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Contract & Commercial Competence

March 7, 2013

As pressure grows on business to further develop contract and commercial competence, this reflects into the way that the practitioner community needs to acquire and disseminate knowledge.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the pressing need for greater professionalism and how this depends on commitment to a uniform ‘body of knowledge’ and to principles of continuous improvement. Today’s global networked economy means that learning and knowledge must also be far more international than they were in the past. This is not only because more of our business dealings are international, but also (and more importantly) because good ideas and good practices are not defined by geographic borders.

So as the contracts and commercial community moves from a largely transactional support role to also having responsibility for raising organizational capabilities, its approach to work and to knowledge management must also change. The sources of information are diversifying and the channels through which we can learn have multiplied. In particular, the technologies that have generated global commerce must also be employed to promote global commercial knowledge.

In part this is achieved through media such as the IACCM on-line learning program, but there are also day-to-day tools like the IACCM Forum. As someone who started in this field before the days of the worldwide web, I find the possibilities to ask questions, discuss issues and share ideas truly fascinating. The range of topics on the Forum is truly diverse, reflecting the varying levels of knowledge and sophistication within any global community. But many times I do not know the answer and it causes me to go and do some research, or to read with fascination the answers provided by others. Despite some 35 years in the field of contracts and commercial management, including 12 as leader at IACCM, there are so many areas about which I know little or nothing.

My one disappointment is how little the practitioner community appears to make use of these fantastic tools that are now at its disposal. I do not refer here only to the IACCM Forum because there are of course others (even if IACCM’s is the best!). I am sure the reasons are 1) time and 2) confidentiality. But I think those are pretty weak excuses. First, I believe that such shared learning helps to make each of us more efficient. Second, I see very little that represents a competitive or confidentiality issue – and anonymity combined with good judgement provides an easy way to avoid conflicts.

Perhaps this is a generational issue and today’s junior staff will – as their experience grows – be more willing to share their ideas, to mentor others in the community. I hope that is the case because i am convinced that it is key element of the path to sustained value and a healthy, high status profession.


  1. Having acted as a sponsor and a champion on an information management and knowledge sharing project in a corporate environment for ~7 years, I can vouch that changing a corporate culture in this area can be a long term challenge (if not a generational one). McKinsey have just released a report titled “The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies”. As a teaser it says that the untapped potential includes “2x = potential value from better enterprise communications and collaboration compared with other social technology benefits” yet “3% = share of companies that derive substantial benefit from social technologies across all stakeholders: customers, employees, and business partners” and “20-25% = potential improvement in knowledge worker productivity”. From my experience this is achievable if you approach the challenge in the right way. There is a case study on my website if people are interested in the approach we took.

  2. Martin Loenstrup permalink

    Cultural changes and change in general depends on type of company, and as reference in the other comments a looong time. Not sure that the excuse as such is black and white as put forward, either time or confidentiality. Especially the section excuse is more or less non-existing…as i see it. Now time is another time, agree that people should make use of the tools and forums but the article is not questioning the quality of these knowledge sharing platforms. Believe it is seems all the time that the quality is lacking…in the same way as you have 35 or 12 years of experience in IACCM, it doesnt change the need to be specific, detailed and direct the forum to national specific areas of interest instead of having these more high flying forums, and buzz word article which actual often ebd up having the wrong effect, pushing people away, again because it is not concrete and specific.. And if you spend your time on this a couple of times, you will experience no value for you, and as a consequence not share in the future. We need to raise the bar of what is put out there, fit it to the local needs, otherwise we will drop it on the floor in 5-10 years from now.

  3. Charles Rear permalink

    I wonder if an IAACM member in a Procurement function, and a IACCM counterpart in a sales-function, have ever agreed, openly and with their employers’ blessings, to undertake a contract negotiation according to the IACCM pinciples of Principled (“win-win”) negotation styles. In the Western world, the instinct to keep information and skills privy to oneself, inhibits application of best practice in negotiations with external parties and knowledge sharing within one’s own organisation, as alluded to by Mr. Ferner.

    • Charles
      yes, i can certainly offer examples from both IACCM members and personal experience. But it does tend to depend on specific conditions, typically either strong personal relationships that have generated underlying trust between the negotiators, or (on the buy side) a history of adversarial relationships and disappointing outcomes that have led to internal soul-searching and a realization that things must change.

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