Revamp talent management to unlock procurement's potential

Mickey North Rizza
28 July 2015

Before Tim Cook became the CEO of Apple, he was responsible for procurement.

As a procurement leader Cook unlocked extraordinary business value that extended far beyond the normal scope of procurement operations. In fact it was Cook’s supply chain expertise that enabled Steve Job’s product strategy and vision to come to fruition.

But for over a decade, finding and retaining the right talent has been a crippling issue for procurement at large – baby boomers are retiring, the skills needed for success are changing, and the rising talent mix is insufficient for tackling today’s strategic objectives.

With the global supply chain getting more complex by the day, managers require everything from the traditional hard skills – such as category expertise, negotiation and contract management skills – to the new-age procurement skills – data analytics, knowledge of international trade trends and regulations, IT experience, global collaboration, legal and financial know-how. Today’s environment also requires typical soft skills, like understanding cross cultural issues, strong leadership abilities, and skilled relationship management.  

As an industry we’ve been talking about the impact of this shift for years and by now have a solid understanding of what skills are needed to fill the gap in talent. But the discussion needs to extend further: how can procurement attract, allocate and keep the right talent to unlock the full potential of the profession's future?

Bridge the gap in middle management
Although recruiting at the college/university level is vital for harvesting fresh and rising talent, the bigger gap is actually in middle management. According to Supply Chain Insights, 54 per cent of procurement professionals consider attracting middle level supply chain managers their greatest challenge. While traditional training programs focus on onboarding entry-level employees, managers are in desperate need of training programmes that sharpen their strategy and sales knowledge and help them better align their efforts with the overall objectives of the organisation. Providing managers with more cross-functional training opportunities and coaching and mentoring across the executive team will not only lead to retaining these key members of the organisation by investing in their long-term career, but will also keep them abreast of the knowledge and skills that are critical for driving the business forward.

Optimise the workforce with non-traditional talent
The demands and expectations placed on procurement continue to grow disproportionately to the resources most organisations have on hand. Making matters more complex are the realities of today’s workforce, which generally speaking include shorter job tenures, less loyalty to a single company and a higher aptitude for change. In such an environment, how can CPOs effectively manage resources to ensure they have the right talent available at the right time? One strategy that’s becoming more common is the use of non-traditional talent, like contractors, third-party providers, temporary labour and contingent workers. While the use of non-traditional talent may be unfamiliar (and maybe uncomfortable) for some procurement departments, it’s critical CPOs begin opening up to the idea given today’s evolving employment landscape.

Beat turnover by improving quality of life
With supply chain talent in such high demand, candidates have the upper hand – they have their pick of where to work. To win new hires, having a strong and desirable company culture is key, including competitive compensation packages, a company commitment to professional development, and solid training programs. Candidates are drawn to an organisation if they see long-term success and a promising future ahead of them. Improving employee quality of life will contribute to lower employee turnover and will keep employees engaged, ultimately increasing productivity and the organisation’s bottom line.

Foster career growth through role expansion
According to procurement research firm Ardent Partners, procurement is “ideally suited to take on new roles and responsibilities, and is increasingly being asked to do so". Some of the new responsibilities Ardent Partners identifies include travel management, new product development, cash management and accounts payable.

While role expansion certainly increases the workload and pressure placed on procurement, it can also provide an opportunity to attract talent. The millennial workforce is one that wants to move up and advance in their careers as quickly as possible. Selling candidates on an experience that enables learning, training and collaboration across the organisation, and ensures they won’t be put into a back-room silo, could be the difference between whether you win or lose a highly-attractive applicant.

Tim Cook’s career path highlights procurement’s potential of moving from a back-end function to a strategic linchpin of the organisation. But to unlock this kind of impact, procurement teams need to revamp their talent management strategies and invest in training that will not only bridge the impending skills gap but beat the high turnover that’s crippling the profession.

☛ Mickey North Rizza is vice president of strategic services at BravoSolution

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