I’ve witnessed a number of not invented here (NIH) situations but none stands out more than one I participated in while working at A.T. Kearney. It was the early 2000’s and we were introducing reverse auction internet technology into the F500. There was tremendous resistance to our solution because it severed the cozy relationship between the purchasing officer and their vendor/golf buddy.
“Steve” had never used the internet. He used email of course but was a one finger – one letter at time guy. Working at a F100 company he had very friendly relationships with his vendors. You see if you’re in a purchasing position in the F100 vendors are clamoring to get your business. One F100 account can literally triple the vendor’s income statement and have a similar impact on the salesperson’s W2.
I think we all know someone who has been given a position of power and used it to their extreme advantage. Steve was one of those characters. He was always busy on the weekends. Golf, sporting events, 5 star luxury resorts, flights to Las Vegas, he was always on the go.
So when I met Steve we immediately ran into a wall. Steve’s boss had welcomed us with open arms so we were expecting the same from Steve. Yet Steve wasn’t cooperative. He let us know that the technology was being “forced down his throat” and that he wasn’t happy with the situation.
Steve’s the guy who whines when he doesn’t get his way. Really, he actually whines. He’s the guy who is first to complain about everything and gets banned from the local Starbucks because he makes customers upset. He’ll take credit for your ideas and stab you in the back when you least expect it. Shakespeare would have been proud.
So when we arrived for the reverse auction event, we were surprised to see him in high spirits. He wasn’t excited to see us, but he was acting civilized. But when the event began, Steve immediately started mocking us.
“This tool sucks and your methodology stinks too,” he shrieked. “no one is going to bid on this ridiculous auction. I told my boss that this was a waste of time and money. Purchasing is about relationships, it’s not a gambling event”
Reverse auctions usually last for 1 hour with a limited set of time extensions in the event a last minute bid is cast. Most of the bid activity occurs in the beginning and the end of the auction. I can count on two fingers the number of auctions where zero bids were cast in the first 30 minutes. This was one.
By now we were suspicious. Steve the cult of personality purchasing agent just sat there with that ‘I told you so’ look on this face. Nearly 50 minutes went by before the first bid was placed. Steve nearly fell over in his chair. In fact Steve started sweating. Sweating like a man standing before a judge who is about to reveal the man’s fate.
Then the other vendor auction participants started bidding. We breathed a collective sigh of relief as the bids started to drive down the price.
The guy that touted vendor relationships over technology started to make some phone calls on his mobile. Quick, stern sounding phone calls. Stern like discovering your friends have just betrayed you to your enemies.
The bids started to dry up. 55 minutes into the reverse auction the bidding just stopped. At this point, we were in disbelief. It felt like we were in a Twilight Zone episode.
The auction ended uneventfully with a large net loss in savings. The F100 company was going to end up paying hundreds of thousands more for a product than Steve had negotiated last year sans technology.
But, that’s what happens when you try to force people to use new technology or methodologies that are created outside the enterprise. Steve of course was extreme but not unusual.
We learned a lesson. We learned to interview all stakeholders in each of our future events. We learned to pick another purchasing officer to pilot the technology if we sensed resistance. And, we learned to let the purchasing agent “own” the auction event and drive its success.
Steve was willing to hurt his own company financially in order to prove his point. More, he went to extremes in order to derail an initiative that he had not participated in.
Most corporations experience NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. It’s an instinctive reaction to new technology or new ideas (especially from outside the company). As we learned, this inclination caused an extreme response that hurt all of the parties involved. For people like Steve, it’s much easier to say the technology won’t work than jump in and make the outcome successful.
I later learned that Steve was let go from his company after an investigation revealed some vendor payment irregularities. Apparently Steve was a little too involved with his vendors on the weekends. Finally some justice for Steve or so I thought.
I wish the story ended there, but it did not. I later learned that Steve found a new F500 purchasing job within a few weeks of being let go. I remember thinking who in their right mind would hire a purchasing agent with a Unabomber-like anti-technology philosophy.
I knew the company that hired Steve and so I did some inquiring. My contact soon lifted the mystery and the response was shocking….
Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? Steve got the job because he had “reverse auction experience”.
Steve is just one of those guys.
(Cross-posted @ Seek Omega)