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Episode 7: Empathy: The Secret Sauce for Maintaining Compliance

Compliance | 25 minutes

Episode Overview:

One of the hardest jobs of a procurement professional is navigating a complex network of stakeholders and getting their buy-in. Particularly challenging is a stakeholder who views procurement simply as a roadblock to doing their job effectively.

How can you overcome this challenge?

Peggy Ferrin, Procurement Coordinator in the Town of Paradise Valley, joins the show to share how empathy can help you win over stakeholders and improve compliance across the board.

We discuss:

  • Making the transition from school districts to municipalities
  • Why compliance is so important
  • Navigating stakeholders and getting buy-in
  • How eProcurement has been game-changing in their purchasing decisions

Reach out to Peggy at [email protected].

You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to Inside Public Procurement on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or gobonfire.com/podcast.

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About our guest

Peggy Ferrin | Town of Paradise Valley

Peggy Ferrin is the Procurement Coordinator for the Town of Paradise Valley. For over 20 years, Peggy has worked in procurement for school districts, cities, and hospitals.

Transcript

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You’re listening to Inside Public Procurement by Bonfire, a show celebrating the unique stories and heroic efforts of those on the front lines of public procurement. Each episode, we bring you the latest trends, tips, and real stories from procurement trailblazers like you, who work tirelessly to bring positive impact to the agencies and communities you serve. Together, let’s elevate the field of public procurement to new heights. Now pull up a chair and let’s gather around the bonfire. Our show is about to begin.

Rachel (00:39):

Hello, and welcome to the Inside Public Procurement podcast. My name is Rachel Friesen and I am the Director of Client Experience at Bonfire, an eProcurement solution used by over 450 public agencies in North America. I’m joined today by Peggy Ferrin, who is currently the procurement coordinator for the Town of Paradise Valley. Peggy fell into procurement in 1999 and has worked for school districts, cities, hospital districts and now she’s part-time at the Town of Paradise Valley as she approaches retirement. Outside of work, she’s a doula, which is a life coach for pregnant families and loves dry camping, no glamping, and being outdoors. Just so everyone knows, I’m on the glamping side of the house, so thank you so much for joining me today, Peggy. Actually, before we get started: what has the highlight of your summer been?

Peggy (01:27):

You know, it just falls right into my background there. I got to spend three weeks with my 10 year old grandson in the forest in Colorado digging for rocks, and we had an amazing time.

Rachel (01:40):

I feel like for some people that, maybe I should talk for … not speak for others, speak for myself, I’d be there glamping and supporting you on the side if I … But I remember you sharing with me though: it’s not any rocks, right? They are these specific, I don’t want to … I want to say quartz because that’s the only mineral that comes to mind, but what were they again?

Peggy (02:00):

Amazonite, which is a really pretty, turquoise-colored rock, and then … you’re right, crystal quartz and smokey quartz. So yes, minerals and rare gems.

Rachel (02:10):

Yeah, exactly. It’d be like exceptional rocks. So to get into things, we’ll start with … really, I want to know, and I’m sure others do. How did you fall into procurement?

Peggy (02:21):

I think it’s like most of us, we didn’t go to school back in our day to go fall into procurement, so I was teaching at a private school, kindergarten and preschool. I heard there was grants for teachers to go back to finish their education and I really wanted the same schedule as my children at the time. I had three of them. So, I went back to our school district. I went to their district office and back then they used to have this flip chart where they wrote all the job openings and postings. I was talking to the lady there and she said, “You know, with your background you might be a good office manager,” so I applied and got the job. It was interesting because I wore lots of hats, which we do in school district and one of those hats was the procurement side.

Peggy (03:14):

So I entered all the wrecks, did the POS and all the budgeting. I worked a lot with purchasing at the district office and I really loved that part. I was only part-time, I was working at the middle school that I went to, so it was very convenient but there was an opening and I moved right into another position as an expediter slash junior buyer, I’ll call it. I think they have a different term. So I worked in the warehouse, which was really exciting because I got to see some of the life cycle of procurement. I would go to district office and do some small quotes, things like that. Then I would be the expediter, fix all the problems and in the warehouse, we were central receiving. So, all deliveries came there first, we checked them in and then we sent him to the school.

Rachel (04:04):

I was just going to just say that it’s good exposure. I don’t think many get to see that, that area and their scope necessarily.

Peggy (04:10):

Yeah. It really helped me out in my career, as I moved forward. My boss at the time was somebody that I went to high school with. We just kind of knew each other outside of circles. He was really big in the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, and the first week I was there, he said, “Hey, we’re going to meeting, want to come? Come on, let’s go,” so we all went. I just fell in love with that organization, got some scholarships, finished my schooling, got my CPPB and just move forward in my career.

Rachel (04:41):

I’m curious, on a nostalgic note, you mentioned your initial exposure to procurement, you fell in love with it. What was it about procurement or purchasing that resonated with you at the time?

Peggy (04:53):

I think it was mostly that there’s all these rules and evolve these rules. My mom always says that I was never a rule breaker. So I liked that. I liked that there was rules, processes and you just followed the steps. I really liked-

Rachel (05:06):

Yeah, no, fair enough. It’s like repeatable framework.

Peggy (05:09):

So yet, it’s still open because in procurement, you get to procure everything. So I always say, I know a little bit about everything and a whole lot of nothing.

Rachel (05:20):

Fair enough. Sweepy knowledge. Granted, I think many of us were humble. You would say the same things about ourselves. So for you, I know what I was doing my introduction, I highlighted that you’ve worked in a range of industries and verticals. You mentioned that you started in school districts. What was, or how was, I should say the transition for you from school districts to, let’s say municipalities?

Peggy (05:44):

It was fairly easy, but I’ll have to admit that I kind of went in hot, rigid and I had just got my CPPB, so I was all about these rules that we just mentioned. So I kind of came in, expecting cities do have to follow all the rules at school districts do and they don’t. They don’t have as stringent audits. I remember in the school district, I would spend two days with the auditors when they came. I went to the city and they’re like, “Audits done,” I’m like, they didn’t even talk to me. What are you talking about?

Peggy (06:18):

So that was a little bit of a hard change for me and one of the biggest things I had to remember is to think outside the box because the city at the time had hired me because I was studying best value procurement at ASU. We wanted to do that on construction projects. So they were just touching the waters on that, getting started and I’d already been certified for that. That’s why they hired me. I had to think a little more outside the box and just changed my thought process a little bit.

Rachel (06:53):

Mm, no, that’s… That’s great. I was curious then, it sounds like with every experience, the school district to municipality evolved, just even how you approach your role. So are you able to tell me too with those past experiences about your current scope and the town of Paradise Valley?

Peggy (07:09):

Yeah, the town of Paradise Valley is really a interesting entity. That’s kind of like Mayberry mixed in with gun smoke. All the houses are actually one acre or bigger and there they don’t charge taxes on the property taxes at all. The money basically comes from bed tax. We have a lot of resorts and it is definitely kind of likes to stay old west.

Rachel (07:36):

Right.

Peggy (07:37):

Keep the cactus there and all these things.

Rachel (07:40):

Although I think you, in a way, pitch people to move there based on what you just said, the acres and the no taxes. Everyone’s like, “Mm, real estate prices around Toronto aren’t looking great,” so.

Peggy (07:52):

You know, it’s interesting you say that because I was talking to the city manager … town manager and some of our employees yesterday, and I think there’s only one employee in the whole town that actually lives there.

Rachel (08:06):

Oh really? Okay.

Peggy (08:07):

Property are pretty expensive there.

Rachel (08:10):

It couldn’t be quite the utopia you pitched. Okay then, that brings us back down to earth and adjusts my future google search. Sorry. I’ll let you continue.

Peggy (08:18):

Yeah, so they hired me part-time. They had never had a procurement person, so that was a fun role to go … fall into and it started with 12 to 16 hours and the council’s really the one who wanted that position. So when I first got there, it was definitely old school like, why are you here? What are you telling me about these rules? I just had to work my way in, and now I think it’s a nice, happy family.

Rachel (08:46):

That’s great. It sounds like you’ve evolved to like a new norm there, and you’ve highlighted as we’ve talked, what you gravitated to with purchasing and procurement was rules and frameworks. I know when we were talking before the podcast too, you’ve highlighted for yourself, the importance of compliance and public procurement. So why is compliance important to you and why does it matter to public procurement in your opinion?

Peggy (09:10):

I think in my view, procurement basically is compliance. I mean, that’s what we do and that’s the way we think. It’s very important because we always say in procurement, we’re there to keep the government officials and all the employees out of the newspaper. That’s the last thing that I would want to see. That just goes with the audits too. Audits are always big in procurement and that’s what we use as our back leverage. We got to do this because we’re going to have this audit, we’re going to look at it. Our organization is going through a single audit this year and we just changed auditors, so that is a whole new door that opens and things we have to look at that we’ve never looked at. So, I think compliance is just so important just to keep that funding coming. You know, the users don’t really realize all the time that if we mess up our money can disappear.

Rachel (10:07):

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. Implications beyond just the paper, write up, what you’re referring to that can ripple effect for some time. So, you did highlight though when we were talking as well, that your approach to simple procurements has changed over time, we kind of dove into that a little bit and I was curious, what does that change look like? Or how has your approach evolved over time to simple procurement?

Peggy (10:28):

Yeah, I think I mentioned, I used to look at it that procurement was just black and white and all these rules, but there’s so much gray in between. It’s important for us to look at it through the lens of our user groups. You know, what is it that they … what’s the end goal? What are they trying to accomplish? Then in procurement, how can I help them do that? Bonfire really helped me. At first, I wasn’t doing any of my simple procurements through there and my quotes. Now I pull vendors from there. My user groups go in and pull vendors and I use it for all of my quotes because then I can easily pull that into the contract when we get there. Then, I have all those dates where I get the reminder. So, I automatically get those emails from Bonfire, the user groups get the emails when it expires and it’s really helped me stay on top of things, especially being part time.

Rachel (11:24):

No, that’s true where you’re sort of trying to optimize every hour to do a roll in like a fraction of the world’s time. Essentially. You had a great story in a sense of, you mentioned you joined and you don’t have to use the town of Paradise Valley is your case study example here. But you know, you mentioned recently that you joined Paradise Valley, there was maybe some reservations about what your scope was and the accountability you were bringing in, but you sharing that, that resonates in me in the sense that I’ve heard many others who have joined the podcast or other panels speak to that from the purchasing perspective of how they have a complex issue ahead of them, of navigating stakeholders internally, getting buy-in building trust and there’s nuance to that. It can change org to org because people and personas change. But, I would love you to share any tips you have, of how you have gained the trust of internal stakeholders. It might be even tips relative to organizations, so feel free to take this question a range of ways.

Peggy (12:24):

Yeah, that is probably one of the hardest things in procurement is number one: explaining to your user groups why they need to follow these rules, or why do I have to get three quotes I’ve used this farm forever. Then the other part is gaining that trust. At first I think they look at it as procurement is just a roadblock, and what are you coming in here? You know, especially our police department. They’re like, “Nope, we need this, we got this grant. This is what we’re doing,” so I have a good example, a story from one of the school districts, I worked at the food director. He was kind of scary. Everybody just kind of stayed away from him, I had heard all these rules, he’s not going to follow procurement and all these rumors saying, be careful of him.

Peggy (13:17):

So, I have to admit I was a little afraid, but I had the mentality that I would just meet with all my user groups at least once a week, once every couple of weeks, depending on their schedule and I would sit down and talk to them. So I sat with them and everybody’s like, “Oh, good luck. Well, you’re not going to make it out when you come back.” So I sat down with them and I just kind of try to talk on a personal level. I found out he really liked cars and engines, and he had this old car that he had restored. My father is a mechanic. So I have a good experience and background. So I just explained to him how procurement is like a car and cars have rules. If you don’t put oil in them and gas are not going to run and you have to do annual and quarterly maintenance.

Peggy (14:05):

So I just use that example, that procurement follows that same pattern and, you know what, our meeting was like an hour. Later he started calling me and telling me about things that he needed to buy. I gained his trust is what it all boiled down to, so I always try to do that when I work with the user groups, what is it they’re looking at? What are their obstacles that they’re trying to get over? Just try to help them, and now they call me an advance, which is procurement’s best way to have it, right? That’s our dream is that they call us in advance before they get started.

Rachel (14:44):

Right? Exactly. They’re not just dropping something on your desk.

Peggy (14:47):

Yeah.

Rachel (14:48):

No, that’s amazing. I was going to say the empathy foundation to your approach was really apparent there, which is just fantastic to see there. I can see everyone can maybe over analyze how to best approach people, but the end of the day, you had an empathy-driven approach just to connect with them and speak in a terminology and an example that he understood. It sounds like you have … is it fair for me to assume then you’ve applied a similar framework, other stakeholders too?

Peggy (15:15):

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Works very well.

Rachel (15:19):

That’s great. Then, so focusing on your current organization still, what’s a recent thing … because I know you’re apparently, or it’s evident in your career, that you’ve made a range of iterations and how you’ve approached procurements, purchasing, simple and complex. So what’s a recent thing that you’ve tried at your current organization and maybe you were surprised by the result?

Peggy (15:42):

When I studied it at ASU, we did all these surveys about what is the best way to approach procurement, how to do interviews and how to do the evaluations. The Bonfire has the simple scoring of one to five and then it automatically calculates. I’ve been using that. Most of my procurements, I’ve been working with legal and the town manager and they loved it. They love the one to five. I had a procurement recently with engineering department and you know how engineers love their numbers. I said, “Yeah, I get that. It’s going to be 20 points, but we’re going to do the one to five.” We had a long conversation about that and they didn’t trust me. I said, “Let’s just do it. If you don’t like it, I’ll change it. I’ll change it and you can go back to your scoring.”

Peggy (16:34):

It was interesting because one of our employees decided that he liked the one to five, he was going to test me on it, but he was going to give it a three and a half. So it went through it and during our evaluation meeting afterwards, after everything was scored and I was showing him the scores, I said, “All right, let’s talk about the scoring goals.” “Oh no, I’m over that. I’m fine. It’s good. Let’s move forward.” I was all prepared with my long speech and everything and it was that easy. So, I think the one to five scoring has been amazing for us.

Rachel (17:09):

No, it’s a good point to … it’s also the human perspective, right? I can get in my head of what would warrant a seven versus an eight. You almost want to just have a simplicity there. So do you apply one to five scale for all purchasing efforts the organization, or do you … does it vary at all?

Peggy (17:29):

I used to vary it, but, and all my recent ones, I’ve just been doing the one to five.

Rachel (17:36):

Yeah. I was going to say, because if, whether you’re at Bonfire working or at an industry, like a city, I think engineering can over index, so it’s great to hear that it works no matter where you are. Oh my goodness. So on that note too, what’s a resource we’re going to get into more. We’re going to keep this theme of picking your brain more or less. So, what’s a resource tool or channel that you believe people aren’t using correctly or to its fullest?

Peggy (17:59):

I think the whole process of Bonfire, if you … like I mentioned, if I do my quotes in there, I pull it right into the contract module and I really love the intake form. When it first came out, I was a little questioning it and I had wanted something like that in advance, so I got to work on it on the back end with you guys, which was really fun. Then the approvals came out and that fell right in with that. That fixed all the gaps that I needed. If I do all my small procurements on my large ones, right from the beginning on Bonfire, then like I mentioned, it’s so easy to pull it into the contract module and then set those reminders right from the beginning, put my stakeholders in there so they get those emails as well. My town clerk loves Bonfire. He can’t say any more about it. He’s really enjoying the fact that he doesn’t have to upload contracts into another program that we’re using that nobody else could access. So yeah, that’s been amazing for us.

Rachel (19:04):

That’s great. Okay. I, again, I promise, I didn’t ask Peggy to say that-

Peggy (19:09):

No, you really did it.

Rachel (19:11):

She really did it on your own accord. I was going to say (inaudible), whether it’s bonfire, another tool, sometimes organizations can struggle with stakeholder buy-in for a tool because they’re sort of shedding paper or maybe certain stakeholders like to walk up to your desk, if that was a possibility, pre-COVID to talk through a purchasing effort, did you have to … how did you approach navigating your internal stakeholders to adopt tool like Bonfire?

Peggy (19:37):

Yeah, that is interesting because right before COVID hit, I had already asked for Bonfire, so we were in the process of implementing it. Then when everybody was working at home, it was just beautiful. It fell into place, but all my stakeholders found it pretty easy. They didn’t have to really learn a lot. They could log in. They were only had access to the module that was imperative to them, it was easy to do and they were out of it. They really liked the email reminders and the emails like, “Oh, it’s time to evaluate.” So, nobody’s had any problems with it. We’ve had some other tools that we tried to use and some people, even in my own finance department, they haven’t even opened it once. So with Bonfire, I haven’t had that trouble and I really like that.

Rachel (20:30):

Oh, good. Okay. That’s the goal, but no, it’s a good point. Just the pokes. I love when my troubles poke me, to be honest, as well, as long as I … I do have test management systems, I promise, but a poke never hurts. So as we wind down this time together too, I want to end on a couple high note. So one of which is what is something that you or your team have recently achieved that you’re proud of?

Peggy (20:54):

Just in general, I think it’s the acceptance of change. I mentioned, we’re definitely an organization that is a little more like Mayberry. Some of our employees have been there 10, 20, and we have quite a few that’s been there 30 years. They’re not usually very open to change, but recently they’ve been pretty open to change and I’m really proud of that. I work a lot with our legal department, I mentioned the town manager and they’re just so busy and you know, they have their ways of doing things. They’ve been so open to change that it really has made me very happy.

Rachel (21:32):

Mm-hmm (affirmative), no, I was going to say too, hopefully you see yourself that way as well. It’s rare that I meet someone in this setting that’s so consistently open to change throughout their career. That changed the constant because evidently you have had multiple successes. Some of times what people will do is, they’ll take the learnings from those successes and they’ll just consistently repeat them. They’ll lose a level of criticality, of setting and evolution of people, whatever it is. Maybe it should result in a new approach. So it’s fantastic to see that I think you’ve probably stewarded that, hence the outcome is there that change has been put on a pedestal in a good way at your current organization.

Peggy (22:10):

Yes.

Rachel (22:11):

I mean, I have to ask too. When did you become a doula? I’m very curious about that. How long ago was that evolution for yourself, Peggy?

Peggy (22:18):

It’s been about a year and a half. Yeah.

Rachel (22:20):

Okay. Mm-hmm (affirmative). No, that’s great.

Peggy (22:22):

I’ve always loved babies and I’ve loved natural birth, so I’ve always stayed up on that and talk to people about it. That was very exciting part of my life.

Rachel (22:33):

Yeah, definitely. I think I wanted to ask that too, because you’re sort of starting another career as well as you’re retiring out of this one. So, just kind of keeping that tone of you and your consistent change evolution, as well. Then before we close every week, we do ask our guests, what’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to people starting their career in public procurement.

Peggy (22:59):

Yeah. One, that’s hard. I think just stay open and be adventurous. Don’t forget to keep learning. It’s all about keeping up in the new trends, but don’t get too stuck on getting all the letters behind your name. I’ve seen a lot of people in procurement and they’re really big on, “Okay. I need to be a CPM, a CPPB,” and all these things, “Get my doctorate.” All along the way, they forget to remember what it is that they’re learning and to be open to that change.

Rachel (23:35):

No, that’s a great point. You start moving through the motions more or less. On that note too, if people do want to get in touch with you, if you’re comfortable, is there any contact information you’re willing to share? Are you on LinkedIn, is email best or up to you?

Peggy (23:49):

I just recently updated my profile on LinkedIn.

Rachel (23:52):

There we go.

Peggy (23:54):

Absolutely. But you know, a direct approach and they want to send me an email, I’m always up to that. Just like with being a doula, I love to talk to people. So even if you want to call and talk procurement, I’m all about it.

Rachel (24:06):

What’s the best email for people to reach you on?

Peggy (24:09):

The easiest is my first initial P and then my last name Ferrin, F E R R I N @paradisevalleyaz.gov.

Rachel (24:19):

Perfect. Thank you. Get ready for the influx on that note again, thank you so much for your time. I had a great time today talking to you and I’m really looking forward to maybe even bringing you back on the podcast one day. I think there’s a lot of more guidance that you can share. I think we’ll have some questions that come out of this one too, so you might be brought in for some tactical conversations in the future of really putting that scale to the test. On that note, thank you so much, Peggy, have a great rest of your summer and we’ll talk soon again.

Peggy (24:54):

Thank you.

Procurement professionals, like you are the lifeblood of public sector organizations dedicated not only to supporting your agency, but the constituents you serve. That’s why we’ve created the Inside Public Procurement Podcast here at Bonfire, a unique place where you can share stories and discuss the topics that matter to public procurement pros from digitization and the future of public procurement to ensuring a fair and transparent process. We’re all about finding new strategies to help your agency succeed. Join us at gobonfire.com to learn more. You’ve been listening to Inside Public Procurement by Bonfire. If you like what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. And if you have an idea for an episode or want to come on as a guest, email us at [email protected] Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next time.

 

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