Join host Alistair Maiden in a dynamic discussion with Sally Guyer, CEO of World Commerce and Contracting (WCC), as they explore the human side of contracting. In this episode, Sally shares insights on WCC’s mission and the challenges faced by industry professionals.
The conversation touches on issues of operational overload, user experience, and the need for a cultural shift in the contracting process.
Discover how prioritising the human element can lead to impactful improvements in the contracting landscape.
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Alistair Maiden: Welcome everyone! I’m delighted to have Sally Guyer from WCC here today. We’re going to be talking about the human aspect of contracting which is a subject dear to my heart. Sally, do you want to introduce yourself and introduce WCC?
Sally Guyer: Alistair, thank you very much indeed. Yes, I’m delighted to be here with you. So, I’m Sally Guyer and I’m the global CEO of World Commerce and Contracting. We are a nearly 25-year-old now, not-for-profit organisation headquartered in the U. S., but with a global membership, we have around 80,000 members around the world now. As a professional body, we have a vision statement of a world where all trading relationships deliver social and economic benefits. So really everything that we do, the training and education, the research, the community that we foster is all with that big vision statement in mind.
Alistair Maiden: And look, I’ve worked with you since SYKE started eight years ago when it wasn’t even called SYKE, it was just me. It’s been great working together. We were just discussing it before we started the recording about the organisation. And I think you guys have achieved really great things as someone who’s interested in the subject matter, I think. Or there are two things that stand out, one is the sense of community, which is strong and a network of people working in similar roles who are available and very happy to pass on the benefit of their knowledge and experience and help each other out with similar subject matters. I also think the depth of information that’s available and with depth the quality.
I, still today, have done the job or been in the industry for at least 20 years, probably longer. I still use it as my first reference point C. It’s helpful. If I’m training AI, how to use a contract, and how to review a contract, I’d be looking at some of your best practice guidelines as a starting point C. It’s great. Today, we’re going to talk about the human side of contracting. Just to briefly introduce the subject, I think we’ve been having some great discussions over the past couple of weeks about how the human aspect of contracting often doesn’t receive much attention. It’s never part of a business case to improve the contracting process or to digitise the contracting process. It’s something that doesn’t get discussed too often, formally. But informally, it’s discussed all the time, because whether you’re a user of the contracts process or you’re a participant, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction. It’s regarded as dysfunctional, and not user-friendly. So, Sally give me your thoughts on the subject.
Sally Guyer: Well, there’s so much to say on this, Alistair. I think I’m going to go back to what you were talking about in terms of World CC and the community. And back to our origins, Tim Cummins founded the association back in 1999, because he recognized that there were these sorts of pockets of people who were doing contracting, whether it was on the buy side or the sell side, pre-award or post-award and they were just operating in splendid isolation. So, the association was founded to provide that home and a community and to create educational awareness as well as a common body of knowledge.
But it’s really fascinating as that community has grown over the last 25 years, the importance that it holds for every individual that participates. And we were touching on that, talking about how valuable people find the events and find whether they’re in person or virtual coming together and yes, it’s a very sharing and caring community. So, providing that recognition for people who work in this space in the field of commercial and contract management has been important. So, the human element has always been really at the core of everything that we have done and do as an association. But you’re right, that human element, sadly, does seem still to be lost, lacking, what we know from our research and again, it’s so lovely to know that that research is powerful for you. There are so many data points that I could cite now, but we know, for example, that the number one priority for our community is to deliver strategic value. That’s a desire that the individuals and teams have to deliver strategic value to their organisation. They’re constrained from doing so because of operational overload. People are burdened and struggling. And yes, unfortunately, we forget about that user experience, that professional experience, and it has a huge and profound impact. We know that somewhere in the region 40 percent of this community is planning on exiting their role over the next two to five years.
Now, of course, in some instances, that’s going to be because people are retiring or they’re using this role as a stepping stone into something else. That’s true, but there’s a big cadre of people who are fed up, who are really burned out and, and they’re dissatisfied with the fact that they are not being supported effectively to address the operational overload that they’re experiencing and then they don’t feel valued.
Alistair Maiden: And a big driver of that operational overload from my own experience, it might not be formally discussed at your member meetings and the summits that you hold, but it’s certainly discussed over coffee and perhaps afterwards, more informally. It is often, particularly within large organisations; that the contract process is so dysfunctional. I mean, I sometimes give a presentation about my time at ASDA and what prompted me to try and engineer improvement in the contract process. And one of the things, by way of example, I always say is that when I was back at ASDA in 2012, the sword of Damocles hung over every contract. So, I’d work for months to get something from inception to drafting it, to working with the various stakeholders to negotiating it, then we get into the approval process and someone, somewhere, would kill it. And that’s so dispiriting, all that time and effort wasted. That in itself is one example is a product of dysfunction. Why not put the approvals at the outset, for example, and yet it remains today in 2023, nearly 2024 a standard practice, that approvals come at the end rather that is just one example. It is annoying. And then I think the point that I was making, you mentioned user experience. I guess the users of a contracting process, are the internal customers, so not your community members, but the people who would be engaging with the legal and contract management function. It’s such a bewildering process because they come to the team with a deal, bright-eyed and bushy tail, enthusiastic that they are furthering the interests of the company and probably their own interests too. And suddenly they’re met with what is often a byzantine, incomprehensible process. They have to deal with possibly for the first time or maybe it’s irregularly, they have to deal with bizarre legal language and jargon. They have to go through this horrendous process of interacting with, often lawyers, to draft a contract. The horrendous and totally illogical redlining process to deal with where they’ll be sent like a red-lined version of a contract to say, are you happy with this? I don’t even know what it means. And then the approval process and then even when everything’s done and dusted, and it’s signed. What happens to the contract? And the reality is somewhere in the ether.
We had one customer who came to us and said, ‘Look, I want to create a contract database’ and we said, ‘Well, where are your existing contracts?’ And they said that they are spread across everywhere. To which I said, ‘Well, do you use e-signature? Do you use DocuSign?’ Yes. ‘And do you sign all your contracts via DocuSign?’ Yes. Well, they’re all on DocuSign. So, you have them in one place. So, this is the absolutely crazy thing they had all their contracts in one single repository. Anyway, they just weren’t using it.
Sally Guyer: Yeah, it is incredibly fascinating. I mean, we talk about contracting being the least reformed business process in any organisation. And that is because, as you have observed, it is so utterly fragmented. It’s got the contracting process when you look at it in its fullest form. And again, you have to consider it in organisations you’ve got a buy-side and a sell-side, you’ve got a pre-award and a post-award, and you’ve got so many different owners of different parts of the process. And it’s fragmented, siloed, and difficult to create that sort of clarity and that golden thread that needs to run through all of that. You know, we do see higher performing organisations really focus on that process and integrate a lot of those, the buy, sell, pre-post activities. To your point about the user community, I mean, yes, that’s true. And again, our research tells us that on average, an organisation has about 26 percent of its workforce somehow involved and engaged with the contracting process. That’s a lot of people. And that’s a lot of people who won’t have had a legal education, for example. And we talk about designing for users in so many contexts but unfortunately, contracting isn’t really one of them. And I could talk and wax lyrical about design and simplification, not just of contract terms, but of the processes that you get people to participate in and use as well. So certainly, that’s a really important element. And then you also touch on what happens when the contract gets signed. You know if you’re lucky enough for the contract to get signed. Where does it go? Too many organisations celebrate at that point of contract signature when the work hasn’t even started, although it feels like because we’ve gone through a gargantuan and tortuous process of getting to the signature, that’s the end of the road. But of course, again, our research tells us value is won and lost in that post-award environment. Yeah.
Alistair Maiden: It’s logical. So, you’ve said to me in the past when you engage with your members, I think that you talk about driving digital change and improvement, that one of the obstacles to that is the fragmented nature of the process, that there’s no single oath. And it’s the case if you look at the high-performing teams that we’re both aware of I think it’s fair to say in most cases it’s usually due to one or two inspirational individuals who they just get out there and they bring everyone. But I think it’s interesting that often when those individuals leave or move on, everything falls apart again. I think we discussed trying to influence the community and trying to make a change. I think that the way forward is to be less reliant on magical individuals and more reliant on sending to the contracting stakeholders. Put the user first. Put the user first. And because I think, actually, then ownership becomes less of an issue and you’re just saying, okay look, from a sales or procurement professionals perspective, someone who’s a regular user of the contracting process, they just want to get their deal done quickly and then optimally they would want to have access to their deal to be able to manage it on an ongoing basis and really nothing else matters to them. The contracting process is just something that helps them achieve that. Say, we need to get it as slick and simple as possible.
Sally Guyer: Yeah. You need to empower people. You know people want to be able to self-serve in this environment. It’s important. So, responsible empowerment is a really important element of the role of a contracting professional. I think the other thing, Alistair, I’ve been thinking about in all this as well is how people feel about the experience. And you know, you talked about the negotiation, and you get really excited because you’ve done this wonderful deal for your organisation and you go to your contracting team, whoever they might be, and it becomes this horrible, dreary process. And we go back to education. I, like you, trained originally as a lawyer. I remember my contract law modules being all about failure. It was all about these terrible things that had gone wrong. And again, we know from our research that our community has this kind of prevention approach, that they believe that their role is about preventing bad things from happening to their organisation. And that comes with a sense of depletion and being demoralized. It’s because of the way people have been educated in this space that that’s what they’ve got to do, stop bad things from happening. You imagine if you change that mindset to one in which my role is to create fabulous outcomes for my organisation, the people within it and the organisation as a whole. It’s a completely reverse mindset, but it’s a powerful and wonderful one. If we were thinking about outcomes, I use this phrase all the time, we contract for the divorce instead of for the marriage. How do I and the organisations create an environment where the outcome comes first and designing for success outweighs the fear of failure?
Alistair Maiden: Yeah, get what you’re saying it’s a cultural shift, isn’t it? It’s a positive mindset.
Sally Guyer: And a far happier place to be, a far nicer environment for humans to be working in when you’re really focused on the positive rather than this fear of failure constantly.
Alistair Maiden: Yeah, I mean what you described is interesting because I believe some of your members, some of the people we work with would regard value creation in that context as stealing a march on the third party they’re negotiating with by including things or sneaking things in through a red line. That’s not what we’re talking about, to be clear. We’re talking about value creation through getting a deal done quickly, being transparent and open, making the contractual data available for ongoing management, and having healthy discussions about success and failure based on objective information. I think that’s something everyone can get behind.
And it’s interesting to go on to the next point, which we made while we were prepping. You never see any of this stuff in a business case, do you? It’s all about efficiency or, we’re going to get rid of these people.
Sally Guyer: Cost savings.
Alistair Maiden: Yeah, and yet that’s maybe why so many of these improvement programs, particularly the big CLM digitization programs, that’s maybe why they fail is because they’re not…
Sally Guyer: They’re not putting the user first. Yeah.
Alistair Maiden: They don’t think of it because if you’re a customer in the contracting process you’re not too fussed about whether the legal or contract team becomes more efficient or not. You know, you probably like Fred, who is your contract liaison point. You don’t want them to get rid of him. There’s no interest in that. That’s not something to get behind, is it?
Sally Guyer: Yeah. And as a user, you want Fred to be a happy, smiley person who’s eager and willing to support as opposed to coming with the woes and moans and groans of how difficult life is and how he hasn’t got time to help.
Alistair Maiden: Yeah, so, my add would be it’s a noble objective, isn’t it? But if I was starting a change program in a large contracting function now, I think one of the key objectives would be, just as my ex-boss, Alex Simpson, gave me this objective when I was at Asda, to try and make this thing as easy to use as an iPhone. Yeah. No training is required, totally logical process. Typically, user experience is focused and that’s something everyone will naturally get behind.
Sally Guyer: Completely. And you’ll end up with an environment of probably far greater compliance because you’re making it easy for people. So, you’re achieving the outcomes that you would want and need to achieve, and I think it is really interesting. I’ve thought about it a lot since we started talking about this, why isn’t the employee experience a factor in a business case for digitisation. It’s bonkers that it isn’t.
Alistair Maiden: Yeah, so I guess the call to action is probably I think for everyone, for all the members, everyone watching this, I do think if you’re, if you’re thinking about or embarked on a contract process improvement program, a CLM program, a digitization program. I guess it is critical to think user first. And I think if you do that and capture that in a sensible design, you can’t go wrong. And I think the process, the project, the improvements far more likely to be successful.
Sally Guyer: Yeah, absolutely. A hundred percent. And you’re far more likely to retain and gain the team that you need. And that’s a really important element. We talked at the beginning about the churn of people, and the mass exodus and this is an environment that can’t afford a mass exodus of people because people are critical. All the AI conversations at the moment and the prospect of AI replacing everybody, I find it extraordinary. Yes, you know, it’s going to be a game changer and it’s going to, if used correctly, improve what we do, but humans remain a critical element of this entire process, and we have to make sure that we’re creating an environment where they can be successful.
Alistair Maiden: Yeah, I always keep on telling people that AI is theoretically helpful, certainly it’s very helpful to me in my day job, but I think the challenge is who’s going to tell the AI what to do. Our experiences of looking at the contracting processes of your members are that generally, from a design perspective, they’re deficient. There’s a lack of objective, there’s a lack of continuous improvement, there’s no measurement, there’s no human-centred design. So, I think AI is going to be helpful we need to think about what we’re going to ask it to do. Yeah, absolutely. Great. That’s been wonderful. It’s been great to have you on the podcast.
Sally Guyer: Well, this conversation can go on and on, but thanks Alistair. It’s been lovely chatting.
Alistair Maiden: Thank you, Sally.