The traits of a progressive CPO, part one

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Traits of a progressive cpo

Today CPOs have a remit that far exceeds their traditional operational responsibilities. They now have increasing influence in shaping business strategies and driving out value through the stakeholder relationships they have developed. Essentially they have moved from being reactive to being far more progressive and forward thinking.


This change requires CPOs to not only possess a diverse set of skills and capabilities, but also requires them to demonstrate strong leadership.


In the first of this two-part series, I wanted to share my thoughts on the traits that I believe make CPOs progressive, and some tips on how such skills can be developed.


Trait one: Becoming a true business partner


The opportunity for procurement to participate more fully in creating strategic advantage for businesses, is unprecedented. But this opportunity also comes with an urgency: an urgency to innovate and deliver new sources of value. This can only come from closer working relationships with internal customers.


Whether they know it or not, internal customers need procurement’s expertise, experience, and engagement to add value in their own work across a range of different areas, including:

  • Spend consolidation
  • Specification rationalisation and improvement
  • Supplier collaboration and building on existing supplier relationships
  • Reducing TCO
  • Demand profiling, reduction, and management
  • Creating competitive advantage and enhancing innovation
  • Reducing inventory


Any changes cannot be done in isolation. This isn’t about procurement sitting by itself, trying to figure out how to improve the business’s top and bottom lines in a silo. It requires a real partnership to make things happen.


CPOs must have a clear emphasis on identifying non-traditional and non-price led levers to deliver value; this includes:

  • Leveraging their influence over areas such as specification rationalisation, demand management, supplier collaboration as well as analytics to help reduce inventory and consolidate spend
  • Embracing analytics to provide more predictability, visibility, and insights into the business, which will allow them to support their ideas and suggested strategies with facts


Beyond this, CPOs can also help supercharge the business by driving self-sufficiency for specific activities e.g. with self-serve assets such as RFx toolkits and templates, targeted market intelligence on critical category areas, as well as ongoing intelligence to understand, assess and manage suppliers more proactively. This will help the business to quickly, efficiently and seamlessly manage daily procurement activities, which will free up the function’s time for more strategic tasks.


Trait two: Be a talent enabler


Many studies have highlighted the fact that attracting new talent as well as training and retaining existing teams, are among the biggest challenges faced by CPOs. Limited budgets and uncompetitive salary levels are most commonly quoted by procurement chiefs as the factors preventing them from investing in talent, followed closely by an unwillingness by the business to invest in additional resources (even in the face of sizable ROI metrics).


The reality is that there has been a limited change in the investment needed, and limited funds are being spent on training and skill development. So, across the board, we continue to see procurement functions either stand still or worse, shrink in size. At the same time, however, the breadth of responsibilities and ambitions increase.


What is needed is a change in approach to close the talent gap: procurement organisations must be creative in their pursuit of talent. Progressive CPOs are using tactics including:


Looking for creative talent sources – Outside of university campuses, the biggest source of talent is within your own business. Procurement should look to recruit talent from the functions (e.g. IT, marketing, operations) they support, as those individuals can bring with them strong business knowledge, great stakeholder networks as well as a better understanding of demand.


Project and inculcate a digital-friendly environment – Talent investment, be that training, recruitment or career planning, should focus on delivering the digital agenda. Procurement talent is attracted to companies that are on the cutting edge of technology, and which empower their employees by adopting these tools. Whether it is e-auctions, advanced spend analytics or even risk assessment resources, enabling the right talent with such tools is a big draw.


Create Account Executives – Developing talent starts with putting in a programme to identify, nurture and grow individuals. I recommend the following steps to achieve this:

  • Identify the key business stakeholders across your customer base
  • Identify five individuals in your procurement organisation who you can develop to become the face of the function to your customer base
  • Task them with learning about the customer, assessing and recording their requirements, and translating them into actions that procurement can act on. This is a periodic and not one off activity
  • Engage them in trouble shooting and working within procurement to take the function to the next level

These are the first two traits of progressive procurement leaders, and the steps CPOs can take to embed procurement best practice and drive new sources of value.


Look out for my next blog, in which I will cover two more traits and associated recommendations.


Omer Abdullah is co-founder and managing director at The Smart Cube


This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders.

Omer Abdullah
Posted by Omer Abdullah

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