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Conrad Smith, senior director of global procurement at Adobe, looks at the questions procurement chiefs ask themselves when a key member of the team leaves
There comes a time in every manager's career when even their most dependable employee moves on. This can happen for any number of reasons and it's always tough to find the right replacement. I oversee Adobe's global procurement department and we recently had a valued employee retire. She'd spent more than seven years with us, and knew procurement back-to-front.
I always have mixed feelings in times like this.
On one hand, hiring experienced talent could help improve the team straight away as well as get quick results. At the same time, promoting from within or hiring fresh talent could strengthen engagement and awaken the department to all kinds of new opportunities.
Both have their benefits and drawbacks. However, I'm not so sure we should be looking at it in such narrow terms.
The wisdom of a veteran
An employee who's been in your line of business for decades will bring a wide network with them, which will likely expand your own network and external ideas for innovation.
A veteran will also have been through different deals with every imaginable type of supplier and stakeholder. This means they will be able to navigate the most complex relationships with ease and efficiency, as well as identify every negotiation tactic in the book. Experience with categories and even suppliers can bring wisdom that translates directly into savings on key negotiations.
Seasoned veterans can also bring a sense of calm. They tend to bring an attitude of 'This has happened before, and it'll happen again'. This can keep even the biggest deals in perspective, and will remind you to look at every supplier and stakeholder with a careful eye – to watch for well-known patterns and take appropriate action.
Even so, veterans have their own ways of doing things. Although I trust my veterans implicitly, and wouldn't trade them for the world, we often miss opportunities to experiment and reinvent, because we often assume the ‘tried and tested' approach is better.
New eyes, new insights
A new team member – particularly early in their career – is likely to be a lot more open to risk-taking. This isn't always positive, but the dialogues you'll have about those ideas and risks can lead to new insights and innovation.
Along similar lines, a new team member is likely to question everything. You don't have to change everything they question, but the questions they ask can push your thinking in new directions, and trigger rethinking and reengineering of rusty old processes that haven't been running efficiently.
Younger team members tend to be more ambitious, and more active in expanding and developing their networks. We recently filled a manager position with a fairly new team member. He'd demonstrated an outstanding ability to get results while improving stakeholder relationships. The ability to build trust, influence and communicate are quickly becoming the most important skills to get top results.
In all these ways, a fresh pair of eyes will inject new energy into your department. This can be hard to quantify, but you'll feel it every day. Your department can feel more awake, more confident, more agile and ready for opportunity.
At the same time, though, a less experienced team member is likely to make more mistakes. That's part of their learning process. It'll take time for them to learn and gain experience.
Emotional intelligence vs Experience
Both veterans and less experienced candidates will bring varying degrees of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and procurement experience. The more we mature our sourcing and category teams, the more we learn to value EQ. Better trust and relationship building is often the key reason we're invited into deal discussions early in the process.
As we've prioritised EQ and softer skills in the interview process, we've ended up hiring finance, sales or people with other non-procurement types of business experience. While many of these candidates have progressed to be some of our strongest players, they never could have developed without good managers, and a supportive team to help them learn and master the basics.
Making the call
In today's fast changing world, diversity on your team is more important than ever. We all need people with years of industry experience on our teams – and we also need people who bring fresh perspectives, and who question our established processes. We need people who'll recommend taking risks, as well as people who'll question and assess those risks. We need hungry ambition as well as practiced calm. More than ever, we need people with strong EQ who can blend the art and science of relationships and results.
Conrad Smith is senior director of global procurement at Adobe
This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. Procurement Leaders received no payment directly connected with the publishing of this content.
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