Poor practices drive contract under-performance
Procurement, legal compliance, accounting, marketing … These are all necessary activities within a business. The problem comes when those activities become enshrined within rigid policies and practices which are not well aligned and then undermine business goals and performance.
A recent report from Deloitte illustrates this point perfectly. It is just the latest in a number of audit reports that highlight how procurement practices damage economic results, frequently overwhelming the declared ‘savings’ that are generated by today’s Procurement functions. Yet when you review the causes identified by the study, most Procurement groups would deny responsibility: the problems are associated with poorly defined objectives, unbalanced allocations of risk …. ‘Not my job’ will be the reply. ‘That’s because of senior management, engineers, lawyers ….’. And in fairness, they are right – because the real problem is that process responsibilities are not aligned and the business lacks holistic insight.
This immediately illustrates the point that we must distinguish competency to perform a task from the assumption that it will then be achieved by a specialist business function. Firstly, the job title frequently does not reflect the span of responsibility. Secondly, there is a very real danger that the specialists become a barrier to good performance because their practices become sacrosanct, rather than the quality of their output.
Output is often hard to define and measure. You need to find critical indicators. That is why IACCM promotes the idea of measuring contract performance. Contracts are, after all, tangible assets – far more so than the sales revenue forecasts or procurement savings that are such a focus today. Smart organizations take these predictions of contract performance and monitor the actual results. More importantly, they explore and analyze the reasons behind performance gaps.
Contracts represent an overall measure of business effectiveness since every activity within the business contributes to them. If looked at through the lens of the contract, almost any shortcoming – or success – can be tracked back to its origin. This analysis, when the results are considered, quickly starts to reveal the practices and processes that are out of step with business needs – or which should be promoted to ensure success.
Increasingly, analyses are pointing to issues like insufficient stakeholder engagement, selection of the wrong supplier, use of the wrong incentives, inappropriate allocations of risk, over-commitment of resources …. All of these are readily evident from analysis of contracts that fail or underperform. Yet rarely are such analyses undertaken. Why? Ironically because contracting is one area where there is rarely a defined process and even more rarely any point of accountability for overall performance. While individual contracts may have ‘owners’, these unfortunate people typically do not receive substantive guidance or support. Indeed, the contract they are handed is frequently flawed from the outset due to the various policies and practices that governed its construction .
‘Commercial excellence’ is a term that every business leader should adopt. They should see this in terms of whether their organization’s contracts are delivering intended results. They should be demanding insights to the causes of under or over-performance. Essentially, business leaders need a small team that undertakes forensic analysis into business policies and practices as they relate to performance on contracts. Their key target should be to drive incremental revenues and cost reduction through improved performance of the contract portfolio.