Supply Chain Council of European Union |

Procurement Perspectives – Encouraging peak performance in procurement

It is a truism that great work can only be done by people who are not afraid to be great and who are prepared to pay the price of greatness.

If, as Aristotle tells us, excellence is not an act but a habit, a procurement leader, or any other professional, must find some way of making excellence habitual to the entire organization so that it permeates to every root and branch of its membership.

One of the most common measures used to assess the capability of a procurement leader is his or her ability to encourage peak performance from their colleagues.

Critical considerations in the assessment are often said to include whether the leadership is able to ensure consistently high performance and at least occasionally exemplary performance.

But what is meant by these terms? A simple and tempting answer is to say that performance is high when a preponderant number of a leader’s staff achieve their individual performance goals; it would be exemplary when most of these staff members achieve well above goals.

However, a moment’s reflection is sufficient to dismiss this approach to leadership assessment as overly simplistic. The level of attainment may be distorted by setting the performance goals for subordinates at an unreasonably high or low level.

Furthermore, the circumstances of the organization may be such that successful attainment of desired goals is unlikely under any conditions. The function of a leader is to allow an organization to achieve the best result it can. It is not sensible to expect a leader to accomplish a miracle.

It would seem to follow from these points that the assessment of leadership ability in terms of the capacity of an individual to stimulate peak performance by subordinates must be a balanced one, that includes a critical assessments of the goals that have been set for those subordinates, the training, qualities and attributes of those staff members, and also the circumstances of the organization itself.

Every worker is likely to have a range of strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation of a worker’s performance should provide balanced treatment to both. If too much time is spent discussing strengths, the weaknesses will be ignored.

Excessive attention to weaknesses is likely to alienate the worker causing him or her to become defensive or disheartened.

A balanced in which strengths and weaknesses are both considered allows the supervisor to discuss the areas where performance meets or exceeds requirements, and to discuss with the worker how the ability shown in those areas can be used to improve under-performance in other areas.

Such an approach allows the supervisor to focus on the worker’s potential to improve. The evaluation becomes a growth exercise, rather than a recitation of complaint. It shows faith in the worker and helps to build confidence.

It is natural enough for each individual to wish to exceed the performance goals that have been set and generally speaking it is in the interests of the organization that each of its members does so.

Even in this respect, however, there is a need for some critical review of what has been accomplished. 

The ability of any one person to exceed the minimum performance requirements that have been set may have a number of unfavourable as well as favourable consequences.

Unfavourable possibilities include that other members of the individual’s peer group are consistently under-performing, given the resources available to them; the resources devoted to a particular aspect of organizational operations (i.e. those operations under the control of the person being assessed) exceed the resources that are required; the criteria of assessment are overly narrow, so that it is possible to create an appearance of superlative performance by sacrificing aspects of performance that are not measured; and diverting the resources concerned to aspects of performance that are measured.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at [email protected].

Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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