Best of 2017: Developing Procurement Skills – Without Spending a Penny

In the run up to, and over, the holiday period we thought we would feature some of our favourite articles from 2017. So let's kick off with one from May - a mini series (combined here) examining procurement talent in the wake of a Deloitte study, finding that CPOs are struggling to get teams in place that can actually deliver results, including the procurement strategy. The cost of training and development activities is often a stumbling block when CPOs want to enhance team capability, so we have put together some steps and actions that can achieve that at minimal cost. 

A good place to start with thoughts turning to strategy and deliverables for next year. 

While expensive training courses, CIPS study and qualifications, or superb leading-edge conferences, all have their place in the personal development portfolio - if you have the money - not everyone can afford to do all the things they would ideally like to do. The cost of training and development activities is often a stumbling block when CPOs want to enhance team capability, so we have been thinking about steps and actions that can achieve benefits for the procurement team at minimal cost.

Here are some ideas that draw on internal and external resource and cost nothing in hard cash terms.

Internal resource

  • Develop and deliver your own training sessions within the procurement function  – from basic skills to “Masterclass” sessions from more experienced members of the team. We have seen presentations from a number of CPOs over the years – Roger Davies of Marks and Spencer comes to mind as a leader in this area - that talked about taking this approach in a structured and very successful manner. We suspect that everybody in your team has something that they are good at / know about, something that others in the team might benefit from hearing about.
  • Coaching and mentoring schemes – that might range from the CPO her/himself being mentored, perhaps by a main board non-executive director, to a middle manager coaching and supporting a graduate trainee. Anyone can benefit from this sort of approach, but it is particularly relevant for high-potential staff (at every level in the organisation).
  • Bring in people from the "business" or other functional areas to talk to the procurement team – a great way of getting close to stakeholders and to learn about their roles, requirements and what they want from procurement. In our experience, they will also end up feeling more positive about procurement, and the team gain useful knowledge and insight.
  • Use team meetings as learning sessions – really a less formal version of the first point above. Think about how team meetings could be used to spread good practice. Perhaps a couple of people are chosen each time to speak for five minutes about something they have learnt recently – what worked well, what didn’t. Team meetings should not just be boring updates on company performance and “what my sub-team did this month” sessions.
  • Develop a knowledge management approach – capture examples of good practice (and bad practice), tools, ideas, and experiences. Carry out post-project reviews after every procurement project or incident (e.g. a tender, a supply crisis), get regular feedback from internal stakeholders and suppliers too and feed that into the knowledge management “system”. Then make sure the team can and do access it on a regular basis to improve their own performance.

External resource

  • Read Spend Matters! Well, we would say that wouldn’t we. But really, there is a huge amount of information, knowledge and insight freely available on the various Spend Matters websites, as well as on sites from CIPS, consulting and software firms and so on. We try and tell you about some of the most useful here, such as the Deloitte survey, the Future Purchasing Category Management study and so on. You could combine this with one of yesterday’s ideas too – why not take a Spend Matters article, or one of the findings from the CatMan report, and use that as a basis for a “read and discuss” session at a procurement team meeting?
  • A similar approach can be taken with books. There are more good, useful and readable books about our topic than ever before, and I don’t know anyone in the profession at any level who would not benefit through reading and study of the best. Read Sigi Osagie for general inspiration; Magnus Carlson to understand why IKEA succeed; Andrew Cox to have your brain stretched; Czerniawska and Smith to learn about buying professional services … the list is endless! Again, discussing with others what you have learnt is the best technique to get something useful out of your reading.
  • There is also a huge amount of free online training available, whether that is film of conference speeches and similar, or specially and specifically designed training videos. Just while browsing around for this article, I came across this for example, which looks interesting and useful.   There is a series of good basic Procurious videos like this, and literally hundreds of other examples. Software firms like Trade Extensions are another source of good content. Again, using this sort of material can be through private study or something that you do in a group situation.
  • Peer best practice groups exist in many formats and industries. For many years, I was part of one we called the Strategic Procurement Forum, which had around a dozen CPO level members who met to discuss key topics and challenges that we faced. This sort of “soft benchmarking” as you might call it can be incredibly useful – testing your own ideas, learning from others, sharing good practice. If you can’t find one already that meets your needs, you could start something new, and it does not have to be at CPO level either. Category level groups exist too, and can be just as worthwhile for the appropriate people.
  • Clearly some conferences charge for attendees, but not all do so. Procurex and eWorld are just two we’ve attended recently that were free to practitioners and provided a lot of very strong material to delegates. If you are in a senior role, you might even get a free ticket to one of the events that charges generally – the organisers can attract more sponsors if they have a lot of senior delegates, so you can sometimes use that fact to negotiate. But even just in terms of the free events, this can be an important element of training and development plans.

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