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Wake up to a new world view

August 22, 2017

Business imperatives are changing fast. The walk-out by corporate leaders from the Trump administration business councils is just one indication of the shift taking place in boardrooms. Exercising good commercial judgment is increasingly tough, yet critical for success.

Ethics. Collaboration. Innovation. Leadership. These are among the terms frequently used in corporate strategies to describe the attributes that a business must now demonstrate. They are closely interconnected values that demand fresh thinking and attitudes throughout an organization.

This implies substantial change for functions such as contract management, legal or procurement. To remain relevant, they need to become more visible in business decision-making; but that relevance depends on demonstrating creativity, adaptability and holistic behavior.

Long-term business success has always depended on innovation and problem solving. What has changed is the extent to which those characteristics must be achieved through working more collaboratively with others, at far greater speed, and under the ever-watchful eye of social media. The challenge for commercial staff is that their work is often viewed as risk-averse, adversarial and a cause for delay. Whether or not such a view is merited is not the point: just as with business itself, a positive image is fundamental to survival.

The media is full of stories about the elimination of traditional jobs and professions, yet values such as ethics, collaboration, innovation and leadership will not be delivered through machines. Commercial understanding – the ability to understand what makes a business successful, through either buying or selling products or services – lies at the heart of these attributes. But the demanding context in which commercial understanding must now be delivered requires a far more outward-looking and inquiring attitude. Too often, legal, contracts and procurement groups do things a particular way because that is the way they do them; they fail to challenge themselves and others to think differently. Yet thinking differently is now the core of commerciality.

Steady reform is not enough. To build a new image and to gain true relevance, commercial teams need reinvention. One way to get started is through a ‘hackathon’, an approach that has been used successfully by a number of groups. Ultimately, we must find a way to automate or eliminate traditional tasks and focus efforts on supporting dynamic, creative business models and relationships. To be considered commercial experts, we must demonstrate that we are commercially aware – and we don’t do that by denying the validity or relevance of the emerging world view.

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