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Procurement Perspectives: Making decisions during a time of constant change

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: Making decisions during  a time of constant change

Managers develop as they become progressively more adept at learning how to identify and satisfy needs.

Few managers possess this ability as an intuitive skill.

Normally, it develops over time.

Complicating that development is the fact that needs change. More than any society that has come before, our society is one dominated by an endless process of dynamic change.

Prior to the 17th century, few technologies came and disappeared even over the space of several centuries.

Today, a line of technology can rise and be supplanted within a few years.

The LP record was introduced in the 1950s but was obsolete by the late 1980s.

In the 1960s, telex supplanted the telegraph. Telex began to disappear with the advent of the fax machine and now the fax itself has been displaced by email and text barely 25 years later. Few new technologies now last that long.

Eight and 16-bit computers came and went over the space of a few years and along with them has vanished two floppy drive technologies and a host of different types of operating and system software including CPM and MSDOS.

Leadership in such an environment is fraught with difficulty. There is little time for orderly development.

Initiatives end abruptly because the circumstances that gave rise to them evaporate.

Selection must be made among competing ideas with little opportunity for quiet reflection on the consequences of the choices offered or the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each proposed approach.

Insufficient time seems to exist to correct old recognized problems before new ones emerge. Confronted with such a situation, organizations and their managers must decide whether it is better to keep moving or to stop and try to solve things before they get worse.

However, the constantly shifting environment in which organizations operate means those who seek to stop may find themselves left behind.

Even if they do not, there is still doubt as to whether stopping will allow the opportunity to identify and correct the causes of the problems that have been recognized.

When decisions must be made within an environment of constant change, it can be difficult to settle upon a process for deciding the corresponding adjustments that the organization should make and for ranking options in priority.

Jack Welch, whose career with General Electric has been the subject of a good many leadership related studies, once said that he had only three jobs as its chief executive officer: selecting the right people, allocating capital resources and spreading ideas quickly around.

There is no question these duties are immortal tasks of leadership, but is it possible to summarize so quickly all the tasks that fall to a leader?

Welch’s three-point list is no doubt satisfactory once the organization is up and running and its general direction has been set, but during the early stages of the formation of the organization, there are many more critical responsibilities.

Similarly, the list of critical tasks grows once the organization is thrown into a crisis. Particularly following the advent of a crisis, leaders need to be able to identify and prioritize the various needs that an organization must supply.

Some leaders face an immediate crisis that takes up virtually the whole of their time from the moment of their appointment.

However, most leaders grapple with far less urgent needs.

Managers are rightly expected to identify needs that exist and those that are likely to arise. They are also expected to devise some method of addressing the former and avoiding the latter.

There are many different types of need.

True necessaries are few, but many things are “necessary” in the sense that they are essential to a given lifestyle or the achievement of some desired purpose.

Although it is not always clear where and how the line is drawn.

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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