Orchestral man hoovers in the dark

In the post-Enron age of endemic governance and compliance, the RFP – Request for Proposal/Pricing/Perjury – has taken on an almost biological significance in corporate life. Gut feel, intuition, perception, relationships, all have been sacrificed for the penicillin of the objective scoring chart that sausages out a decision guaranteed to keep the HB-pencil crew happy. Accustomed to cage-fighting one another rather than co-operating on finding the key, most functions quite unfairly blame Procurement for this. They are wrong of course.

Yet the crucial problem generating poor procurement decisions lies not within the RFP response, that edifice genetically disposed to crucifying tedium, but our unquestioning belief that certain categories of enquiry are necessary in the first place, and creditworthy in response. Consider the following:

History – established in 1957, the organisation may have been clinging like the Ottoman empire to a reputation long since eroded by mediocre successors to the original entrepreneurs, now turning in their urn at the loss of direction and failure to innovate. They really should have called time on it years ago, before the market eventually folds it and sets light to its tail. The newness and freshness of the organisation may just be what sets it apart.

Awards – an accumulation of perplexing plastic plinths may actually reveal the unwarranted diversion of the organisation’s activities to entering competitions (ridiculously time consuming) and ignoring client needs in favour of self-serving interests. It may also whisper of a cloth-eared, blinkered and distracting vanity. They may just get on with doing great work, recognising awards for the utter waste of time and energy that they are.

Offices – the inevitable dotted map and postal addresses may just indicate a contract with a serviced offices provider, or proximity to the holiday homes of executives. It may just indicate an unnecessary overhead deployed in a desperate attempt to convey scale and capability. People may be where they need to be, keeping costs down and thriving on mobility.

Clients – the equally inevitable page with logos of obscure companies embedded in a complex and unrelated supply chain illustrating more an ability to right click copy and paste than anything of value that has actually happened. There may be only a small clutch of loyal clients, preferring confidentiality.

Growth – perhaps the company has sacrificed its spirit, essence and heart in pursuit of unrelenting expansion that has made it unwieldy and ungovernable, weighing it down with ritual and process the purpose of which has long since evaporated, resulting in overpriced acquisitions and steadily declining talent. The emotional intelligence of the leadership may have guided a steady and controlled trajectory, focussed on relationships, quality and capable management.

Values – picked blindfold by facilitated executives from the standard list of bullshit buzzwords, beautifully carved yet hollow and brittle, remote from the stories that weave through its culture. A story or two may be all that is worth telling, and run deeper than a hundred flipchart days.

Experience – anaesthetised case studies, the trauma and scars scythed away, exaggerated, bloated, sugared and filtered, a troupe of Barbie dolls that call the error, misjudgement and chaos of being human “learning”. An honest case study, recognising our fragility and vulnerability? How respectful that would be.

In effect while believing that we are orchestrating an effective selection we are in fact vacuuming in the dark. Thinking we are complying and governing, we are blindly making poor decisions because the output tells us we have to. But before we blame the process, we created the framework in which it exists. We are just sucking up what we left behind.

The solution? We first need to question what we believe to be important – then to start trusting and following our intuition and judgement once again. It’s our light switch.

3 thoughts on “Orchestral man hoovers in the dark

  1. Very quickly, Neil. “An honest case study, recognising our fragility and vulnerability?” reminds me of one of the most memorable academic papers I read in the mid 90s. Mick Marchington’s Fairy Tales and Magic Wands laid into the tendency for only ‘success stories’ to be reported in the academic literature.

    Here’s a link to the abstract http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=879566

    And I will talking about failure at Social Media Week in London on 27th September.

  2. You’ll never get an honest case study unless the two major protagonists – client and supplier(s) – are sidelined. Essentially you’d need somebody independent to know the facts and be prepared to report them. The warts, frailties, false starts, complications, obstructions, failures and compromises are discussed between people in-house and over drinks, not publicly. I’ve heard amazing things at times over the years about some quite spectacular fuck ups and never reported on them. Including one instance of the MD of a supplier taking on a huge public sector contract despite being told by expert advice including his own legal advisors that it was likely to ruin the business – and it did putting hundreds out of work. Great story but unpublishable.

  3. Pingback: Ever fallen into a trap? | Halls are made for Madness

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