The Case for Procurement Hazing (Part 3)

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

I previously tossed out the first of three suggestions exploring why the procurement universe needs a type of hazing to elevate its capability and status. Outside of top performing organizations, a newfound level of visibility and respect for the profession is desperately needed (despite what some may think, we have a very long way to go). Consider how the UK government is attempting to more narrowly redefine procurement by creating a whole new class of public servant outside the function (who in fact is still "procuring").

In this brave new world of UK public sector "commissioning," those who buy outcomes and services from vendors will have a specialized skill set that procurement, judging by the creation of this new job classification, does not currently possess. Without spending too much time investigating this particular angle on procurement, it's clear from the creation of the new commissioning concept that those who look at the function from the outside don't afford it the level of trust to give any more responsibility -- let alone keeping what it currently has.

This is a challenge that will take many years to overcome. Yet I believe the second element of the "hazing" idea will come from what is best described as a journeyman or apprenticeship that initiates those from the outside into the function. As I briefly explored in the first part of this series, hazing in the financial world takes the form of keeping young analysts and associates in the office all night long to run models (whether you need them or not). One could debate the merits of whether or not rebuilding a combined P&L statement for the fourth time at 2:30 in the morning really contributes much to the skill sets of those who do it, but it certainly makes outsiders look upon the job with a degree of respect for work ethic.

A procurement apprenticeship or journeyman model should certainly involve long hours if for any reason it affords the degree of learning and "putting in the hours" necessary to truly become expert in the field, earlier in one's career versus later. Malcom Gladwell nails this point home in Outliers when he talks about the 10,000 hour rule which, in his view, suggests you need 10,000 hours of practice to become truly great at something (ideally as early in your career as possible). Yet within procurement, it should not just be about the practice in these early career steps, but really, about passing down knowledge.

There's always hazing involved in this as well. Forcing the rigor of writing a new RFP or selecting the right set of constraints for large-scale sourcing event (with optimization) in a short-term timeframe is a great example in which one's manager can (and should) provide highly critical feedback. Supply risk analysis and supplier performance management activities (including on-site audits and subsequent development sessions), especially given the ability of a mentor to poke holes in different analyses and KPIs based on historic knowledge is something that only being in the industry for many years can enable.

Forcing quick analysis and long hours on new recruits to any function combined with critical mentoring not only teaches the ability to work more quickly (and under pressure) but also rapid adaption, technique refinement and learning. Procurement typically lacks this today given the 8:00-5:30 mentality (outside of travel) that is predominant inside many organizations. Yet adding in a 2-3 year managerial course/program in which recent grads know what they're getting into throughout a compressed cycle of learning, repetition, practice and feedback over a 70+ hour week could create an entirely new level of young managerial talent to champion and enhance the credibility of the function overall. The secret of a rigorous apprenticeship model is that it would create a set of 25-year-olds with the experience that usually takes 10 or even 15 years to get on the job to usually get today.

Next up and concluding our hazing list of suggestions for the profession: tossing hires into the supplier and stakeholder fire.

- Jason Busch

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