Contributed by Jack Quarles, Buying Excellence, CU Quarterly, September 2012
In business, the team that makes the best decisions usually wins. Companies know this, and apply rigorous research and analysis to get to the right outcome.
But process and facts are often trumped by emotion and bias, and FEAR overwhelms opportunity.
This is especially true when companies make buying decisions. Fear feeds on change like a hurricane over warm water, and every sourcing project presents a myriad of potential change: in pricing, in terms, in vendors, in solutions, and in strategy.
This means that the procurement leader is uniquely positioned to limit the impact of fear on the company. Containing fear will save money and will have a strategic and cultural impact that can transform the perception of the team.
To manage fear, you first need to see it. Psychologists have been studying fear for generations, and Maxie Maultsby is credited with labeling the “Four Fatal Fears” of:
- Being wrong
- Emotional discomfort
This isn’t just for the psychiatry couch – consider a senior manager who is asked to evaluate a new potential outsourcing partner. What might he say, and what might he think?
We may think senior members of our team are past this type of thinking, but consider that many of us avoid the dentist, the bathroom scale, and the detail on our credit card statement for similar reasons. Even if these fears don’t alter the decision, they are likely to delay the process, which will add cost.
How does a team leader clear the fear? We can borrow from a classic sales framework which asks two questions:
- Why are you here?
- What do you fear?
While it’s standard to cover the first part (goals) at a project kickoff, addressing fears will take more art. People are not always able to articulate their fears, and they may not feel safe talking about them. A disarming approach is the “Clear the Fear” worksheet. In next team meeting, give everyone a sheet of paper with potential fears listed and a scale of how likely they are.
The table below shows what it might look like for our example of the potential outsourcing partner evaluation. (You can make your own list or download a wideranging example at www.BuyingExcellence.com/clear-the-fear.)
Each person completes the page by circling an answer for each line – anonymously.
Then the facilitator can collect the sheets, read though and average the scores, and the team can discuss.
It may feel awkward, but the upside is worth it:
- Many fears will evaporate with one honest team conversation
- The team will gain clarity on decision criteria
- Overall communication is likely to improve, and
- If there are some whoppers – or political quagmires – you’ll get them on the table early.
Better decisions will follow, and everyone will be less anxious and more productive after they clear the fear.
Procurement’s original territory is company spending. By using its process and influence to improve overall decision-making, it can deliver results beyond cost savings to strategic and even cultural impact.
About Buying Excellence and Jack Quarles
Our vision at Buying Excellence is to improve buying decisions at every company, for more surplus all around. Learn more and join our email list at www.BuyingExcellence.com, and visit our Youtube channel.
Jack Quarles is the founder of two blogs and two companies in the expense management field, and a highly-rated event speaker. If you have comments or questions, send Jack a note: