Who we are & who we want to be: A journey in procurement leadership

Article - General
By Sarah Tijou|9th October 2023

In the bustling realm of supply chains and procurement, it’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of data, technology and strategic sourcing. During the latest GDS Group Supply Chain EU Summit, Jonathan Wharfe, the Supply Chain Director of Operations at Transport for London (TFL), kicked off an enlightening discussion.

In brief:

  • Technology and data are enablers, but people remain the heart of procurement
  • Looking to find the right talent? It comes down to flexibility, creating a positive culture and open communication
  • Different perspectives and experiences enrich the capabilities of a team and enhance problem-solving

Jonathan urged the audience to step back and reflect on fundamental questions: who are we and who do we aspire to be? At the heart of his insights lies a key realization – that amidst the technological advances and strategic methodologies, we often overlook the importance of people.

In his role at TFL, Jonathan navigates a vast and complex operational procurement landscape in public transport. The sheer scale of operations emphasizes his need to have the right team, the right culture and the right values in place to drive meaningful outcomes. Here’s what we learned from him.

People: The heart of procurement

Procurement discussions often revolve around data, artificial intelligence, strategic sourcing, and risk management. However, as Jonathan highlights, these dialogues rarely emphasize the vital factor – people. Technology and data are enablers, but they should not overshadow the essence of human involvement and creative thinking.

“How do you get the right team with the right culture and the right people to deliver?”

Jonathan challenges us to ponder upon our own procurement maturity journey. Are we merely chasing data for negotiations and cost savings, or have we evolved to collaborate and innovate with suppliers for mutual value creation? The answer to this question determines the kind of people we should recruit and how we retain them.

Tracking the right talent

Jonathan says there is a real need for a strategic, introspective approach to talent retention and acquisition. He asks, “How do we retain people? How do we get the right talents?” In his view, self-reflection, flexibility and willingness to transform and change is key.

“Do we need to be chameleons and change?”

“We ask ourselves these questions: are we creating the problem because we’re not being clear about who we need to be? Who do we need to be as a function? Do we need to be chameleons and change? What type of people are we actually looking for?” He asks.

It’s clear that understanding the organization’s identity and clearly defining the sought-after talent are crucial steps toward attracting and retaining the best individuals for the organization’s success.

Cultivating the right culture

Creating a positive work culture is paramount. Jonathan outlines the significance of culture in driving behaviours that, in turn, lead to the desired outcomes. He introduces the notion of a “Cultural Charter,” a collaborative agreement among team members that establishes basic ground rules, promoting respect, open communication and a conducive environment for innovative thinking.

“Culture is something that happens by people’s behaviours.”

However, Jonathan advocates not just for a culture of retention, but for one of development. He argues that organizations should serve as engines for developing talent, encouraging growth and progression within and beyond their walls. By empowering and nurturing individuals, organizations can create a steady influx of capable professionals, prepared to address the evolving demands of the procurement landscape.

Diversity, equality and inclusion

Diversity in the workforce emerged as a significant focus of Jonathan’s discourse. Emphasizing the transformative power of diversity and inclusion in the procurement function. He highlights how different perspectives and experiences, whether cultural or neurological, enrich the capabilities of a team and enhance problem-solving.

“By having that diversity of both culture and gender, it brings different challenges to the organization, different ways of doing things. That has been so positive, it’s been so helpful in solving some very difficult situations.”

“Diversity and inclusion bring a different angle to your capabilities as a team.”

As we reflect on Jonathan’s insights, it becomes clear that being “good” and fostering a happy, engaged workforce is a realistic yet ambitious goal. Procurement is not solely about achieving world-class status; it’s about making a tangible difference while valuing and empowering our most important asset – our people.

“I don’t want to be world class. I just want to be good.”

He shares, “I don’t want to be world class. I just want to be good. Because that is something achievable. Please don’t mistake that for a lack of ambition because trust me, I’m ambitious. But it’s realistic and it’s something that we can aim to achieve. I would like to be crazy, but I’d like a happy workforce. And I want a team of people that really feel that they are actually happy and enjoy coming to work.”

The future of procurement

Jonathan’s vision for the future of his team at TFL revolves around creating a culture of challenge, engagement and happiness. It’s about nurturing a workforce that thrives on collaboration, innovation and making a positive impact.

By focusing on people, culture and inclusive values, he envisions a procurement function that not only achieves organizational objectives but also fosters an environment where individuals can flourish both personally and professionally.

As we continue our journey in the realm of supply chains and procurement, let’s heed Jonathan’s call to place people at the forefront of our endeavours. Let’s aspire to be not just exceptional procurement professionals but nurturing leaders, fostering an ecosystem where people are the catalysts of positive change, propelling us towards a brighter future in procurement.

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For more, click here to hear from attendees on how GDS has helped them to achieve their business outcomes.

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