“Some executives used to think of procurement as the place you send staff away in order to never see them again.” ~ Carlos Mena, Remko van Hoek, Martin Christopher, Leading Procurement Strategy: Driving Value Through the Supply Chain
In the past, and as the quote opening this post suggests, it was not uncommon for a career in procurement to be an assignment rather than a choice. I didn’t choose a career in procurement, and the same is true of many of my colleagues all the world over. But things have changed.
Procurement has engaged in a multi-year journey to ‘transform’ into bigger, smarter, faster, better version of ourselves. Procurement has received constructive criticism in droves: “You’re too slow.” “You’re too strict.” “You don’t understand what the business needs.” At times it was crushing or infuriating to remain open to this (often unsolicited) feedback. One thing we can’t say, however, is that procurement was paralyzed by it.
We streamlined our processes. We upgraded our technology. We developed category expertise or found consultants that could deliver it quickly and cost effectively. In some cases, we even provided the business with direct access to procurement solutions so they could make their own sourcing decisions. We’ve been a flurry of activity, branching out in new directions and boldly facing new challenges.
And a funny thing happened while we were making all of these changes; transformed procurement became an identity, one that we own and are proud of because we built it ourselves. Bright, energetic young professionals are choosing procurement for themselves, and those of us who have been around for a while are seizing the opportunity to be more innovative and value oriented.
But what about our skills? Most of what you read about procurement transformation suggests that part of making the transformation possible is formal training and development. It might even include recruiting new team members who are better suited to this brave new world than existing employees. I disagree. I believe that the very skills required to stage a transformation are the same ones that procurement needs to thrive afterwards.
Selling the executive team on the need for a transformation is no easy feat. For procurement to pull this off, we need to excel in speaking, listening and reading others’ body language. We must be able to interact well in person and virtually with different levels of internal colleagues as well as strategic supply partners.
Influence & Execution
Before you can become influential you have to get things done, but the inverse is true as well. It is very hard to get things done without influence. Procurement has been slowly but steadily climbing through the ranks, especially since the Great Recession of 2008-2009. We’ve held on to the improved reputation we earned as a result of our cost containment efforts, and have used it to open doors and sway enterprise opinions on increasingly important decisions.
Strategy & Vision
It is one thing to be strategic, but it is another to dream up your own visionary plan to work towards. This requires creativity and an appreciation for the true potential value that procurement and supply chain can offer. As our vision for transformed procurement has become clearer, we’ve been able to put various strategies in place to make it a reality… sooner rather than later.
Many of the traditional skills required to work in procurement (i.e. sourcing, analysis, negotiation, supplier performance management) are easy to learn or have been automated. Not having them is no longer a barrier to earning a strategic position in the function, nor is having them a guarantee of a job. Instead, broadly capable candidates, ones who chose to apply their many talents to procurement, are transforming the talent landscape with their presence. As long as procurement can stay hungry and keep the transformational mindset central to our efforts, we will continue to attract the best and brightest because we are their equals.
Which returns us to our focal question: can a tactical procurement team transform itself or does strategic talent need to be in place first?
Header photo: Panchenko Vladimir