Procurement soft skills – harder than they sound! Kim Godwin explains

(We're delighted to have the first in a series of articles from Kim Godwin. Former CPO of Barclays Bank and Past President of CIPS, Kim has majored over the past 7 years on behavioural ‘soft’ skills, helping a range of businesses assess and develop these skills in procurement at an individual and team level).

 

There's been a lot of coverage recently in the procurement press about the need for purchasers to develop skills such as influencing, communications, and relationship management. All things that relate to the behavioural skills and motivations of individuals - the so called “soft skills” although arguably hard to learn and to apply correctly.

I'm pleased that there is a heightened interest in this topic because I think it's potentially a relatively new frontier for procurement, and it raises many issues that it would be great to explore and debate through this blog. Questions such as -

• What specifically are these soft skills?

• Are they really that important and if so why?

• How do you recruit, test and develop them?

• Are individuals, employers and the institutes such as CIPS and ISM doing enough to develop them?

• Is it possible that individuals can't really change these skills very much and that they are just "the way that you are"?

• Do we have enough people in the profession who have a strong behavioural profile?

I'm going to start though with what makes a top performer in procurement? Is it what they do or how they do it? For the core procurement roles (i.e. category managers, buyers, etc.) is it how much they 'save' each year that differentiates the good from the average? Is it how good a negotiator they are?

Or is it aspects such as how they deal with stakeholders and influence them to make better commercial choices? Or building strong and impact full relationships? Perhaps good supply market understanding and business awareness? So as a first step I suggest making a list of all those things that describe the best performers in your team, and separate out those things that describe what has been done or achieved from those that describe how.

My proposition is that it is how you do things that differentiates people in procurement - not what they do. What's the use of a deal that no one uses because the stakeholders concerns weren't considered? Or the value of a deal that delivers 'savings' but destroys the supplier relationship? And how about the ace negotiator that extracts a good deal but never quite gets around to finishing the contract or pass on some of their skills to others?

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that what you do or achieve is not important – you still need to show tangible results. But that has to be balanced with how you achieve it, and this is where in essence the behavioural 'soft' skills come into play. And I don't think that we've got that balance right yet in the profession. How many job descriptions and role profiles describe what rather than how? How many individuals get rewarded on what they apparently achieve without too much regard for how they achieve it, their effect on relationships or the sustainability of those apparent results?

So a lot of questions. In future articles we’ll have a look at some of these issues in more depth, and next time explore how Google has recently hit the headlines in terms of how it assesses people.

Voices (3)

  1. scotswhahae:

    As the media increasingly pays attention narrowly to those at “the top” the advice we are being given is through the lens of their experience, and their values. With many business leaders today at the top having psychological profiles for narcissism and psychopathy who do not lead but rather “judge” and “rule”, we are fed this fallacy as if it were fact. Academic references for this view can be gained from Checkley & Hare, James Fallon, Pete Walker etc. If you doubt me, look at the pay of the C suite in the last 20 years….some things are objectively undeniable!
    The profiles of these people rely on self interest and if they don’t get what they want they blame, criticise and seek scapegoats.

    I have yet to come across any research supporting the idea that soft skills are any less prevalent in procurement and supply than they are in other professions or in the general population as a whole. It is time to refocus on facts and evidence. Perception is not reality…….only narcissists and psychopaths would think it was.

    1. bitter and twisted:

      The problem with ‘soft skills’ is that they blame the individual rather than the environment. If you cant influence stakeholders, thats your fault for not being nice enough, Not the fault of the system of rewards and punishments which push yous in different directions.

  2. Ed Luttrell:

    I would absolutely endorse the notion that the profession is in need up ‘up skilling’ in the ‘softer skills’. Personal experience (as a coach working with procurement leaders) has authenticated the need to consider, now more than ever, the impact of behaviour. Attention on this subject is overdue – across multiple dimensions, not least the impact on internal stakeholder relationships and those with suppliers. The big question still outstanding, in my opinion, are not just around ‘what’ behaviours are optimal but also how to change current behaviours to maximise outcomes. Changing behaviour is regarded as notoriously difficult. And so it is in many ways. However, the more open discussions we have on behaviours within a procurement context the better! I look forward to more from Kim on this topic in the future.

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