Services Procurement

How to Play Well in the Sandbox of Business Partnerships

When you move to a new role, you are always in a position to bring a different perspective.  No matter if the work is in progress or your appointment is the start of something new, your contribution will be unique because you are!

I recall one of my first weeks in a role I had assumed several years ago.  There was a serious disagreement between my boss and the Director of the Real Estate team I was assigned to support.  Seems my boss had hosted a summit to identify areas of value his Purchases team could bring to the company.

When news got out about all the great ideas Purchases had for Real Estate, several leaders questioned why Purchases didn’t have control of the Real Estate process.

Needless to say, the RE Director was a bit miffed and not very interested in working with me if the plan was for me to “take over” her job. What a way to start – and I wasn’t even part of that meeting! But I was now the Purchases representative, so the reputation was mine to own.

“Confidence is that feeling you have right before you understand the situation.” Woody Allen

Believe it or not, this Woody Allen phrase was hanging on the wall of my new boss! While spirits were high coming out of the meeting with all those new ideas, we now had no way of making them come to life when the RE Director wanted nothing to do with us. Furthermore, without engaging with the operation, we did not know if the ideas had any real value.

It is only natural that the RE Director got upset at the Purchases team. Our corporate culture values collaboration; we all have a strong sense of ownership and accountability. While Real Estate is a buying process, I had yet to spend any time getting to know the work of the RE team or understand the value that they were already delivering to the company. I had not acknowledged her, and she felt disrespected. It took years to undo the pain that transgression caused. Let’s just say, I had to eat a lot of Humble Pie.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Purchases is not engaged, the business is missing out on a lot of value. I’ve seen it time and again in my career – because of our unique contribution, we make connections and derive business value with suppliers that others would fail to realize without us.

It is our unique expertise.

It is what we do.

Now, there are ways to do this properly while some other approaches are DOA – which in this case means Dead on Arrival not Delegation of Authority!  So, how does Purchases deliver that value, both in cases when we are invited to help and in others when the business team seems to be doing quite fine without us?

It involves being clear on roles and responsibilities along with expected deliverables.

But before getting there, let me tell you how I fixed the little relationship issue between my boss and the RE Director.

Perhaps you have heard that poem “All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.”?  This comment may seem a bit irreverent, but indeed, there were times when I felt like I was refereeing a kindergarten playground fight. Here were two highly experienced, accomplished leaders who were arguing over who was better positioned to bring value to the company when the ideas of both were equally valuable and worth pursuing. So, I helped them remember a few of those Kindergarten lessons:

Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.


When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

I left some of Robert Fulghum’s poem out (mostly about good bathroom habits), you get the idea. I think the most impactful thing I did was inspired by the line: “Hold hands and stick together.”  I started talking about “Team P&G”.  The Power of Words!  The attitudes started to change, and we started to focus on our Purpose – bringing value to P&G consumers.

Step 1: Clarify your objective. What are you trying to accomplish? In this case, we outlined how Real Estate and Purchases were going to partner to leverage capabilities and expand contributions to the company.

Step 2: Align on Key Principles. What are the unique contributions that each party brings to the work? What work processes will you jointly own or participate in together? How are you going to behave? Is there anything that is out of scope or off limits?

Step 3: Describe Expected Outcomes. Develop a Team Charter which outlines where you will play and how you will win. For example, we agreed to engage a Purchases professional on all Real Estate Transactions greater than $5 Million (80% of the company spend in this category). We outlined unique skills and contributions, for example a skilled Purchases negotiator has demonstrated negotiation tactics and strategies across a wide range of industries, thus bringing a breadth of negotiating talent to the RE process. In contrast, Real Estate has expertise on the corporate real estate work process including portfolio management, lease administration and the company and legal guidelines particular to Real Estate.

Step 4: Monitor Progress. Document the metrics that will define success and review them regularly. Not only does the RE team measure success on achieving the desired results, we also check the team temperature… and make sure the playground fight isn’t about to recommence. Recently we realized we needed to tackle a key procurement work process that was impeding success and having an impact on our ability to work effectively as a team. Reviewing Objectives, Principles and Outcomes on an annual basis is a best practice that keeps Team P&G on the right track.

So, there you have it!

If you are just starting out and don’t have a mandate like that kindergarten playground fight that resulted from some senior leaders questioning organizational design, a Purchases resource can simply offer to help a business get greater value.

Smilie 2 IMG_1665Start humble!

A lot of time all it takes is doing small things well for a business team to realize the valuable role Purchases can play.

If you would like a copy of a team charter than can get you started, send me your email and I will be happy to send it to you.  


3 thoughts on “How to Play Well in the Sandbox of Business Partnerships”

  1. These are some very useful and practical suggestions, and I liked the one “Start Humble” the best. I will remember this one, as I start a new journey of my own! Thank you for sharing, Eileen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eileen, this is an amazing read! I like the way you handled those “egos” with the “Team P&G” concept that those leaders should have been cognizant of anyhow. I would definitely like a copy of a team charter to ensure I follow your guidance steps. Again, excellent read. Thank you for sharing!


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