At BRS we have had terrific feedback from the organisations that have collaborated with us to develop a customised commercial acumen training program with them. Both public and private sector organisations are realising the benefits of putting their staff through a range of commercial acumen training to develop their people and transform their commercial culture. This training ranges from fundamental commercials such as understanding your supply chain and service providers, through to advanced courses that focus on areas such as commercial negotiation, tender evaluation team effectiveness and major project procurement.

Consistently though, we have learnt that as we wrap up each session and thank our participants for their active participation, the learning process has just started.  The question then focusses on how do we apply these commercial acumen principles and practices in to our organisation and the procurement of future projects? This is important in ensuring that value for money is obtained from what has been a significant investment of money and time from the organisation and its people.  

As the newly minted commercial champions of the organisation start their next working days with the training fresh in their minds, they will almost immediately seek to apply these new concepts which include; procuring for the organisation as though the money was their own, driving value for money outcomes in procurement and tender evaluation (recognising lowest price is not always the best solution), or challenging the status quo of past practises with a new concept or innovation such as a risk allocation table, multi-criteria analysis or commercial negotiation plan. All changes to current practices in the organisation require courage and confidence to try different practices to deliver better outcomes for all parties.

This is what commercial acumen training asks of the attendees, and this is also the exact point where the management teams of these organisations have to support and nurture these new behaviours, tools and thinking. It is critical for management to positively reinforce and support these initiatives and actions, because this is the “sliding door” moment where many individuals will continue to apply their newly acquired principles, or revert to past behaviours because it is all too hard to challenge the procurement team, individuals or management to try different approaches to the way things have been done in the past .

Whilst the application of these new concepts may not at first be executed flawlessly on the first set of projects, recognition of the right intent through positive reinforcement and coaching by senior management is critical to the ongoing development of the organisation’s commercial culture. “Lessons learnt” exercises should be conducted post each project to look at what was implemented well and how the organisation can continue to improve our commercial and procurement practices for future projects. It moves the organisation closer to their goal of being an intelligent client who is also respected by the supply chain and who values the approach to driving towards win/win outcomes.

The alternative to this is that a scolded project manager or procurement officer may not feel empowered to make a second attempt at applying new commercial principles. Commercial principles that make good sense and will be seen favourably by all involved in the process. Leaders should avoid being too quick to judge or shoot an idea down in flames because that is not the way we have done things in the past, but rather look to cultivate a culture of trust by collaborating, aligning and working through the concept to explore options that may work in a particular circumstance or project.

Following the formal commercial acumen training course, a great deal of the organisation’s traction towards developing a commercially astute culture boils down to how the recommended practices are embraced. The effort in investing in a commercial acumen program must be matched by support from management to implement key concepts and practices from the training in to the organisation in a sustainable manner. By management being the commercial champions through their support, their staff will embrace the opportunity to drive value for money outcomes and better commercial outcomes for all involved.