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What are the skills required for tomorrow’s procurement?

9 March 2012 |
Posted in: Careers, Purchasing

This familiar question was tackled by Mark Hollison, director of procurement at Napp Pharmaceuticals, at Procurecon Pharma 2012 last week.

He quoted a survey on skills shortcomings among procurement people, with 64 per cent of practitioners failing to demonstrate the requisite skill level when it comes to ‘executive influence’. In contrast, traditional procurement skills of analysis and negotiation are seemingly well-covered, with only 35 per cent and 25 per cent of practitioners respectively failing to meet the standard in these areas.

Hollison made a plea to procurement leaders to cede control to increase influence, arguing procurement needs to consider ‘giving away’ purchasing and supplier relationship management responsibility to willing stakeholders.  This represents a somewhat brave stand in a profession that continues to hold aspirations of increasing spend control and board-level influence, but I think he is onto something.

What he’s suggesting is the procurement role changes from an unresponsive doer to a trusted advisor, enabling stakeholders to act quickly and decisively, knowing they are able to call upon support from procurement when they need it. He feels (and I agree) a community of liberated stakeholders are more likely to be willing to collaborate with skilled procurement advisors who are comfortable with the advisor role, rather than those unable to avoid temptations of functional imperialism.

But how do you define the role of the ‘trusted advisor’? Try this: A trusted advisor supports the business leadership in improving procurement performance and provides the main source of expertise to the business on the application of the procurement processes and toolkit.

The theme of ‘influencing without executive authority’ is a growing one in procurement and, as procurement’s stakeholders come under increasing pressure to secure value for money for the products and services they use, this trusted advisor role may have come of age.

In this world, Hollison believes that purchasing becomes a nexus for commercial expertise and intelligence – a proposition quite different from that of the traditional ‘buying office’.

What this could mean for the profession in the longer term is smaller teams of procurement experts, with outstanding consulting skills, capable of building trusting relationships and working jointly with stakeholders on category and relationship strategies.

What’s certain is this will require buyers to develop a range of consulting and leadership capabilities beyond those in the technical procurement curriculum. It would be interesting to see which organisations are the pioneers in this regard.

5 Responses to “What are the skills required for tomorrow’s procurement?”

  1. To further support above comments with my own observations, it is worth stressing that consulting and leadership capabilities beyond those in technical procurement curriculum are coming from other disciplines than procurement and very often candidates with a good academic background in socio-economical sciences have a higher confidence and general fluency to fulfill the role. To be able to influence one need to have a good understanding in aspects of language corresponding with other than technical fields.

  2. Renata – if BS is a component of influence, then those from the socio-economic pseudo-sciences will be well placed.

  3. Hi Another Fan of Felix CHAN

    What BS?

    Component of influence I am talking about here is confidence and fluency in language skills. “Socio-economic
    pseudo-sciences” are necessary but not exhaustive.

  4. I am sincerely concerned that this idea is only just being published or might only just be catching on. What has the procurement profession being doing up to this point? Dictacting how business will spend their money and where? If so, that’s disturbing. We should still have a seat at the board table, but we get there through building relationships with internal stakeholders, influencing business units, advocating responsible and engaging supplier management practices, and treating people with respect. Procurement is not just a technical profession, to my mind it is only a small portion of what it is really about.

  5. Interesting but woolly concept. Like Nathan, agree that influencing is absolutely a core skill in our profession, and it is stating the obvious. I also believe that to be truly strategic foregoing the traditional technical core skills would lead us into uncertain ground. In the current economic climate, organisations both private and public are looking to Procurement to deliver hard and value added savings as budgets go on an everincreasing squeeze cycle. Analytical, negotiation, contractual, financial and risk management skills and tools are absolutely core to achieving this. The softer influencing and relationship management skills are part and parcel of our work as we act effectively and strategically as the interface for supplier market intelligence and make sourcing decisions in collaboration with internal stakeholders to achieve above and bring innovation that can benefit our organisations.
    Mr Hollison might want to ponder whether an organisation that only uses its procurement team for “supply chain consulting and influencing” purposes is an organisation where its Board, if under pressure to deliver profits, might just wonder “what role do these people really fulfill”. Cozy chats and navel gazing won’t get the profession very far.

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