3 Ways Procurement Can Build Credibility with Executives

David Hearn
David Hearn
CEO & Founder, CPO Advisement Services, LCC

Hearn deployed Coupa at Juniper Networks and has been a Coupa evangelist ever since. He has led indirect procurement at three companies (Sun Microsystems, Kaiser Permanente, Juniper Networks) and now helps procurement teams transform the way they add value to the business.

Read time: 6 mins
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How can procurement professionals build credibility with executives?

Let’s start with why. Is this just a discussion of how to work within a bureaucracy by knowing the right people in the right places? No.

If you want to grow in your career by taking on new and bigger challenges, if you want to get your projects approved and see your ideas come to fruition, you need to have credibility--with your peers, your boss and with executives. Very few projects get approved without the support of one or more executives.

I’ve heard all too often, “I put together a whole presentation for a project where the return on investment will be 10x, yet I never get the funding.”

I’ve experienced that too. Early in my career, I believed that if you put together a great presentation where everything is explained logically and the numbers add up, people will just agree.

The fact is that subjective factors are part of most decisions. That usually includes an opinion on whether the person making the proposal can successfully carry out the project. Do the decision makers understand you, your brand, your worth in the company, and your ability to deliver?

If you haven’t taken time to build credibility with executive decision makers, they have no basis for forming any opinion at all. How would you like making a financial decision if you didn’t really know the person who’s going to execute? I would feel nervous.

If leadership feels nervous, and they don’t totally understand the value of the project, they’re going to jump at other projects they do understand, with people they know.

The solution is to always be working on building credibility. It’s a function of hard work, emotional intelligence and relationship building. This is not a silver bullet. It takes time. It takes confidence, guts and ambition. If you’re interested, here’s what to do.

 1. Climb the Ladder

You build credibility up the ladder, starting with your peers and your boss. Do good work and show results, and your boss will see that you have good ideas and you can deliver. Your results may even make their way into higher level reports and get noticed up the chain. That positions you to say to your boss, “Hey, I have some other ideas. Can I share them with you and then if you think they’re good, with your boss?”

When you get in front of whoever holds the purse strings, that’s when your ideas, coupled with your track record of success, can lead to actual approval on projects.

Now let’s say your boss is a hurdle, for whatever reason. Although that is a significant hurdle, you should never go around your boss.

Going around people almost always backfires. Even if the person you’re dealing with is not good, and even if their boss knows it, it’s a move that is likely to be seen as inappropriate, a little too junior and lacking in good judgment.

I tried this at one company where I led the IT Procurement team and was well positioned with the CIO. He and I met regularly so I knew where he was taking the group and how my team could help him reach his goals. 

About a year into the relationship, my engineering mind came up with what I thought was an amazing technical solution to a huge challenge. I drew up the architecture, with full explanation, and showed it to one of the CIO's direct reports. 

He said, "Dave, you're a bit outside your 'swim lane' don't you think?" I knew what he meant. I had no credibility as an IT architect to make such a proposal, and looking back, it was really a simplistic view of a complex problem. 

I wish I had listened, but instead, I decided to send my idea directly to the CIO. Well, the silence was deafening. I tried a couple of times to get his thoughts, but he never replied. In fact, he started spending less time with me on procurement issues and even cancelled our one-on-ones. I had blown my credibility by launching an idea, which I had no expertise in, directly to him. 

If your boss or someone else appears to be an obstacle, be patient and keep working. People change jobs quite often these days, and your next manager or job rotation may offer better prospects, and you’ll have a foundation of projects that you can point to and say, “Yeah, I was on that project, that project, and that project.”

2. Raise Your Hand

Every organization is always looking for ideas and success stories. When your boss says, “Hey, we’ve got an all-hands coming up, anybody got any projects they want to profile,” 90 percent of her  staff  will be quiet.

If you want to build credibility, this is a golden opportunity to be noticed in a way that no one would consider inappropriate. Executives notice people who take initiative. Initiative is putting your hand up, even when it’s more work, to present at a meeting, to go meet with a customer, to do whatever is needed.

Be relentless about putting your hand up. Don’t worry about rejection. Keep bringing ideas, because even if people shoot them down, they still remember that you had the idea, took the initiative, and put yourself out there. You can parlay that into presenting at a higher level at some point down the road.

3. Diversify

Building credibility has a lot to do with building relationships, and it’s a setback when people with whom you’ve cultivated relationships move on.

The answer is to diversify your efforts, work quickly, use social media and take the long view.

Build relationships with lots of people. Your peers today may be the executives of tomorrow. Don’t sit back and wait. At my last company, we got a new general counsel during my tenure. It was a blow, because I had a great relationship with his predecessor, and that was pivotal to my role. But, within the new guy’s first two weeks on the job, I took him to lunch and got to work building that new relationship.

Social media is a good hedge against turnover, because it allows you to keep in touch with the people you’ve worked with and stay top of mind. Posting and sharing on LinkedIn and Twitter are best for business, and if you can blog or contribute to LinkedIn groups, that’s even better.

Most people think, “I’m too busy already. I don’t have time to do all this.” The people who somehow find the time are the ones who stand out. Take the long view. If you built a strong relationship and did good work and you keep in touch, chances are you may work with some folks again, or they may refer you into other opportunities. If either of those things happen, you carry that credibility forward into those new opportunities.

Building credibility is not fast or easy. I liken it to building a house. You lay a foundation of results brick by brick, project by project. It takes multiple projects to build it to a house that’s significant enough that you are able to sit down with those executive leaders and have credibility.

Not getting noticed and not getting approval is a common gripe across procurement. But don’t stay stuck in gripe mode. Wherever you are now, start building up your skills. Start laying that foundation. Look for small wins and work your way up. Keep at it, and you’ll eventually be heading up large projects and seeing your some of your ideas become reality.