"Over the last ten years, procurement’s remit has diversified...what we have to ask is what that means for training and talent." That was Barry Hooper, former CPO at insurer Friends Life, speaking at a Procurement Leaders financial services conference.
As a community, we talk at length about ‘earning a seat at the table’, and rightly so. For some, it might be a murky idea, but it nicely encompasses one of the broadest challenges facing the modern function.
‘The table’ at which any one function is striving to sit will differ between companies, depending on how far the procurement organisation is on its journey to maturity. But, across business sectors, procurement’s advancement along the wider strategic agenda is coming to be held as a common goal. And momentum is building.
As Hooper explained, this has very important implications for the function and how leaders decided to develop the staff within their teams. If its heightened exposure is to be made anything of, and indeed sustained, the ability for procurement to effectively engage with the wider business should be considered central.
What this means, in plain terms, is that upskilling efforts need to focus on development of the ‘soft’, less tangible skills - those of communication and engagement, as we have found in our recent research into category management.
If the function truly wants to provide demonstrable value, it is these skills that need nurturing. It’s no secret that the average salesperson enjoys more training days in any one year than the average buyer, and we can rant ad nauseam on the injustice of this disparity, but sourcing managers need to look at how they are training their staff, rather than at how much.
In their discussions, attendees at the same conference agreed that procurement training could benefit from a more sales-type approach, in which programmes are typically anchored in engagement, rather than technicalities and processes, whereas in procurement training, it is often the other way around.
This balance needs to be addressed, because too heavy a focus on process when developing staff is not conducive to nurturing an engaging team, able to communicate the work it does for the sake of the business, rather than for the sake of the ’seven steps’.
The job of the buyer is changing, and training and development efforts need to reflect that.
Of course, there is a place for both skillsets, and it’s the managers’ job to decide where and with whom it is most appropriate to develop either one. The subject of the debate means there is no right or wrong answer; it’s true that a very small team will find it more of a struggle to effect an even balance of the two, so the make-up of the team may well look different to that of a much bigger function. Steve Hrubala, global head of sourcing & procurement at global asset manager Carlyle group, makes suggestions for overcoming such an obstacle here.
Teams also need leaders who understand that procurement works for the benefit of the business, and that internal stakeholders need to be considered in the minds of buyers and category managers as customers. At the most basic level, people just want to get their job done, so procurement has to make sure that it’s not (even unconsciously) positioning itself as a barrier to achieving wider goals and objectives.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.