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The Keys to the SPD Kingdom: 5 Ways to Become 'The'​ Decision Maker for Your CS Department Purchases

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

You want it.

You need it.

Your team is asking every day, "When are we going to get a __________ ?"

It was a patient safety issue like, yesterday, and things are only getting dicier by the day.

So why haven't you already cut the PO? Why don't you already have that shiny new piece of machinery or high tech new software installed in your department?

"[F]ewer and fewer CS leaders have the ultimate say on what's bought and when for their departments."

Well, assuming you have the budget for the purchase, the most likely bump in the road to buyer's bliss is the simple fact that fewer and fewer CS leaders have the ultimate say on what's bought and when for their departments. More likely than not, your CS purchasing power is circumscribed by different levels of approval limits, supply chain recommendations, and OR oversight. Simply put, you don't have the keys to your CS kingdom, you're just living in it.

But it doesn't always have to be this way. There are at least five things you can do as a Sterile Processing leader to push the decision-making needle back in your direction:

1) Shake Hands and Kiss Babies

More important than anything else, you need to realize that every purchasing decision that is made in your department has a political component to it. I'm not saying that you have to go around shaking hands and kissing babies in order to get a new sterilizer -- but I am saying that these decisions are rarely just a matter of dollars and cents. More likely than not, there are existing relationships between certain vendors and your facility, there may be previous preferences from supply chain leaders or conflicting outcomes for the project (cost-savings v. green initiative, etc). Simply put, there are votes out there that have to be won before you ever get to the decision making table, and if you want to get what you want, you have to summon your inner-lobbyist to make your cause known and appreciated. In short, you have to politic.

2) Build Your Own Chair

In addition to the politicking discussed in point one, you need to know that if you want a seat at the decision making table (and definitely if you want to become the primary department decision maker), sometimes you have to build your own chair. If you're a new leader or just a leader without a lot of cultural capital in your organization, as things get started you may very well have to invite yourself into these kinds of decision making meetings. In order to do this well and do it professionally, you may need to build your own chair by establishing yourself as a subject matter expert in your facility, in the eyes of your peers, and in the perception of your administration. This may mean doing things like asking to join hospital quality meetings (where you get to network with other department directors and VPs), attending daily safety huddles where other leaders are gathered, or collaborating with high profile departments (such as Infection Control or Safety) on various improvement projects. What does this all have to do with getting approval to purchase your new take-apart laparoscopic system? These are the things that make you look like a natural fit at the CS purchasing decision table, instead of a last minute agenda item. These are the activities that build a chair in the boardroom that has your name on it.

3) Get Ahead of the Curve

As I mentioned in the introduction, part of getting what you want in your SPD department has to do with getting ahead of the purchasing curve -- or, as Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon argue in "The Challenger Sale," it not only means "getting ahead of the RFP" but actually tailoring the RFP to fit the product, service, or company that you want. For instance, if you're convinced the only long term solution to your rips, tears, and holes in disposable blue wrap is the Belintra UFlex Storage System, then you need to focus your facility purchasing conversation around the need to reduce "touch points" for wrapped trays throughout the processing life-cycle and highlight the importance of following the wrap manufacturer's IFUs that prohibit stacking of wrapped trays. If you facilitate these discussions appropriately, when it comes time to bring everyone to the table (or just get an email approval from the higher-ups), !viola! your desired product or service will simply fall into place as the only real option to fit your needs. It's almost as if this product was made for your department...

4) Make Vendors Help You Make Your Case

A fourth way to strengthen your decision making leverage in your facility is to have the vendor you are working with "coach" you with the necessary financial, quality, and efficiency outcomes that will be critical to making a powerful case for the product or service you're pulling for. As an SPD leader, you can't be expected to know every competitive advantage of every product or service on the market, much less be familiar with all the value propositions that come along with them. However, if your vendor is worth their salt, they will know these things and be able to help you craft a compelling argument that will resonate with your OR, Supply Chain, or C-Suite leaders. This does not mean just taking their product brochures into the boardroom and expecting instant-customer-conversions to happen right then and there. Most sales/marketing literature from vendors takes a "shotgun" approach to the solutions their product provides (which means they may not automatically reach out and grab a Supply Chain leader's attention)-- but if you tell the vendor the two or three most important opportunities your leaders care about, then you can zero in on particular solutions with a laser-like focus. Help your vendor help you become your own best advocate. They owe you that much.

5) Understand the Art of the Deal

The final point I'll cover today on how to become "the" decision-maker for your CS department revolves around the idea of good deal-making. If you want your administrators or OR Directors to hand over the keys to your budget to you, you must be able to demonstrate your ability to understand and drive good deals for your department and healthcare organization. Sometimes this may mean doing things like researching your previous purchasing history to identify opportunities to standardize to a particular instrument vendor (and thus improve your commitment/tier pricing - good deal!) or it could be pushing back against the first draft of that "risk-share" agreement your scope OEM handed over to you and asking for a lower annual cap (possibly another good deal!). Whatever the opportunity is that you're considering, if you want to eventually own all the purchasing decisions for your CS, you've got to develop the ability to ask pointed questions of your vendors, be open to competitive offerings in the industry, and know when you've got a good deal (and good fit) for your department. The more of these conversations you have, the more educated and stronger negotiator you should become for your team.


So yes, if you want a plaque on your desk that reads, "The buck stops here," you first have to understand the rules of the decision-making game.

  1. Purchasing is political,

  2. Your seat at the table requires your initiative,

  3. The RFP process should be tactical,

  4. Vendors should give you tailored, purchasing ammunition, and

  5. At the end of the day, you've got to demonstrate you can bring home the bacon -- not just the metaphorical product-pig.

If you're tired of getting shut out of capital budgeting decisions, value assessment committees, and supply chain standardization initiatives, take these five points to heart and pull your CS chair up to the table. You may not make it from the basement to the boardroom overnight, but the more attention you give to preparing yourself to be heard, the more likely it is that when you speak, the people with the checkbook will start to listen.

Live long and purchase!

What say you?

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2019

[Looking for resources on How to Write a Request for Proposal (RFP) Response? Check out this article.]


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