Procurement, once a home to tactical order-processing work, then a professional centre of excellence for supplier interaction, has evolved into a multi-faceted hub for facilitating internal-external synergies between company stakeholders and the supply base.
In short, human interaction has become much more of a focus for the profession.
Consequently, some organisations have changed the criteria that define ‘a good fit’ for their open procurement positions and there has been a noticeable shift in how some organisations recruit procurement professionals to fill open positions.
A new approach to procurement recruiting defines the perfect candidate through three different characteristics:
1. A personality that fits the corporate culture
2. Influential charisma
3. Intellectual potential
What makes this approach ‘radical’, relatively speaking, is that the hiring managers who use it are not concerned if a candidate does not have any experience purchasing the category for which they will be responsible, or in the industry, or even in procurement. These hiring managers feel that procurement practices can be taught to an intelligent person, but a personality that matches the corporate culture and charisma that can influence resistant internal customers cannot easily be taught.
However, this has created two seemingly opposite approaches to recruiting procurement talent: the traditional approach and the radical approach.
Referring to the ‘traditional approach’ is not to suggest that it is outdated or cannot be applied in the modern world; rather, it is an approach from which few hiring managers deviated over the years, unlike today when more than one approach is common. The traditional approach can still work quite effectively and has a few advantages:
Loyalty to the industry. When a candidate jumps from one employer to another in the same industry, there is often something that the candidate loves about that industry. This sense of loyalty can result in better retention. If they could get any job in the world that they wanted and they chose a new employer in the same industry as their last employer, there is a chance that they will want to remain in that industry for life.
Less risk of mistake. The complexity and many nuances of procurement make it a profession ripe for making mistakes: whether it is signing a contract with onerous terms, not exploring deeply enough in negotiations, or failing to communicate a due date for a critical material, there is no shortage of landmines that can result in a procurement professional’s work doing harm to his or her employer.
Shorter time to independence. Some things are easy to learn to buy. Office supplies, desktop computer equipment, and certain commodities don’t exactly require degrees in Engineering in order for one to be qualified to place a purchase order. However, some categories of goods and services do require an intimate knowledge of the details that influence technical acceptability, quality and supplier synergy.
THE RADICAL APPROACH, on the other hand, is helpful to procurement organisations in the following ways:
Support for procurement’s increased involvement. “Early purchasing involvement”, “procurement wants a seat at the table” and “eliminate the walls between procurement and internal customers.” These are all phrases that represent the long-pursued effort to improve the perception of procurement from ‘red tapers’ and ‘rubber stampers’ to strategic business partners.
All of the technical knowledge in the world will not inspire stakeholders and management to change the way they have always interacted with procurement staff if they do not like and trust the people that comprise the procurement team. When the procurement department is staffed with professionals who are part of the culture and who can inspire followers, the procurement function can get the co-operation necessary to fully leverage the technical capabilities it brings to the party.
Bandwidth for more advanced technical skills. What is considered to be a full range of procurement skills is actually a moving target. The skill set that qualified someone as a ‘strategic’ procurement professional in 1999 look more like that of today’s tactical procurement position. Having mastered one of the timeless procurement skills, like negotiation, does not mean someone has the intellectual horsepower to be an expert in the areas now considered inseparable from procurement work, such as financial acumen.
Hiring an employee who has lots of intellectual potential ensures that they will be capable of learning all of the nuances.
Despite the fact that the ‘radical approach’ to recruiting has received a lot of favourable attention, it is important to realise that the criteria for the ‘traditional approach’ and the ‘radical approach’ are not mutually exclusive. It is most certainly possible for a candidate to be seasoned in procurement and a good cultural fit.
It may prove difficult to find someone who has a perfect procurement track record and a personality that will be adored by stakeholders and management, but it should at least be the target. Choose a candidate with the best combination of characteristics from both approaches, keeping in mind which gaps can be closed through procurement training.
Adapted from the Next Level Purchasing Association