Before I get into the procurement part of this post, let me tell you about a story that inspired it.
At the beginning of August, I decided I would take up a new hobby: running. I’m a goal-oriented person, so I set the goal to work my way up to be able to run my entire neighborhood plan without stopping – about 2 miles of a very hilly landscape – by the end of the month.
Within two or three weeks, I met my goal. So, I set a new one: work my way up to running 3.1 miles by September 11. There was a local 5K (3.1 mile) race that day and I wanted to be able to participate. Again, I was able to reach my goal ahead of time.
In the days leading up to the race, I felt good, almost cocky. Like “Look at me – I’m in great shape!”
Then came the humbling part: the actual race this past Saturday.
As the race was about to begin, I positioned myself near the start line. There were about 300 total runners in the race. Before the horn sounded to start the race, I was in front of probably about 250 of them.
The horn sounded. And within seconds, I was at the back of the pack. Everyone just flew past me.
I wanted to keep a comfortable pace. My goal was simply to finish, not to win. But, still, it was frustrating knowing that I was slow compared to the other runners. People 20 years my senior were far in front of me and getting farther.
In the last mile, I did start blowing past the people who emptied their tanks by running too fast too soon. That boosted my confidence a little.
But any boost of confidence was shot back down when the results were posted. Out of 25 runners in my class (men between 35 and 39) who finished, I finished 24th.
I have some work to do, don’t I?
Having the job I do (head of a procurement training and certification organization), I couldn’t help but see the parallels between my running and many procurement departments that we work with. We provide a procurement skills assessment and benchmarking program where we measure the skills of procurement teams and compare them with other procurement teams. And, occasionally, we work with some confident – dare I say cocky – procurement leaders who believe that their teams are world-class.
And then comes the benchmarking and comparisons.
Some procurement teams score below average. And some of their leaders are incredulous at the results.
There must be something wrong with the assessment, they think. But is there? When you have different procurement departments being asked the same exact questions that were not previously disclosed and then comparing results, there’s really no way to taint those results. It’s the same people “running the same course.”
That’s the value of benchmarking. Getting an objective comparison. And knowing not just if you’re good in your own opinion, but knowing whether you’re better or worse – faster or slower – than other people doing the same thing.
So, if you want to truly reach your potential, benchmark. You may just find that you have work to do to get where you want to be.
I know I did.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2012: I had some work to do and I did it. In the two years since the original post, I have run in many more races, including two half-marathons (13.1 miles). In the latest one, I finished 39th out of 73 in my class.
To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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