Do you play poker? Any of it? I am not a very strong poker player. In fact, I have played it several times only. Enough though, to know that there is more than just Texas Hold’Em and that you play completely different if you play only with one player, compared to a big table. Not being strong enough is probably the reason why I enjoy watching the game. I like numbers and psychology behind the game.
Just like in any other aspect of life, I study and learn. If there are people, if some of them are better than others, then there are definitely patterns, rules, strategies…winners and losers, too. Are procurement specialists restricted to learn only from other procurement specialists? No. Will any new ideas come from the same pool of thoughts, in which you have been swimming for the last ten or more years? Most likely, not. I chose to search for lessons everywhere. Including poker.
Let’s check some basic tips and rules for Poker beginners from the vast oceans of internet knowledge…
Don’t Play Every Hand. It suggests, that by doing so, you will just waste your resources very fast. There can be a lot of (procurement) management interpretations for that: start any activity (RFI, RFP, tendering) only if you know the time is right and there is sense (business sense) to do so. You could also learn about the importance of supplier short-listing. Pareto is probably right 80% of the time. In poker, folding is not always bad. In procurement (or life) not taking up an activity which, quite clearly, will not bring any use, is actually the right thing to do.
Don’t Stay in a Hand Just Because You’re in It. Fold if you can’t win. There are times in our jobs, when we have to admit, that the direction we took, is not getting us anywhere. And you might be already half-way through the process. There are times in our lives (fine, mine, “only” mine), when you have to turn back home, being half-way to work, because you left your laptop at home and there is not much working at work without one…
Observe Your Opponents. Even when you’re not involved in a hand you should carefully watch your opponents. This is when you start gathering the real insights about the market and the players in the marketplace – suppliers. This is when you learn about the real needs and motivations. Already signed a deal for FM? That cannot stop you from being curious what your neighbours (industry neighbours) are using… at the time of renewal, you might realise, that from being dominant service provider in area they gave all their positions to new suppliers. Or just the opposite: deal with you would open the door for them into a new market and they are willing to pay for in shape of discounts? Someone else is developing software and is hiring test managers? Linking their rates to the success of testing? Developing KPIs to measure effectiveness and speed of defect managers?
Don’t Play above Your Limits. You are not taking your Boeing to go shopping to Co-op around the corner, are you? Over specification is really one of the most expensive luxuries in procurement.
Keep Bluffing to a Minimum. Bluffing in poker is a major part of the game. But even there, you need to know when, how, against whom to bluff. The main advice, however, is to focus on making the best and most appropriate bets with your cards. In procurement, I would say, we should firstly focus on doing our homework properly and only then (if there is such a temptation) to try and lure our opponent into making a mistake. On the other hand, being able to recognize bluffing might turn out to be a very useful skill!
Learn the Importance of Position. In poker, the position at the table is very important. Dealer (the one that gets to make a move last at the table) is always in the best position. There is no any obvious position at the negotiation table or in procurement table, but if you get your opponent to disclose his / her position first, you will have a slight advantage. Knowing, what you want to say and / or achieve, you can slightly adjust your arguments. It might turn out eventually, that hearing out the other side first, will prevent any confrontation from happening at all.
And the last one – my favourite – Be a humble winner and a graceful loser: No one likes to play with a show-off, or a sore loser. Maintain a good ATTITUDE, and have fun. Or else, you might find yourself being very lonely in your sand box – tender, where only 5% of invited suppliers confirm their participation.