Monday, 10 December 2012

Can procurement learn from the tragedy of the Australian DJ prank

Let me put my cards on the table. I think the suicide which is linked with the prank call is a terrible sad tragedy. But I also grew up enjoying TV programmes such as Candid Camera which were based on pranks. It would therefore be hypocritical of me to point the finger at pranksters. Those, like me, who have laughed at pranks in the past must also be guilty of feeding the beast which lay behind this personal tragedy.

However, the tragedy strikes me as providing lessons for procurement.

Before explaining how I have arrived at that conclusions, I would encourage you to watch the YouTube recording watch the YouTube recording, then read the reported transcripts, for example here.  See if you can spot the difference?

If you compare the transcripts with what is actually said there appear to be some omissions.  In the YouTube there's an interesting response just about 10 minutes into the interview. At that stage there's a fascinating response from one of the DJs when asked about the approval process for airing the recording, the DJ answers: "I don't know the process, I honestly don't know the process".  

Processes, including risk management, purchasing, and quality assurance, need checks and balances but also need accountability. Did the DJs needed to know the process or whether it was sufficient to 'trust the process'? To me the first lesson is that those who are part of the process should understand what the process does and does not protect against. The 'process' clearly has not protected the two DJs who appear to have been personally vilified.

I have personally come across situations, as I am sure you have, when buyers have taken comfort from "what we do is within the rules" while I have had to highlight that they personally could be open to criticism as the process seemed weak.

My second lesson is make sure that the checks and balances work. I do not think that any processes could have protected against the personal tragedies of the Australian prank, but time and again we have heard of gateway reviews which appear to have failed.

The interviewer of the two DJs fruitlessly tries to identify who approved the tragic airing. In a remarkable piece of mea culpa neither of the DJs 'drop someone else it in' and the approvers escape accountability. The third lesson relates to accountability. We used to be an oft used expression 'the buck stops here'. That appears to have been replaced with the 'hand washing of Pontus Pilate'. This happens in procurement too. I have met many whose boast has been their strategic importance but, when challenged about procurement shortfalls, wash their hands of that accountability. My third lesson is understand who is accountable and ensure they recognise that accountability cannot be delegated to 'the fall guys'.

My fourth lesson is that we just don't deal with processes - we deal with people. People who suffer through unintended outcomes. A process is frequently seen as depersonalising procurement, but linked to all our processes are individuals within the procurement community and also the supply market - perhaps the biggest lesson, and most appropriate to this time of year is, treat people with dignity and respect - even suppliers - and at least some pain may be avoided. 

So, in summary, here are my suggested lessons for procurement:
  1. Those who are part of the process should understand what the process does and does not protect against;
  2. Make sure checks and balances are in place and that they work;
  3. Understand who is accountable and ensure they accept that accountability cannot be delegated;
  4. Don't lose sight of the reality that processes and systems are also concerned with people, treat them with dignity and respect. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - if slightly tenuous Dr Gordy! but you're right, procurement too often don't think that we're dealing with real people who have spent a lot of time or effort on bids for instance that we happily rubbish... It also struck me that one of the DJs was doing a fair amount of acting whilst the other was genuinely traumatized. I may be wrong but that was my view.