Data driven or people person? What are the critical capabilities for procurement people?

Christina Langley's guest post last week on attracting graduates into procurement got far more response than our question of the week on China.  But I take that as a good sign, as we're going to have more material on capability, recruitment and people issues here in the future.  That will include more from Christina I hope but also other contributors, as well as our own editorial views, interviews and features.

But for today, a comment made by a CPO I interviewed last week (for a really interesting technology provider review we'll be featuring shortly). This guy is using technology in a serious way to manage his function and the whole supply chain into a successful international manufacturing business. We got to talking about people, and he said,

“I must have procurement people who are principally data-driven”.

Now, we'll come back to what else he said, and he qualified this to some extent (without retracting that basic statement).  But that got me thinking about whether we have a contradiction here? There's lots of talk of the need for procurement staff to have top-class interpersonal skills, be great influencers etc; then here we have a very successful CPO saying, “they need to love data”.

Contradiction? A one-off view in a particular industry? Or a widening of an already challenging person spec?

However, I also talked to an old friend in Financial Services sector last week.  I tested out the 'data-driven' idea and her immediate response was "that's not what we need in our industry". Her view is that because procurement so rarely has control in that sector, the inter-personal skills around influencing and working with stakeholders would always be top of her priority list.

So maybe there are questions of different needs for different industries and perhaps also spend categories; but some food for thought that we'll explore in future posts.

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Voices (3)

  1. bitter and twisted:

    Its easier to hide a lack of hard skills with soft skills than vice versa.

  2. Christine Morton:

    I like both, frankly –

    However, the data side should include “and know what to DO with it.” The cynical side of me has seen far too many people whinge that they don’t have enough data, and then when they get some, they don’t know what to do at all. Or worse, they don’t know the importance of the data relative to other data. [Capital expenditure data is usually more important than the stationary contract data.] So throw in some good category management and the ability to see the big picture… Strategic, critical thinking is a must.

    And equally, those with great interpersonal skills should also be able to sell concepts, ideas, and new ways of working to influence behaviour. They should believe in and feel passionate about their area of expertise to sell it. And the cynical side of me here sees that a presenteeism culture – being seen to be at one’s desk – can really have a detrimental effect here, as you need to be getting out there to talk to others. [“No, major-public-sector-organisation-trying-to-establish-a-national-category-management-strategy, talking to only 5 organisations who buy a product (when literally hundreds of public sector organisations also buy it) is not enough to make a national strategy.” As I had to say in July.]

    Listening skills are paramount, of course, as you have to be able to take on board what those “in the trenches” (i.e. service areas) are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. I have seen the effects of a consultant marching in, running a quick and dirty benchmarking exercise, not listening to people that the benchmark wasn’t consistent (it was a mix of apples and oranges so to speak). The consultant published the results of the exercise claiming tremendous savings potential and all of the service area people were rightfully miffed that the exercise portrayed them inaccurately. Engagement was affected as a result (quite understandably).

    Peter this question is too big to answer in a comment and I haven’t even started on honesty and accountability!

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