Trust: A new credo for procurement managers

March 25th, 2021
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For procurement, as for any support role, remote working has become the norm. No one knows what the future holds, but it's a safe bet that working from home will remain firmly entrenched in business practice. This new way of working, which involves less interaction but more autonomy for teams, also means that managers are going to have to adapt. With that in mind, procurement has a new managerial credo, and it's a prerequisite for any long-distance relationship: trust.

Cognitive trust vs affective trust

In the context of interpersonal relationships at work, trust can be considered as two separate dimensions[1]:

  • Cognitive trust is based on a rational and objective assessment of a person's knowledge, skills, certifications or even reputation.
  • Affective trust is more subjective and is based on emotional ties, feelings, honesty or even kindness that bind people together.

When two people trust each other in cognitive or affective ways, this means that they have positive expectations about the outcome of the other person's actions or decisions. When it comes to management, and especially in a context where face-to-face time is scarce, trust is indispensable.

Building trust in procurement departments

A relationship of trust that will go the distance needs to evolve from cognitive to affective trust. Basically, it is by broadening the scope of exchanges (such as emotional support, for example) that the level of trust can increase.

This means that managers have a key role to play in developing a working environment built on trust within their procurement teams. To achieve this, there are several tools at their disposal:

  • Let go

The first step towards building a climate of trust is to put your own trust in others. It's common sense: you should think of each employee as a sensible and responsible person, give them the opportunity to prove themselves and, quite simply, let go. Once this relationship of trust starts to grow, it needs to be nurtured in the long term. Why not let employees choose (as much as possible) projects that they're passionate about or shape their own job role? They will be more motivated and productive as a result. Obviously, we still need to be professional, so there must be clear rules and objectives from the outset and a full assessment at the end.

  • Get to know each other outside work

Really knowing the people you work with on a daily basis facilitates communication, mutual understanding and collaboration to ultimately achieve common goals more effectively. This is a crucial step in moving from cognitive to affective trust, and it's even more important in the era of remote working. Have more informal chats and get socialising ASAP. As well as managers, this is actually a great approach for the entire procurement department to take with its stakeholders, internal customers and even suppliers.

  • Communicate openly

We live in a world full of doubt and uncertainty, whether we're talking about the economy, health, employment, politics or the media. That's why communication is of paramount importance both inside and outside a company's walls. To ensure visibility and to help them feel secure and look ahead, every employee wants open and transparent communication. To achieve this, managers should consider sharing things like their roadmaps and feedback. In return, employees will feel comfortable talking about issues such as their needs and areas where they are struggling.

As you can see, trust contributes to both collective performance and the well-being of everyone. But as something precious and fragile, it needs to be maintained on a daily basis. As American-football star Bud Wilkinson once put it, "Confidence is the invisible cement that binds a team together". 

[1] McAllister (1995)