By Ronald Hedley

We all remember our elementary school days: the one room schoolhouse, dipping Becky’s ponytail in your desktop bottle of ink, and, of course, the dark red marks on your paper after your teacher highlighted all the grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

What if there were no red marks? What if, instead, the teacher used green marks to highlight what you did well: your well-written phrases or your correct grammar usage?

The above scenario is a real story from one of Rob Murray’s clients. Murray is an Xchange master facilitator and a Certified High Performance Coach at Sustainable Growth Strategies. Prior to starting his coaching and facilitation company, he was Director of Supply Chain at Arrowhead Electrical Products.

Murray completed the above true story, “My client’s autistic child was struggling in school. He was failing because every time his papers were returned by the teacher, they were covered with red marks. My client went to the teacher and said, ‘My child is terrified. He physically cowers when he sees the red marks.’”

Murray’s client suggested that the teacher make green check marks on Trevor’s (his son) papers to highlight what he had done correctly. As a reward, for every green mark Trevor received, he would earn points for ice cream or a trip to the science museum after school. The teacher agreed to give it a try.

Was the transition from red to green successful? Murray explained, “After the teacher started grading with the positive green marks, Trevor flourished because he was focusing on what he was doing right instead of what he was doing wrong.”

What is the significance of this story? It’s about changing paradigms. It’s about transformations. It’s about leadership, and, yes, it’s about procurement.

Changing Paradigms

Murray has over 30 years of experience in procurement. “My experience in procurement was in a start-up selling automotive parts. The cool thing about the company was our aspirational mission. None of us actually cared a lot about selling automotive parts,” he explained.

His start-up’s mission was to be an example for how a business could be. “The idea was to start a company that was a demonstration of a new operating system for business. Our goal was to do the right thing and add real value for our customers and our suppliers as the primary driver of business success. We developed a co-created aspirational mission as our primary focus and created an environment of psychological safety which eliminated much of the friction of bad behavior, antagonism, jealousy, politics, and everything else that really screws up an organization,” Murray explained.

Murray recalled the prophetic words of his mentor, who often told him, “There is no line on the balance sheet for bad behavior, yet it’s one of the highest costs in any business.”

As a result of his success, Murray has launched the X-JET movement to create exponential improvement in joy, engagement, and teamwork in today’s organizations. He facilitates conversations which focus on the inherent strengths of the organization, and how they can build on those strengths to make the weaknesses irrelevant.

Our goal was to do the right thing and add real value for our customers and our suppliers as the primary driver of business success.

He works directly with clients to co-create an aspirational mission that the team can get behind, and he coaches individuals to be [part of] high-performing teams. He believes this is essential for a company’s long-term success. “I would go as far as to say the companies of the future that are going to remain in existence will change to a cooperative co-created leadership style, or else they won’t survive,” warned Murray.


How does Murray convince company leaders to change their management styles?

Murray answered, “I don’t normally try to convince anyone who has a command and control attitude that they should change. There are companies that are so successful, who have adopted a cooperative leadership style, that the command and control company executives say, ‘Wait, why is that other company so successful? How do I copy that?’”

Murray believes that success is contagious. “Many of the companies I work with have 100%+ rates of growth, engaged employees, happy customers, satisfied suppliers and high profitability. BMW, Facebook, Clarke and Fairmont Santrol have developed innovations and ways of operating that have been successful using these methods.” According to Murray, other companies see that and want to emulate the cooperative corporate model.


Trying to fix a problem is the worst way to fix a problem.

- Rob Murray

Transformation starts with changing your way of thinking. Murray’s paradox does just that. “If you focus on the problem, you focus on what is broken, what is missing. You think, how can I get back from a deficit to neutral, and you’re not thinking about an evolutionary step in transformation,” he explained.

The British Airways lost luggage issue is a great example. “They were trying to fix their lost baggage problem. They were asking themselves, ‘How do we fix our lost baggage issue?’ By studying their lost baggage problems, they became experts in lost baggage. That was not their intention,” said Murray.

He then added, “So, they started asking themselves a different question. ‘How might we create an exceptional arrival experience for our passengers?’ And that got them out of the deficit thinking.”

“Future leaders are not going to be the ones with the best answers; they’re going to be the people with the best questions.” Rob Murray

Once they were out of the deficit-thinking mode, they began to ask better questions. Murray shared some examples: “What do we do when someone’s baggage is lost? How do we communicate with the passengers? How do we make them more satisfied with the service we have given them, while in flight and once they arrive? How can we speed them through the airport? How can we make them feel more comfortable?”

What was the effect of asking such pertinent questions? “Suddenly, they had a higher evolutionary purpose. It fixed the lost baggage problem, but it also increased their customer satisfaction exponentially because of all the additional ideas generated. It wasn’t about just one problem anymore. They were able to elevate the whole arrival experience for their customers,” explained Murray.5

Ultimately, the issue was customer satisfaction, not lost luggage. Murray stated, “They weren’t actually trying to fix lost baggage nearly as much as they were trying to make their customers happier.”

“Organizations are complex living human systems full of potential waiting to be released.” Aaron Dignan

Connecting Transformation to Procurement

When Murray was in procurement, one of his goals was to negotiate exclusivity agreements on certain product lines with suppliers. He explained the old negotiations model, “Procurement, by its very nature, tends to be deficit-based. In that framework, an exclusivity agreement would typically state, ‘You can’t sell to any of these people because they’re competitors, and we want all the advantages for ourselves. To get what we want, we will give you X number of dollars in order to do that.’”

Murray believes that the above negotiation model is no longer wise or effective. He believes that companies need to transition from deficit-based thinking to a partnership with the supplier by asking the right questions: What are your goals? What is it that you’re trying to do in your growth with the company?

He explained his thought process, “Suddenly you’re talking about their long-term plans, their interest in building an additional factory, their expected growth rate, why they are doing what they are doing, what’s important to them, and how they’re viewed [in the business] world.”

What is the result of a transformation to a cooperative corporate relationship? “The discussions now focus on creating the growth that we want between our companies. In that frame, you get ideas, such as co-branding and advertising together and expanding opportunities for everyone,” explained Murray.

Murray continued, It gets to the point to where the supplier says, ‘We don’t want to do business with anybody else. These guys get me. They support my dream. They care about what I care about. They share

Companies need to transition from deficit-based thinking to a partnership with the buyer by asking the right questions: What are your goals? What is it that you’re trying to do in your growth with the company?

my values, and, because of that, I don’t want to do business with anyone else.’”

According to Murray, there were side effects too. “What started happening organically is that we got better deliveries, we got better pricing, and we got better quality. Normally, we focus on the problems: fixing bad quality, fixing high prices, fixing bad deliveries. Now we are solving those problems because we are helping each other with our aspirational missions,” said Murray.

Murray is aware that it takes more than aspiration to successfully change paradigms. He understands that success needs to be centered around the people in and around the organization. “To build successful supply chains of the future, we must recognize that they are living systems, comprised of the customer, the supplier and all the other stakeholders touched by each organization. This includes their employees, the communities each serves, their customers, and the way each company impacts the world,” he explained.

Murray concluded by offering this optimistic look into the future. “The successful supply chain leaders of the future will recognize that their primary role is to crowd-source the wisdom of their diverse groups and, by doing so, help create a more inspiring future for all. This paradigm makes their job more fun and far more satisfying. This will allow us to take an evolutionary leap from convincing to co-creating, from deficit-based to strength-based, from fixed to flexible, and from command and control to bringing out the best in the entire system.”