Addressing social values

From the December 2021 print edition

Procurement policies are not just for procurement professionals. They are for all staff that have
a role in the contracting of goods, services, equipment and construction projects for an organization.
A policy ensures an organization’s values are represented in its transactions. It sets expectations of conduct for stakeholders. Policies are approved by elected officials, boards or executives following rigorous consultation and review. Organizations delegate authority to people to manage the demands present in all markets.

For procurement, this means making apolitical commitments to achieve organizational objectives following best and leading practices. Issues such as risk mitigation are inherent in each decision. Procurement plays an important oversight role to assess potential risks along with ensuring value for money which aligns with the policy. Oversight requires knowledge of competitive bidding obligations, case law, trade agreements, ethics, approval processes, procurement and sustainability competencies. Most procurement policies have unity in principles with the intention of consistency in practice.

Policy and procedure
One common policy problem is including procedural guidance within the policy. These are the “how tos” that detract from the policy and add confusion. Policy procedures cannot be explicit enough for all to understand and are best left to a policy guide. Procedures change more often than policy statements due to new technology or best practice updates. Separating procedures from policy allows for agility to respond quickly to the marketplace. Procurement tools like competitive bidding and related documents should be revised to implement policy and procedure. Stating targeted outcomes in policy can be problematic. While these may be noble causes, priorities change, and the policy becomes outdated.

A common trait for successful policy implementation is staff training. Organizations that offer training after a major policy or procedural update attain objectives more effectively. This is largely due to a better understanding of how to apply the policy. The training should include communications.
Progressive organizations are using procurement to enhance sustainability with local economic development. Stakeholders are looking for a better value proposition. Socially responsible procurement values and budgeting are not binary choices. There is a myth that social procurement costs more. It doesn’t. There are many organizations that adopt progressive procurement policies resulting in positive outcomes with local benefits.

The trend in Canada is to update procurement policies that address social procurement values to have
a broader commitment to sustainable outcomes. There are two main ways to do this. One is to draft
a standalone social procurement policy intended to complement an existing policy. The other, in my opinion more effective, method is to draft a comprehensive policy inclusive of social procurement and the broader sustainability issues referencing environmental and social governance (ESG) practices. The first method loses the gravitas of social procurement, becoming another side issue. The latter method begins to change decision-making and behaviours, resulting in a social return on investment.

Policies in the public domain help to communicate organizational values and provide guidance to changes in governance. In 2021, we are aware of instances where municipalities have not complied with trade agreement requirements or followed best practices. For example, ambiguous, unweighted evaluation criteria in an RFx are contrary to the trade agreements. Another is “onboarding” a contractor without a competitive process. A well-drafted procurement policy, complemented by a clear procedure guide, helps to avoid procurement problems while maintaining a good organizational reputation.

Success stories
One organization that drafted a sustainable procurement policy inclusive of ESG attributes and best practices is Vancouver’s Capilano University. It launched an aspirational objective, called their Envisioning 2020-2030 strategy. The institution tasked procurement manager Paul Gruber with developing a policy aligned with this bold commitment, including social procurement. Gruber contracted my colleague, Rusty Joerin, and me to undertake the drafting.

The draft process was done in seven to eight weeks as Capilano saw this as a priority. Once the policy, tailored to the university’s values, was approved in principle, it took a few more weeks to draft the procurement policy guide and competitive bid and related documents.

The policy complies with all trade agreements and legislated requirements. It enables the university to work with social enterprises supporting local jobs and economic development. As Gruber said, this work cannot be done with existing staffing resources. Expertise in the aforementioned areas is necessary.
Another example of an organization that took a similar approach is the Justice Institute of BC. Again, JIBC had a strong senior management commitment to social procurement values and ESG outcomes. A full policy review was conducted to identify gaps. Rusty Joerin and I delivered the policy and all related documents competitively on time and on budget.

Changing behaviours and avoiding problems begins with policy. Policy that reflects stakeholder interests enhances organizational reputation. Stakeholders are very aware of the fiscal limitations and understand sustainability and societal values. I’m very pleased to say that with all the work we’ve seen and done with policy implementation, value is being recognized. In this epoch of a global pandemic and compromised supply chains, expectations will likely need to be tempered. We can revise our expectations but should not compromise on principles and values. Due process and best practices will continue to avoid problems and ensure success.

Larry Berglund is principal at Presentations Plus Training and Consulting Inc.