Three steps to a successful idea swap shop


Does your organisation seek out ideas from other sources than those immediately around it to help improve procurement practice?

Some that are going further afield to discuss better practices are doing so to great effect. Ten South West NHS Trusts have so far managed to save £850,000 by pooling their best ideas for making procurement efficiencies. Meeting every quarter for a Savings Swap Shop, procurement and clinical specialists are each given ten minutes to share information on suppliers and products, suggest different ways to save money and discuss challenges.

Since the launch of the Swap Shop less than two years ago, member Trusts have given each other ideas that have led to the introduction of new products, a switch of suppliers in key areas and the confidence to make changes by showing how projects were successfully implemented at other Trusts.

Whether you’re in the public or private sector, a large or medium sized organisation, have procurement operations that are geographically spread out, or teams procuring for separate areas of the business, the principle of bringing everyone together to share procurement successes could ultimately save significant sums.

The old saying goes: ‘You have a dollar. I have a dollar. We swap. Now you have my dollar and I have yours. We are no better off. You have an idea. I have an idea. We swap. Now we have two ideas.’

Here are three steps to helping ideas to multiply:

1. Consult

Before engaging in an ideas swap outside your team, collate your own know how. A procurement head may have a strong sense of what’s working and what isn’t, but there’s every chance they could enhance this by asking the people around them.

Encouraging people to put their ideas forward isn’t always as simple as it sounds. People may be willing to speak up, but if they do so and their idea is either dismissed or not followed up, they will be more reluctant to participate in future.

One simple tip is to avoid the word ‘but’ when responding to a suggestion and instead to explore the idea in more detail by encouraging the contributor to give more detail. You may want to ask them to explain how it might work and to help you determine how it could bring value. This will show genuine interest in the idea and ensure they participate next time.

Another suggestion is to ask new employees for their ideas. There is every chance their previous experience could come into play in their new role very effectively. It’s all too common for new starters to wonder why an organisation does something a particular way but not actually discuss this with team heads.

2. Be specific

If a group of organisations or teams are taking the time to meet in person, then their time needs to be used wisely.

A format for the idea swap should be agreed up-front and an agenda circulated. This will ensure that participating organisations, or teams, are prepared for the meeting and importantly, that they send the most suitable people. A chair can control the running of the meeting, keep it on track and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute as equally as possible.

One format could be to focus on a particular challenge and ask everyone to present, within an agreed amount of time, how they’re resolving that issue in their own settings. Another could be to give everyone a slot where they can present their best resource saving idea of the last 12 months.

3. Feedback

Ensuring that all participants update on their actions after an ideas swap is key to demonstrating the value of the activity. Tangible outcomes such as an organisation switching supplier or changing a product type, together with all savings made, can be accumulated to demonstrate the full financial benefit.

There could be value in assessing actions taken within the first three months of the meeting and then asking participants to report back again within a year. Stats showing how effective idea swapping has been will enable procurement teams to demonstrate value within their own organisations and secure further commitment to repeating the exercise.

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