Procurement’s role – a behavioral economist’s perspective

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Regions of the cerebral cortex associated with...

Procurement’s role in a modern, giant corporation – discounted by many – is to promote ‘decision efficiency.’ ‘Decision efficiency’ may sound like some piece of business jargon, but it is actually the fundamental reason why procurement is absolutely necessary to an organization. Here’s why:

When people spend money on something, there is some amount of pain associated with that purchase. For some of my tightwad friends, this pain is almost unbearable. Spendthrifts, on the other hand, are particularly good at fooling themselves – i.e. shutting it out of their minds.

I hear the procurement naysayer crowd now…’that’s great for individuals, but what about organizations.’ Ok, maybe you weren’t saying that, but I’ll go ahead and refute it anyway.

People experience the pain of paying to the degree to which they feel directly affected by it. So, while a budget holder may feel mildly connected to the pain of spending some of her budget, the next layer removed will feel even less. By the time we get to the maintenance supervisor that runs out to Home Depot/B&Q on a regular basis, he may actually look forward to some time away from the plant.

Even the budget-holder, however, will be much more in tune with the utility (pleasure/usefulness) derived from an expense or ‘investment’ than the pain. After all, it is one line of expenditure, and the only incentive is to stay within the budget. This phenomenon is called ‘hedonic efficiency.’ I.e. the budget holder wants the benefit and to sweep the expense out of mind as quickly as possible.

What does that mean in practical terms. A). Ownership – i.e. to be able to control the good or service purchased B) Prepayment – i.e. get the money out of there and forget about it.

So, where does procurement come in? We promote decision efficiency. In practical terms this may mean leasing or renting, paying only for what we use (avoiding the prepayment bias), and making opportunity costs explicit. To the extent that we show the utility the business receives against the costs involved, we become an effective conscience for the business. We are there to prevent bias.

Companies – specifically executives – must first be cognizant of the biases that impact them. At that point, they will recognize the need for procurement to be there to counteract those biases.

Procurement has a responsibility here too. We must present the case as clearly and rationally as possible. There is an interdependency present as well. If the business continually shows they do not want to be inconvenienced with the facts, procurement receives the implicit message that their lives will be easier if they just remain quiet.

CEO’s – yep, pointing directly at you – take note.

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