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Keywords: shared services, finance shared services, procure to pay, purchase to pay, P2P, purchase-to-pay process owner, procure-to-pay owner, purchase-to-pay owner
Susie West | Article | 3 September 2012
The question that stops most shared services leaders in their tracks is: ‘should the perfect P2P process owner be largely accountant or largely change manager?’
It’s a question most leaders wouldn’t have asked a few years ago as it’s only recently that the job of Purchase to Pay Process Owner has come into being.
A few years ago the title was a rarity. But now it’s recognised as a central component to the development of finance shared services.
However, like all new roles, this role begs a number of questions and I’m going to be examining them in this article, along with providing some possible answers.
Let’s start with the most commonly asked question on P2P process owners:
Should your P2P process owner be an accountant or a change manager?
A question similar to this was widely asked when companies started recruiting shared services managers in the days when the notion of shared services was still in a fledgling state.
Some organisations look at this role and its aims and think their current Head of Accounts Payable could do it. But thinking about the intentions of this role, how viable is this approach?
Being a P2P process owner usually means:
The skill set required for points 1 and 2 are in abundance within most Heads of Accounts Payable. But points 3 and 4 require skills that are more commonly found in the ‘front office’ than the back.
For points 3 and 4 to be excellently managed, a shared services organisation needs an individual who has skills which are more akin to those of sales managers.
This means recruiting someone who:
You get the picture – this person needs to be relatively persuasive and is charged with securing buy in from a whole portfolio of stakeholders. And this ability is arguably more important to improving the P2P process owner than having purchase to pay knowledge.
What kind of a communicator should your P2P process owner be?
Communication isn’t about what you say; it’s about what’s heard by the listener. Often I am told by frustrated shared services directors ‘my business units aren’t listening, they just don’t get it’. My point is, the most sophisticated person to fit the P2P process owner role realises that improvement comes from asking the right questions and then messaging back to them language that pushes their buttons.
The ideal candidate would start by immersing themselves in the P2P process, understand why the steps exist as they do, see where the problem areas are and where the opportunities for improvement exist, and then build up an understanding as to why these problems are existing in the first place.
Appreciating the root cause of non-compliance and then actioning a campaign to change behaviour involves the mind of an individual who understands human behaviour. They will probably appreciate that a cookie-cutter approach of blasting out a uniform message won’t work effectively.
They also need to be senior enough to get the ear of senior procurement and senior management.
Holding eye contact with the CPO and asking them a series of relatively direct questions, and then getting the CPO to back the P2P process owner’s approach requires a level of confidence not widely available.
In summary you are looking for a communicator who can get the business excited about purchase to pay.
Should your P2P process owner be involved in the operational day to day running of purchase-to-pay?
Changing the behaviour of potentially thousands of people in the organisation is a huge job in itself. And depending on what your starting point is, there could be huge gains, and therefore significant workload, for the purchase-to-pay process owner to oversee.
To overheat this person with the day-to-day running of purchase to pay could be detrimental to your intentions.
If the P2P process owner doesn’t have an accounting background, working within the depths of puschase to pay will certainly help them gather information in the early weeks or months of their programme. But this ‘shadowing’ exercise should be contained. The trained up P2P owner should then be extracted from the day-to-day to focus wholeheartedly on the various streams enabling improvement.
What should the P2P process owner be expected to do?
There is a strong argument to suggest that the best P2P process owner actually comes from outside purchase-to-pay. This person will, by nature, question most parts of the P2P process, which those within it take as a given. And this is one of the key expectations of a P2P process owner. They are expected to challenge the process. (Skills in diplomacy are therefore also required.)
Their remit should involve the following:
When you are recruiting a purchase-to-pay process owner, you may have to look outside finance. You may even have to look outside your business.
The ideal candidate will likely: have some kind of sales experience; be used to communicating with senior executives; understand what drives human behaviour; be highly process aware; will own a budget and take responsibility for technology and solution investments; be able to apply tact, but also call on the thickness of skin if change gets uncomfortable (though, if they are good, this discomfort should be avoided).
The trick with improving purchase-to-pay is knowing there are many small behaviours which need to change to get to the desired state. So your candidate is probably patient too. And finally a solution-focused attitude is key.
Recruiting a strong purchase-to-pay process owner could be the best investment you make this year. The best ones are a rare beast, so it’s worth spending a bit more money and making sure you get the right candidate. 2012 is the year of collaboration, and if you can get the individual who can bring together finance and procurement, and enable users in the process to point in one common direction, your shared services performance will see a much heralded improvement.
* Photo credit: Steve P2008
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