How to Train Your Brain for Better Procurement Performance

Turns out, procurement and neuroscience make a great match! Our recent Roundtable with Ivalua showed us how…


Have you ever wondered why some people in your procurement team are better at the supplier validation piece than others?  

Does it just come down to someone being disciplined and organised? Or are there other factors at play?  

How can we ensure that supplier compliance works, and we’re able to provide the reassurance our client businesses need?

The answer could be a combination of neuroscience and technology. Strange, but true! That’s what our financial services CPOs discovered at a recent Procurious / Ivalua Breakfast Roundtable in June.  We’ve pulled out some highlights of their discussion for you:

It starts with brainwork …

To understand how the brain operates, and consequently how humans behave, we need to think about evolution – Roundtable speaker, published author, and CEO of Mindbridge Kate Lanz is our expert in this regard.

While the science behind how the brain works is complex, Kate offers us a simple overview:

“If we think about how the brain evolved from reptile to mammal to human, we can really start to unpack how we respond.”

The Reptilian Brain is the oldest part of the brain and manages autonomic functions like breathing and digestion; this part of the brain is operating all the time. The limbic part of the brain evolved after this and controls the emotional side of things, and then finally, the cortex was developed, which is the part that makes sense of the world.

The key thing to understand here is that the limbic part of the brain reacts first, after 85 milliseconds, followed by the cortex at 250 milliseconds.

“We should always be aware,” Kate warns, “[that] we are emotional WAY before we are rational.”

Our initial response is always to survive rather than thrive.  So, to get the best out of any person we need to set things up, so their cortex is in ‘thrive mode’ rather than ‘survive mode’.

Turning on the brain’s ‘thrive mode’ in procurement 

Ok, so we understand the basics of how the brain works… What’s this got to do with procurement?

Let’s consider the challenges CPOs and their teams face around compliance and use financial services as our case study.  Firstly, the resources available to provide oversight need to be addressed.  

In a recent blog post for Ivalua, Arnaud Malard urges CPOs to put people, tools and processes in place that are “in proportion to the individual risk profile of the financial institution and the scale and range of its activities.”

Strict control and governance need to be in place, along with a clear understanding of limits and exposure.  And it goes without saying that detailed risk management, exit strategies, and contingency planning are also on the agenda.

So, now we know the challenges we need to address, where does the brain kick in? And are there insights from neuroscience that will help us in this regard?

Let’s take ourselves back to the concept of getting our teams into ‘thrive mode’. What tactics does Kate suggest to make this happen?  Her advice is clear: we need to think about how situations can put people into a positive state.

“Set up meetings and work situations to promote a ‘thrive’ response, [and] take proactive steps to make that happen,” Kate suggests.  In her book All the Brains in the Business, Kate identifies four different approaches. All four are extremely important, but the one we want to focus on in this workplace instance is CONTROL. 

“Make sure you set your work situation up to give people control”, Kate advises. “It’s a high-quality way to generate ideas and tap into the brain’s full potential.” 

Time to get tech involved

So, control is a great way to leverage great performance from the procurement team.  How can tech fit into this approach?  Ivalua’s Alliances Director Stephen Cleminson shared some useful insight at the Roundtable, linking directly to our theme of control.

In Stephen’s experience, workflows that bake compliance into the process are more effective, and technology can be configured to make this happen.  Pulling information through from the sourcing stage also means the tech platform can be used at the supplier/contract management stage.

Incorporating compliance requirements into the tech platform brings back control of time and effort in the compliance space, releasing procurement’s time for value-add activity.

The compliance challenge has always helped procurement secure more resources,” Stephen reports.  Great news if you’re working to set up an effective procurement team!

Brain function and the role of gender 

On top of our quest for ‘thrive mode’, there are also gender differences in brain function to be considered.  Kate advises us to think about the female and male elements of the brain – all humans have these features in varying ways – and really understand the differences.

“Sustainable success into the future of work will depend significantly on leveraging this potential advantage that is so readily available”.

People and procurement teams made a difference during the pandemic. That’s not just our opinion at Procurious – it’s what CPOs at the Roundtable reported.  And the difference can be made by leveraging the power of already existing technology, quickly implementing solutions where there are gaps, and giving all the brains in the team the power to achieve.

If you’d like to find out more about the Procurious CPO Roundtables, please contact Olga Luscombe. Ivalua have produced a white paper on EBA compliance, which you can access here.

Be sure to download your free copy of Procurious’ latest report with Ivalua, here!