In 1897, an eight-year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the Editor of the New York Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper of the time. She asked a simple and straightforward question, “Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”
In the 120 years since she penned her letter, the Editor’s response has become the most reprinted English language newspaper editorial of all time.
If you’ve ever read Francis Pharcellus Church’s response, and I fervently hope you have, you know that it is neither a straightforward yes/no answer nor a treatise on the Christmas holiday itself, but rather an entreaty to all people to preserve hope and believe in the goodness and wonder of the world around them.
As we count down the final days of 2016 and prepare for yet another holiday season, I want to make a similar appeal to my fellow procurement and supply chain professionals: you MUST believe in Santa Claus.
I don’t say this because Santa has the most impressive inventory management and logistics program of all time. I don’t mention the need to believe because I’m hoping to get something special in my stocking (although I was awfully good this year…). Procurement needs to believe in Santa Claus because we need to stay positive and engaged in the face of constant challenges and ‘constructive’ feedback.
Here is the best advice from the editor’s reply to little Virginia, and what it offers to our professional community.
They [your friends] have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.
Procurement teams are constantly fighting battles (whether real or imagined) to prove that they have a reason to exist. We face questions about talent, objectives, and performance measurement. And as exciting a development as it is, automation has certainly not simplified the conversation. Should procurement exist? Should procurement be outsourced or re-written as a software program? Just like Virginia, we live in a skeptical age – maybe there is no other kind. That being said, we can only allow ourselves to be affected by it so much. While a healthy level of skepticism drives us to perform, too much will cause us to be held back by self doubt, unable to create value or challenge conventional ideas about resource commitments and supply chain relationships.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.
Every aspect of procurement is expected to be measurable: savings, spend under management, contracts, and strategic supplier relationships. Ironically, the most important thing – ‘the most real thing’ – about procurement is that we do exist. Our very presence serves as proof that the organization considers spend efficiency to be a priority, communicates to internal buyers that they will be held accountable for the way they spend the company’s resources, and opens the door to elevated expectations and deeper relationships with suppliers. There is no metric that can fully capture these contributions, and they are as real as every dollar tracked as savings to the bottom line.
How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.
I’m not foolish enough to assert that every other group in the company loves having a procurement function to contend with. Let’s face it, many people would rather handle purchases on their own, on a just in time basis, at least as long as the money lasted. But what is the fun in that? We are all made better by having someone challenge us. Do we really need this much volume? Does the purchase need to take place now? Can we live with a slightly longer response time in return for savings? What is the right amount of inventory to have on hand? These are the questions that would not be asked if there were no procurement. How dreary would be the world if there were no procurement, indeed.
I couldn’t write to and for procurement, week in and week out and year after year after year, if I did not believe in procurement. We’re hard on ourselves, and are usually made better for it. In the spirit of the holidays, let’s pause and be proud of our accomplishments to date. Let’s be proud of who we are and how much we have evolved since our formalization as a corporate function.
I am quite sure that no one will be reading this blog post in the year 2136 (the same time that has elapsed since Virginia received her history-making response in the New York Sun) but the fact that ‘Yes, Virginia’ still holds meaning for us today serves as evidence that we all need a little reassurance now and then that it is important to believe in hope and goodness and opportunity. BELIEVE!
Header Photo: Ollyy/shutterstock.com
Photo in text: Duong Hoang Dinh/shutterstock.com