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Procurement Perspectives: Operational problems require fundamental changes

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: Operational problems require fundamental changes

One of the most important roles of an organization is to turn great problems into little ones.

Operational problems exist where existing systems are satisfactory for the task at hand, but where there is some flaw or deficiency in the organization itself that thwarts improvement of production or other vital aspects of operation.

The most common problem of this sort is the shortage of resources, but others include time constraints. In contrast to technical problems, operational problems cannot be addressed by change in routine.

Operational problems require fundamental changes in the organization itself. However, if such changes can be implemented, then the organization’s goals and plans for reaching those goals need not be modified at all.

An alternative approach is to redefine the mission and objectives of the organization so that they are more in line with the resources on hand. In contrast to technical problems, operational problems must be addressed at the higher level.

Strategic problems are those that arise from a break or other disconnection within the organization itself (e.g. the loss of essential personnel) or within its environment (e.g. deregulation of an industry, the emergence of some new technology, or globalization).

Strategic problems render some critical aspects of an organization’s operations obsolete. For this reason, strategic problems can make or break both the organization and at least in some cases its competitors as well.

Fortunately, strategic problems are encountered relatively infrequently, except for organizations that are active in a highly unstable environment.

Where pronounced instability is a feature of the organization’s environment, longer term planning becomes progressively less viable.

Accordingly, it is necessary for the organization to focus on more short-term goals. Organizations that operate in highly complicated environments are those that are most prone to environmental instability.

Strategic problems require major changes to and within the organization.

Adaptive changes of this nature are wholly different in character from those that are required to address technical problems.

These changes will normally require the development of new business and methods of operation, the learning of entirely new skills and the acquisition of new attributes, changes in values, and the creation of new relational networks.

Finally, the term relational problems refers to the issues that arise within an organization (personnel problems), or between an organization and its shareholders, members and creditors (stakeholder problems).

Problems of this sort may be uniquely relational. For example problems arising from some personality conflict between a manager and his or her staff.

Alternatively, problems of this sort may be derived from technical, or strategic or operational problems. For example management-labour strife arising from the inadequacy of the resources of the organization and therefore its inability to pay market wages. The nature of the solution required to solve a relational problem will turn on the underlying cause of that problem.

In terms of the general patterns of behaviour and inter-relationship with others, people tend to fall into a limited number of categories.

In contrast, effective management often have a chameleon like nature, that allows them to adapt to the crowd around them.

They sense consensus. They win people to a cause by showing that the cause is consistent with the personal goals of those people.

The ability to read others in this way is essentially what is meant by understanding human nature.

It incorporates the ability to gauge how people will react and to identify what motivates people. What causes fear, anger, suspicion and greed.

This almost intuitive ability is sometimes described as knowing “what buttons to push.”

Carnival barkers, mediums and fortune tellers often have a similar ability to “cold read” other people.

Cold reading is the ability to perceive key aspects of a person’s behaviour, circumstances, attitudes to life and so forth by observing the thousands of tell-tale clues about his or her person, rather than asking direct questions.

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

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