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While empathy may not be a required qualification on many procurement job postings, it’s one of the most important qualities of a successful procurement professional. When agencies need to make big decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars effectively, procurement professionals are at the center of it all, putting themselves in their colleagues’ shoes, connecting diverse stakeholders, and helping them agree on the best possible solutions.
It’s a position Peggy Ferrin has been in countless times, and she joins us on the Inside Public Procurement podcast to talk about why empathy is her procurement superpower. As Procurement Coordinator for the Town of Paradise Valley, Peggy brings over 20 years of experience working in purchasing for school districts, cities, and hospitals. During that time, she’s dealt with her fair share of resistance to procurement policies. On the podcast, she shares her tried-and-true strategies for building trust-based relationships and promoting compliance.
Keep reading for all the highlights from our conversation and tune into the full episode on our website or wherever you get your podcasts!
In public procurement, regulations play a central role in maintaining a community’s trust. “I think in my view, procurement basically is compliance. I mean, that’s what we do and that’s the way we think,” says Peggy. And, when it comes right down to it, she says it’s her job “to keep the government officials and all the employees out of the newspaper.”
Unfortunately, many internal clients don’t realize just how important compliance is to keeping the organization running—particularly when it comes to securing funding and managing public opinion. As a result, educating colleagues and overcoming their resistance is something Peggy has learned to do well over her 20-year career.
So what’s her proven method for winning over even the most resistant colleagues? Building a personal relationship first. “I had the mentality that I would just meet with all my user groups at least once a week, once every couple of weeks, depending on their schedule. And I would sit down and talk to them… on a personal level.”
That approach allowed her to gain clients’ trust and encourage buy-in, ensuring projects achieve the most favourable outcomes possible.
Approaching procurement from a relationship-building perspective isn’t just about winning trust. It also lets Peggy see things from internal clients’ perspectives. The big takeaway? Procurement doesn’t have to be as rigid as she first thought when she entered the profession years ago.
“I used to look at it that procurement was just black and white and all these rules, but there’s so much gray in between. It’s important for us to look at it through the lens of our user groups. You know, what is it that they want? What’s the end goal? What are they trying to accomplish? Then in procurement, how can I help them do that?”
That’s where empathy comes in. Connecting on a personal level helps procurement professionals reach a deeper understanding of internal clients’ challenges, pain points, needs, and goals. Peggy says starting a project from that perspective drives the best results.
“I always try to do that when I work with user groups. What is it they’re looking at? What are their obstacles that they’re trying to get over? Just try to help them, and now they call me in advance, which is procurement’s best way to have it, right? That’s our dream is that they call us in advance before they get started.”
A third key ingredient to fostering better collaboration and consensus, in Peggy’s experience, is eProcurement. While some organizations struggle to get agency-wide buy-in for large-scale digital transformation, Peggy is proud to say that wasn’t the case in Paradise Valley, even though “some of our employees have been there 10, 20, and we have quite a few that have been there 30 years.”
eProcurement has helped the team to build trust and transparency around the procurement process—especially bid scoring. And having access to a digital platform during the pandemic allowed them to continue operations remotely without interruption. Now that they can complete procurements of all shapes and sizes in one central place from the beginning, Peggy has noticed an improvement in the way the whole agency works and communicates. “It’s so easy to pull [a bid] into the contract module and then set those reminders right from the beginning, put my stakeholders in there so they get those emails as well.”
Don’t miss the full episode for more advice and firsthand procurement stories from Peggy on the importance of empathy, negotiation, and relationship-building in public procurement.
Hungry for more tips, insights, and inspiration you can use to level up your procurement strategy? Head over to our website, or find Inside Public Procurement on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts!