What Competing Agendas?

The following was recently spoken at a leading sourcing conference:

The dynamics and sometimes competing agendas between finance and procurement are widely known.

Huh? What competing agendas? I am on planet Earth, right?

But more seriously, the fact that this myth is continually perpetuated is a serious problem. The reality is that, in a properly run organization, Finance and Procurement have the same fundamental agenda: Reduce Cost. Increase Efficiency. Drive Innovation. The only difference is that, for the most part, Finance is internally focussed while, for the most part, Supply Management is externally focussed. Just like the real goal of corporate finance is to insure that the company has more than enough money to achieve its goals and generate a return for the shareholders, the real goal of Procurement is to insure that the company has more than enough money to obtain the goods and services it needs and generate value for the customers, which, in turn, generates value for the shareholders.

The ultimate goal of any organization is to derive value for the stakeholders — employees, customers, and shareholders alike. Value is more than profit, it’s also sustainability and brand image. For example, if all a company does is produce cheap products that wear out quickly, either it’s going to go broke in warranty costs, or, if the product is not under warranty, it’s going to have a lot of upset customers who are not going to buy again, putting the long term financial viability of the company on the line.

As a result, Finance is about more than cutting costs and hitting budgets, it’s about analyzing the value of an internal spend and determining if the value is there to help meet the company’s goals. If hiring the best people increases that option, then Finance should determine that a higher payroll is the right decision and cost should be cut from somewhere else or, if there are no less critical areas, debt should be secured to obtain additional value, and profit, down the road.

Similarly, Procurement is about more than cutting costs to hit a savings target. It’s about finding the optimal balance of cost and value-add to maximize the overall return to the company. If buying from a supplier that costs 10% more will have a huge impact in brand perception, because either the component manufacturer is well respected and using their name will increase consumer interest or because the defect rate is significantly lower, then the slightly higher cost supplier is chosen. But if it’s a simple office supplies spend, then cost is cut to the low end of market pricing.

And both organizations are trying to find the right balance between cost cutting and value generation to meet the company’s goals and increase shareholder return. Just because Procurement is always spending while Finance is always trying to cut spend doesn’t mean that the departments are in opposition. Finance knows better than any other department that companies have to spend money to make money, it just wants to insure that the money is being spent wisely. And a good Procurement organization has better spending as its ultimate goal. There is no competing agenda between the Finance and Procurement Group, and any organization that thinks there is has a serious problem as they are not aligned, and alignment is become a key to success in today’s economy now that the Old Normal has returned.