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Procurement Perspectives: Building consensus in procurement

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: Building consensus in procurement

There are various tools that procurement leaders employ in seeking to build consensus within the organization.

These include identifying who the consensus leaders within the organization are and putting in the effort necessary to develop a good relationship with them.

The first step in building consensus is to give appropriate consideration to the reasons why people disagree. Most disagreements can be attributed to a relatively narrow range of causes.

These include:
• A misunderstanding about the nature or terms of a proposal, and the reasons advanced in support of it (stage one dispute).
•Differences of perspective, which may be attributable to different experiences, values, need or objectives, with the result that the dissident prefers an alternative over the one that has been offered (stage two dispute).
•Disagreement based on personal disposition or some other extraneous yet bona fide factor not directly related to the merits of the alternative offered (stage three dispute).
•Disagreement based on personal hostility of the other party to the person putting forward the alternative in question (stage four dispute).

The appropriate solution turns in large measure on which of the above categories the dispute in question falls in the circumstances.

Obviously, it is far easier to resolve a stage one dispute than a stage four. Therefore, it is important to determine the source of disagreement as quickly as possible to avoid wasting time.

Disputes at first or second stage may be resolved through a variety of simple techniques, such as:
• Identifying and comparing alternatives;
•merging alternatives;
•building criteria lists and scoring alternatives; and
•exploring other options based on shared needs or objectives.

At the first stage, the procurement dispute arises because of the inadequacy of the information sharing process.

Often a solution can be reached simply by affording both sides an opportunity to listen to each other and explore their respective ideas in full. Areas of shared concern can quickly be identified.

The source and nature of disagreement can then become the focus. Additional information can then be brought forward or obtained to address the conflict.

Confronted with a dispute of this nature, a procurement leader might direct specific questions at the dissident group and record their responses so that any briefing or explanatory material can be explained to address their concerns.

Once this has been done, a second overture can be made of the parties in dispute to determine whether a consensus has been reached.

Questions must, of course, be asked in a non-threatening and non-derisive manner, showing respect for each viewpoint. Even where consensus cannot be reached merely through the exchange of additional information and the modification of language, it is often possible to move towards and eventual solution by settling on some method of assessing the comparative strengths and weaknesses of alternative positions and weighing the scores that should be taken into account in making a decision.

Where a scoring system fails to generate the required support for a plan, then efforts at a resolution must proceed towards the identification of some new option that bridges both camps in some way.

Such an approach must give value to each of the competing viewpoints without permitting, much less requiring, the proponents of each to devalue the conflicting viewpoint of the other camp.

The goal is to develop some merged solution which both sides can live with.

For many disagreements, the weaknesses of one party, side or alternative correspond to the strengths of the competing party, side or alternative.

Once this relationship is understood, focus can then be placed on developing some more comprehensive plan that achieves the strengths of both of the original alternatives.

One effective technique is to require the proponents of one plan to come up with ways of securing the desired strengths of the alternative plan, by addition, deletion or other modification of their own.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at swbauld@purchasingci.com. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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