“Executives need to convey a sense of urgency,” adds Adair. According to Adair, CEOs and executive teams need to make sure they’re crystal clear about the mission and then “over-communicate” with their employees. Employees need to know exactly what is about to change, why the change is necessary, how it will positively affect the company and what the benefits are. The message needs to be repeated over and over again until it reaches the company’s grassroots, where changes are so often the most profound.
We also tend to manage certain types of change better than others. “Americans don’t deal well with symbolic change, which is why many companies couldn’t grasp the Japanese management model,” says Christopher Taylor, Ph.D., a professor of industrial psychology at the University of Arizona.
In the 1980s, technology was concrete. There was a PC, a word processing program and a document to print, accompanied by a step-by-step learning process. In contrast, the Internet requires visualizing concepts and seeking out solutions from a universe of possibilities. It’s all very ethereal. According to Taylor, Americans are trained and educated from an early age to believe only what we see. One of the educational challenges posed by the Internet, e-business and ultimately e-procurement is to free our minds in order to think differently, and to accept that ideas have value.
This is no small challenge. “You’ve got this incredible glut of information, and you’ve got workers who have it or don’t know what to do with it, and have to sort through it,” Taylor says. Companies such as Xerox, Whirlpool and GE have implemented knowledge-management solutions that include internal technical databases created by employees, working groups composed of executives from different business units and regular executive team meetings. What most companies still struggle with is getting information to percolate up from the grassroots, organizing it and getting it where it’s needed.
The By-Product of Information is Responsiveness
A call to The Table Group was picked up on the first ring by a friendly woman named Karen Amador. Her e-mail address, along with the rest of the company’s contact information was easy to find on its user-friendly Web site. A request for an interview with one of the firm’s consultants was followed by a few seconds on hold and the voice of company founder Amy Adair.
Fast, responsive and open, The Table Group shares the same core values as the Internet and tech companies it counsels. Not so most of the old economy companies we contacted, who were slow as molasses, often unresponsive and overly secretive. Business travel and vacations interfered with a couple of interviews we’d hoped to do, and one can conceive of all sorts of excuses to explain the rest. Reasonable or not, depending on who’s on the other end of the phone, the Internet creates very high expectations, responsiveness chief among them.
Linda Lage, a buyer for C. R. Bard/Bard Medical Division, works at the company’s Nogales, Sonora plant in Mexico, where the lack of necessary infrastructure has so far prevented her division from doing business online. Lage finds both good and not-so-good in the value propositions posed by e-procurement. On one hand, supporting and improving her relationships with Bard’s suppliers is a good thing. So is streamlining transactions and creating cost efficiencies.
On the other hand, purchasing is multifaceted, and multiplying the number of suppliers she has to respond to could be a pain. Lage asks, “Do I want to deal with 50 suppliers that all produce the same thing?” Internet companies like to tout the ability to do business “with anyone, everywhere, all the time,” but in typical fashion the details get worked out on the fly, presumably to be left to buyers to manage.
The willingness to work out the details has to happen first. The old paradigm shift again. In Lage’s view it’s a matter of educating buyers because most, even at Fortune 500 Companies like hers, are still in the dark about e-procurement. “It’s still new. People are afraid that they don’t know enough and are self-conscious about not knowing,” Lage says.
Adair made the same comment. “People are hesitant to speak up when they don’t know the issue. There’s often a big disconnect between technical people and content people. There’s definitely a conflict between the two ways of thinking,” she says. In other words, technology has such an overwhelming presence in our lives that non-tech people, which includes most of us, are shamed into keeping silent the fact that we don’t know what the heck most of it is all about.