Is there such a thing as an ideal purchasing professional and, if so, what traits do they possess? I believe there is such an ideal – I have met several of them.
In my work with price and organizational benchmarking, I meet many procurement individuals from a variety of companies. I have been exposed to a wide variation in performance (not just pricing performance, the genesis of Freebenchmarking.com) over a broad range of supply chain criteria. Some individuals and their companies are exceptional in delivering consistently outstanding performance.
There are three top, equally important imperatives in procurement; security of supply, cost and compliance. Procurement must insure that their companies get what they need when needed at competitive costs while complying with product requirements, government regulations and customer expectations. What is most interesting is that the companies consistently best at achieving these have individuals in their procurement organization who stand out from the pack and exhibit common traits.
These ideal professionals have instilled focus, discipline and results orientation in their organizations to drive data enabled business processes that work. Their organizations are skilled in the use of technology. Interestingly, they also are lean compared to their peers. I am not saying that being thin makes an organization effective but that effective organizations operate with fewer people; their total cost is lower and their results are better.
Here’s what I’ve observed:
Personal mastery: Those that I view as ideal are experts in their profession. They understand the basics of their craft and see its relationship to the broader business goal. They have a record of achievement that is acknowledged by those around them. They are committed to their beliefs yet are open to change. They listen to those around them and are willing to try new things. While remaining open to change, they challenge people and ideas to encourage growth. They make things happen. They are confident and share the spotlight with their colleagues and peers. They are good communicators who are able to operate in great technical and operational detail but can still clearly explain things in simple terms to the uninitiated. More junior employees grow in their presence.
Architects of design and business process: Whether documented or not, these individuals operate with a mental design of how the optimal supply chain works and have put in place checks and balances through business process to make sure that their design is followed and functioning. Very little of what they do cannot be backed up by evidence or compelling logic that shows the cause and effect connection between actions and results. Since they are working from a design they are constantly assessing it through mental simulation, looking for ways to improve.
Open to new ideas: These ideal procurement professionals suffer very little from the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. They love new ideas regardless of the source and can quickly assess their merits. In fact, they believe (and I’ve witnessed) that some of the most impactful new ideas come from analogies with other industries or disciplines. They are willing to try new things that fit and will adopt them if they prove out.
Data: Show me the data is their mantra. These individuals want proof, not conjecture or opinion. They establish systems that collect information and they analyse it. They trust those around them (coworkers, suppliers, consultants) but verify everything important. Their checks and balances enable them to spot anomalies so that they can quickly detect when something is amiss. In their supply chain, if A=B and B=D, seeing A=D is a red flag demanding attention.
Results orientation: These individuals and their organizations get results. We see it in our benchmarking, their companies see it in their financial results and operational performance. Rarely do these individuals need to be told to do something within their domain because they are already on top of it. They are driven by results. They innately understand that the status quo is their enemy.
My characterization of an ideal purchasing professional includes a combination of talent, skill and other attributes, some of which may be linked to an individual’s DNA but most of which can be learned. Education and experience are important but a path to procurement greatness starts with awareness. Assess yourself against my short list. How do you stack up?