Halo Effect Impact for Tender Evaluation (and Ways to Fix It)

The Phenomenon

Halo effect is a type of cognitive bias. Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that influence how we make decisions. This phenomenon affects us both at conscious and sub-conscious levels. It affects personal and professional life decisions. Nobody is an exception. Not recruitment specialists, not IT and not procurement or any other specialist area. Procurement professionals, however, are exposed to it even more – they have to deal with multiple external sources of influence every day. This subject is very wide, but this time let’s look into a very narrow area: tenders and their evaluation.

Cognitive bias in procurement

“Procurement Academy” provides some very simple and good explanations of the most common biases. According to them, cognitive biases appear during the negotiation process or in daily communication with suppliers and would not apply to tender process. Therefore, the tender would make your buying process efficient. That is not necessarily so. Let’s leave all the malevolent intentions aside – this time we talk only about unintentional cognitive bias.

Cognitive bias in tenders

There are a lot of different types of biases. Too many to analyse all of them here. Also, tender processes vary across different companies. However, here are the examples how, without even knowing about it, your decisions on supplier / product / service selection might be influenced:

  • Overconfidence. I wrote about it some time ago. I loved Jennifer M Wood’s article on similar subject, where she points out: “Experts are more prone to this bias than laypeople, since they are more convinced that they are right”. How is the connected with the tenders? Well, WHO is running your tenders for you?
  • Halo effect: the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area. Think about Account sales manager David. During the tender presentation meeting, he was charming: professional, knowledgeable, personable. Did you not automatically expect the whole company to be just as David is? Another example is the sequence of replies to the questions. It is proven, that if the first questions are replied extremely well, the evaluator tends to evaluate the following replies much higher. Was there a time pressure to submit the tender proposal? Most likely the greatest effort was put into replying the first questions.
  • Framing effects: You will tend to make different conclusions from the same information, based on it’s layout: sequence of words, mathematical representation. Think about it: would you rather have a half-empty or a half-full glass of water? Would you choose 90% fat free or 10% fat yogurt? All tender submission documents will be “adjusted” to communicate “the right” message.
  • Base-rate neglect: it is a tendency to ignore base rate information (say, historical supplier performance information) and focus on specific information (a tender submission data). I did my own small research on this: results are here. We are all guilty of this.
  • Confirmation bias: I tend to call it selective hearing or memory. People tend to search for, focus and remember information in a way that confirms their perceptions. The questions asked in tender documents here become critical. Compare: “Is Sam friendly?” and “Is Sam unfriendly?” These questions are about the same thing, but the answers would give you a different picture.
  • Post-purchase rationalization. It is not a joke. There is such a thing.

 

Ways To De-Bias Tenders

First of all, we need to remember, that as long as there are people involved, there will always be various types of communication and thinking variations. Also, the tender itself is a very limited tool to ensure procurement efficiency. However, sometimes you will have to use them. When you find yourself running a tender:

  • Consider confidence calibration. No, I am not suggesting NOT hiring experts overall. I am suggesting calibrating your experts. And, sometimes, to can ask yourself: why exactly am I hiring a SME? What do I expect from him / her? Why do I think, that having run a tender for OTHERS several times means they will know what is best for OUR company? What exactly am I looking for?
  • Evaluate the company, not the person that is representing it. Meet all of the team (or the core team), that will be running your account and servicing your company. Use testing platforms to get some data to back up your impressions. OR do not meet anyone at all.
  • Remove the supplier names from their replies before handing tender submissions for the evaluation.
  • Improve question evaluation process: split the questions and evaluate so that you can compare question 1 from supplier A with question 1 from supplier B as opposed to firstly evaluating all questions from supplier A prior to moving on to supplier B.
  • Use reframing techniques: challenge assumptions; ask wicked questions (create paradoxes); use “5 Why?” process; adopt multiple stakeholder perspectives).
  • Scientists and philosophers by-pass confirmation bias by trying to disprove theories. Challenge and doubt all sales claims. It is better, if you have historical data which you can analyse. If your suppliers provided you with 10 statements of how well they will meet your business requirements, try to disprove all. If you succeed in half of them… well, then should your tender evaluation reflect that?
  • On the other hand – be critical about the questions you ask in your tender questionnaires.
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Knowing how our brain works helps us not to only avoid our own errors. You can use this knowledge to your advantage. Are you taking any exams any time soon? Reply firstly the questions you know best. And make sure to make a magnificent impression for all of the further questions.

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Halo Effect Impact for Tender Evaluation (and Ways to Fix It)

RF-Spy: Procurement on a Mission

I am on a mission. Yes, this is what I think every time I start a review of a project or a spend category – I am on a mission. I have a goal in front of me: to do whatever it takes, to get the best result. I was discussing with my colleagues, what should be the starting point for the procurement process. I heard many replies. The most frequent reply was – RFI (request for information) is (or should be) the first step. Not for me. I start with a game my kid taught me: “I spy with my little eye…”

The understanding on an RFI varies. Wikipedia says it is “a standard business process whose purpose is to collect written information about the capabilities of various suppliers. Normally it follows a format that can be used for comparative purposes… sent to a broad base of potential suppliers for the purpose of conditioning suppliers’ minds, developing strategy, building a database and preparing for an RFP, RFT, or RFQ”. The key negative aspects of this definition to me are “standard”, “comparative”, “written information…to condition suppliers’ minds”. How can you choose a standard method of measurement, if, at the point of going into the market, you do not yet know what you are looking for? How can you aim to compare outcomes, if by default, RFI stage should allow you to collect completely different methods, business cases, options? How can you gauge someone’s minds over standard ten page questionnaire? By the time any supplier reaches the end of such a questionnaire, they hate you anyway. You need a dialogue to gauge someone’s mind, views and approach. RFI is a one way street.

I have asked our colleagues over LinkedIn post (big thank you for those who responded): “what is the real purpose of RFI for you?”. People use RFI:

  • To be sure the supplier is able to fulfil the needs.
  • To validate assumptions, prove or disprove hypothesis.
  • To validate buying organization’s requirements.
  • To develop buying organization’s requirements.
  • To ensure transparency and business ethics.
  • To assess suppliers on qualification requirements.
  • To capture the information for short listing purposes.
  • To make sure everyone is given a chance to participate.

Ultimately, RFI is a communication method. It is neither good nor bad. It has to serve the purpose of what you want to achieve:

  • To check suppliers’ financial capabilities? Choose independent information sources instead.
  • To “condition suppliers’ minds”? Choose a meeting and/or a conversation.
  • To evaluate supplier’s capability to fulfil the needs (quality, capacity)? Choose supplier audits.
  • To act ethically and transparent? Do it, instead of talking and making manifestos about it. Inviting two hundred suppliers (fine, slightly exaggerating) into a RFI / RFP process is expensive, not transparent. You don’t trust your own employees? Well, you already know what’s coming next – why do you employ them in the first place?
  • To make sure the supplier’s project team will see through to the end of the project? Ask for staff retention statistics, not for a standard list of CVs.
  • To find out what is happening in the market? Do your researches. Nobody these days can complain of lack of information.

It might seem funny (or silly – I do not mind calling things their real names), but I tried to find “instructions for spying”, “private investigator processes” and similar keywords on the internet. You know, to validate if my work principles are any similar to the real spy games (fine, I have been watching too many movies, I know). And I did find things. Mostly, governmental process descriptions, and they were of not much use. However, I did come across some indications. Mostly those were lists of tools that they can use, based on the situation and their own expert judgement. Yes, the tools can be standard, but the combination, that you use, is what makes it unique.

Because of this approach, I choose to do my homework (the spy game) first. Then, when I know my alternatives, I issue pre-qualification questionnaires (if there is anything else that I still want to ask the suppliers and it was not validated during my homework stage). Getting onto my first stage long-list (which is no-where near 200) is already an achievement. And there is no need to question my motivation: I represent business interests. Making sure, that procurement process is not too long and not expensive is one of the objectives. Political correctness? I choose to be polite instead. Those suppliers, who were not invited to the process, should appreciate that I respect their time and choose not to waste their resources by dragging them into a process if I know they are not suitable for it.

Do you have your own unique approach to this? Please share in the comments below!

RF-Spy: Procurement on a Mission