staff samples of a new product and then spending time with them gathering opinions and feedback; all vital information for the supplier's development process. How was this possible? Surely supplier's sales staff need to check in? It was possible because the individual arrived in a fake ambulance fully loaded with samples. He parked by the accident and emergency entrance and then, dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck, he was able to come and go as he pleased and walk the wards. He approached medical staff and suggested he was working on a particular project; the busy staff were made to feel like they were remiss by not knowing about it, he gave them a gift and they felt obliged to answer his questions and to perhaps specify that product when they next placed an order.

External communications

Governance extends to the overall management of all supplier and supply base communications. That doesn't mean every external discussion must be routed via the steering group, but rather that there is a planned and systematic approach for all high-level communications. This might include:

• releasing high-level supplier briefing statements, specifically designed to communicate certain messages or changes, made available to those who interface with suppliers and, of course, containing embedded conditioning messages as appropriate; and

• publishing a Supplier Code of Conduct to all suppliers (see Chapter 11).

 
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