This morning’s coaching session was revealing.

I was helping Liz, a procurement leader who is one year into her role with a significant financial institution.

This institution has until recently seen its procurement team as ‘order takers’ who processed requests for new hires or technology.

One year in, Liz needs to update her leaders on her progress and has received a list of things she needs to cover in her update.

It is tempting to organise your story around the request you receive from your leader, but this leaves significant value on the table.

What to do?

Here was my recommendation.

Take a few moments to clarify the real ask and the value she could deliver with this update rather than responding literally to the request list. Let me explain what this does and does not mean.

This DID mean clarifying what outcome she would like from the presentation while keeping in mind the list of items she was asked to include. Here is where we got to:

Firstly, we confirmed the ask which was to

  • Share statistics on the year’s progress so far
  • Offer a case study around the negotiations she facilitated on the new enterprise resourcing platform
  • Provide options for how to proceed for the coming financial year
  • Explain where she is up to in lifting the overall procurement capability

Secondly, we clarified her desired outcome as follows: As a result of this presentation, I want my head of operations to be excited about the plans we have for FY24.

Thirdly, we close a pattern. We merged Watch Out with To B or Not To B, which I have paraphrased as follows:

  1. We made great progress during FY23 in delivering on Horizon 2 of our Procurement Uplift Plan. She then supported this with statistics on each key metric, qualitative examples where relevant, the case study on the major new platform.
  2. Increasing our focus on partnering with the business during the coming financial year is the best way to progress into Horizon 3. She then outlined the options and explained why partnering was the right focus.
  3. Therefore, we will focus on partnering in FY24. She then offered her program plan for 24, organised around the four themes from the original plan.

This enabled her to showcase what had gone well over the past year to set up her plan for the coming year.

This DID NOT mean asking one of her team to throw a few PowerPoint slides together in response to the list her operations head offered and going from there.

An easy way to get started would have been to flick a quick request to her team and ask them to pull a quick deck together for her to review based on that briefing.

This would have led to a number of problems

  1. A disconnected list of items that were potentially informative but not insightful
  2. Time wasted in iterating on pages that may or may not have been relevant once the messaging became clear
  3. The risk that she and the team became wedded to individual slides because they had invested effort in preparing them and couldn’t let them go

This is a challenge I see quite often so thought I’d raise it as a reminder to return to first principles rather than responding reactively to requests.

Hope that helps, more next week.




PS A new episode of Cutting Through is out now! I had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Bennett who shared fantastic leadership and communication wisdom around communicating during great change.

It was a fantastic conversation, please do enjoy listening to it on your favourite podcast streaming service or on the members portal here >>