Voice of the Supplier


30 Nov 16

Humility- key to successful SRM

Humility- key to successful SRM

We are often asked what differentiates SRM leaders from the rest. Consistently we find that building the character trait of humility, and a focus on developing empathy with internal and external stakeholders is key to building a successful SRM programme.

In this short two part series, we explore what humility means in the SRM context and how it leads to success in managing critical supplier relationships. The second of this series will focus on defining empathy and how it is a vital component of a successful SRM programme implementation.

What is humility and why is it important?

Author C.S. Lewis said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”.

The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “Showing you do not think that you are as important as other people” or “Not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful”.

One of the roots of the word humble is ‘humus’, or earth. You hear the term ‘down to earth’ where someone is humble or modest enough to listen to the priorities, concerns and motivations of others. We know this is important, arrogance and self-importance have no place in influencing others to change their behaviour or to achieve common goals.

Do not mistake humility for a sign of weakness. The sporting world understands this and great sports coaches like Vince Lombardi have humility at the core of their teachings about mental toughness. According to Lombardi “Mental toughness is many things. It is humility because it behoves all of us to remember that simplicity is the sign of greatness and meekness is the sign of true strength. Mental toughness is Spartacism with qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication. It is fearlessness, and it is love”.

Why humility will help you to be a SRM leader?

Our research indicates there are a number of attributes and activities that have direct correlation to the delivery of positive and sustainable outcomes. For example, in general SRM leaders:

  • Have a clearly articulated and communicated SRM value proposition;
  • Have CEO or executive sponsorship;
  • Segment suppliers;
  • Train their people;
  • Are more likely to invest in SRM technology;
  • Have clear line of sight between supplier contract, performance and relationship;
  • Conduct joint account planning with key suppliers.

But there is one thing we see that stands out for SRM leaders - humility. No matter how noticeable it is, this particular trait is hard to quantify and even harder to measure. The fact remains, SRM leaders are more humble than the average SRM practitioner. They are more humble about their SRM programmes, more humble about their achievements, and more open about the amount of work that they still need to do to make their SRM programmes a success. And why is this? Because they are prepared to acknowledge that suppliers may ‘know more’ and have greater expertise that can be leveraged. They have put egos aside and embraced a partnership approach to achieve better long term outcomes, which paves the way for open conversations and creative thinking.

Where does humility have the biggest impact on SRM?

For a SRM programme to succeed it requires the organisation to be transparent about targets and objectives. Expectations, goals, and roadmaps to achieve them should be aligned and clearly communicated - with no room for egos and hidden agendas. The entire organisation needs to listen and speak with ‘one voice’ to the supplier. The supplier too must be aligned to these goals and targets. Often this requires humility to promote the following:

  • Stakeholder management – A vital aspect of SRM requiring practitioners to engage stakeholder from across the business. The object of which is to secure understanding and support. The best way to achieve this is to firstly listen and gain a genuine understanding of their challenges, priorities, pressures, etc. It will enable questions, challenges and resistance to be anticipated and overcome with logical arguments that demonstrate humility and empathy.
  • Cross functional working – Another important aspect of an SRM programme. Most often the cross functional team aligned to a supplier relationship will be loose alliance that cannot be directed by using traditional line management authority. SRM practitioners will need to develop techniques that enable them to influence. Because there is often no positional authority, you need to influence others; to change their behaviours and abandon the status quo to achieve enduring, positive change with aligned targets and goals.
  • Building or rebuilding trust - Rightly or wrongly procurement has historically been seen - by both internal stakeholders and suppliers - as only interested in saving money and not necessarily fostering relationships. It will take time and patience combined with genuine humility and perseverance to become a trusted internal and external partner.
  • A dose of reality - Often organisations believe their own marketing hype, their brand or organisation is so important that a supplier is privileged to do business with them. Assuming the role of the ‘master’ in a ‘master and servant’ type of relationship, often leads to forgetting the supplier has a choice. SRM leaders understand the importance of being a ‘customer of choice’, and how a more collaborative, humble approach is required to become one.
  • Being open and listening – Fundamental to the concept of humility in the context of supplier relationships is to acknowledge that you do not have the answer but an answer will emerge from learning with and from others. We’ve seen that suppliers often know your business as well or better than you do. SRM leaders are open with their organisation’s goals and challenges. They understand that asking for help and listening to suppliers’ suggestions can help them maintain and create value tangible as well as intangible benefits.
  • Supplier engagement – In our experience one thing is a very clear and tangible indicator (to suppliers) that an organisation is acknowledging that it isn’t perfect and is behaving with more humility. That is when they conduct a Voice of the Supplier study. This in itself is a bold step. It is asking for honest feedback which, if it fails to respond to will damage its credibility. A company conducting a Voice of the Supplier is immediately positioning itself with its suppliers as a company that is prepared to listen and learn.

As James Kerr writes in his book ‘Legacy’ where he talks about the All Blacks, the most successful sports team in history, and their approach to humility.

“Humility begins at the level of interpersonal communication, enabling an interrogative, highly facilitated learning environment in which no one has all the answers. Each individual is invited to contribute solutions to the challenges being posed. This is a key component of building sustainable competitive advantage through cultural cohesion. It leads to innovation, increased self-knowledge, and greater character.”


To check how good your SRM programme is and get your SRM index score visit www.stateofflux.co.uk

Download the 2016 SRM report