Excellence Equals Inclusion

By Ron Ciancutti
Illustration: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / PureSolution

In early August, I was informed that my division had achieved the Excellence in Procurement award from the National Procurement Institute. It was the fourth consecutive year that we won this award, and that prompted many calls and letters from other agencies in public buying. In response to questions of how we consistently achieved such honors, I explained that it was critical how we presented ourselves to the judges. That was half the battle in being recognized. As an example, I want to discuss a recent award nomination sent on behalf of Cleveland Metroparks and note certain points and structure that were critical. At the same time, the discussion will summarize my personal methods of empowerment. So this article has two messages for the price of one. I hope you enjoy either or both. My email address is always at the end of these articles if you would like any further explanation.

First, our nominator described the division.
Cleveland Metroparks Purchasing Division acquires materials, commodities, and services to provide uninterrupted support for more than 23,000 acres of natural land, including multiple park reservations, golf courses, education facilities, marinas, a variety of picnic areas and halls, and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

Then he introduced the personnel and explained the problem.
The director of the purchasing office is a long-standing veteran of Cleveland Metroparks and had sought adjustments to his team so that the Metroparks could develop more than just the “trade” or “field” of governmental buying. The Procurement Office needed to become an agent of change with improved technical awareness. Our use of technology was falling behind that of some of the peers in the industry, and the division appeared ill-equipped to utilize modern options.

Then he identified the approach to a solution.
When a retirement opened one of the buyer positions, the director and departmental CFO sought a candidate who was tech-savvy, yet personable enough to be immersed in the existing culture of the company. He was directed to attend meetings with the park manager, golf course manager, clerical staff, animal keeper, etc., to gain an understanding of this very traditional company. He discovered how conservative the culture was and reported his findings and the various staff members’ reservations to the team. The purchasing team began to craft a program to slowly bring the rest of the company’s conservative thinking around to see the need to modernize.

He noted what was unique to the solution, the angle, and the strategy.
Available to the purchasing team were some familiar forms that had been designed and employed by the procurement office many years ago. Instead of changing the forms, the team sought guidance from an outside firm to electronically re-create those forms so that staff members were familiar with their use and not put off by their “newness.”

By introducing this comfort factor, resistance was low and acceptance was high. The team then began working with the in-house information technology staff to blend the forms and their availability into the company’s “Intranet” pages and daily routine.

He further noted how the solution was evidenced.
Once the rank and file was introduced to the forms, the team set up schedules to visit each location and guide people through the process. It wasn’t long before the new forms were steadily arriving at the purchasing division, and a decrease in paper was immediately seen.

Staff members were excited to use the new system because the volumes of paper were now reduced to a simple computer file. The purchasing division had established real trust in the field. Employees found the new technology was “not so bad,” which opened the door to begin automating other portions of the operation.

With the revision of the company website, vendors were allowed to sign up to receive bids and proposals automatically.  Their registration on the site reduced staff obligation to print and deliver specs and bids. The premise of a “self-serve” operation carried over into other purchasing requirements, employing other services available from entities like “Public Purchase,” which were able to issue addenda and updates in one memo to the website with an immediate issuance to all related parties.

He noted the side benefits of the solution.
Bids, RFP’s, RFQ’s and all similar instruments were now being handled without keeping buyers at their desks day after day. This newfound freedom of time enabled buyers to actually go into the field and inspect delivery, which increased quality-control measurably. New competition was also a result by making postings available to a much broader audience (country-wide with the national website vs. county-wide with the local website and newspapers). Three years later, after the hire of the new buyer and the simultaneous progressive technology launch, the purchasing division was winning consecutive awards.

Then he concluded by re-stating his original point.
In sum, by strategically replacing one employee and adjusting his role to be the agent of change, along with constructing programs that easily introduced innovation, success for Cleveland Metroparks was imminent. This is easily evidenced by the division’s technical skills today. I submit that the approach the purchasing division took in accomplishing a blending of new skills in people with very conservative (and naturally resistant) points of view is as much of an accomplishment as utilizing the technology itself.

There endeth the lesson.
We don’t do what we do just to be recognized or rewarded, but when we have accomplished something significant, it is critical to share it with our peers. A lamp shining under a basket gives off no light whatsoever. We should take it out and let it shine.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.