Fans from the innocent earlier days of pop music might remember the monster hit "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night. But an earlier Jeremiah was a prophet in the Kingdom of Judah, the "weeping prophet" who urged reform and repentance. He is recognized in Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Baha'i. Some think that I might be modeling Jeremiah, but my own views are not quite as pessimistic.
TILTING AT THE WINDMILL DU JOUR
As we navigate the tortuous pathways of contemporary sourcing and procurement, hands, tendrils, and teeth reach out for us, much like the underwater creatures—grindylows, merpeople, and such—who sought to ensnare Harry Potter. One hand that might be judged as either harming or helping belongs to the corporate legal function. Sometimes, the appendage is a talon that captures and cuts; sometimes, it's a hand that reaches out and offers a pull toward safety and away from disaster.
Finding a positive balance in the relationship between legal and the sourcing/procurement functions can be challenging. On the one hand, we are charged with finding reliable, sustainable, high-quality, cost/value-effective, and easy-to-work-with sources, suppliers, providers, manufacturers, and distributors of products, components, materials, technology, software, consulting, project solutions, paper clips, and other elements that make our businesses possible—and profitable.
On the other hand, we must accomplish our mission in ways that do not jeopardize the enterprise or leave it open to failure, litigation, business interruption, or scandal. And here is where legal peeks over our transom to—legitimately—make sure we are playing by the right rules.
LAWYERS RUN AMOK
In some organizations, the legal function has taken control of, or exercises universal veto power over, contracts, agreements, RFx (requests for information, proposals, or quotations), and foundational qualifications for any provider of goods or services to the enterprise. In the immediate environment, the consequences might include fights to the death between the supply chain or procurement functions and legal over all issues, both trivial and game-changing; delay; wasted energy; diminished attention to the really important issues; and the unnecessary involvement of senior leadership in schoolyard brawls.
In others, legal is a trusted and valued ally in crafting appropriate contracts with prudent corporate safeguards in place. To be blunt, it is procurement's responsibility to: 1) take the lead in building productive collaborative relationships with legal; and 2) build, acquire, and demonstrate capability in the fundamentals of contracting and provider management.
FIRST STEPS IN SOLVING THE RIDDLE
Here are some questions to ask, if you lead the sourcing and procurement functions in your organization. Your answers may lead to a revelation of what you might consider next:
THE NEVER-ENDING QUEST
The question-and-answer drill can go on and on. At core, though, is a frightening reality. How well you partner with peers, such as legal and others, will, to an extent not always understood, define how successfully your end-to-end supply chain operates.
With legal as a permanent adversary, you are guaranteed to lose. With legal as a flexible and knowledgeable ally, you have a fighting chance at supply chain success.
Wars have losers; we all know that. But it is not important that you might win and legal (or another function) lose. In war, even the victor loses. Loses support, loses resources, loses credibility, loses focus—all very real possibilities with very real consequences.
Perhaps in a geopolitical arena, wars are sometimes necessary and unavoidable. In our world of integrated supply chain management, peace, teamwork, and collaboration can make winners of us all—our function, our supply chain, our peers, our customers (both internal and external), and our supplier/provider bases.
And then, we will not have to face the I-told-you-so specter of Nebuchadnezzar beating our brains out and throwing us in jail, or worse.
Note: A version of this column may appear on the Spend Matters blog site.