How to be recognised as a procurement influencer

1 August 2020

The CIPS Procurement Power List celebrates those demonstrating leadership in the profession, and the efforts involved in becoming a key influencer in procurement. But with challenges aplenty and competition rife, how do you stand out, what are the key skills recruiters look for when filling principal roles, and in particular, what should procurement leaders be doing to stand out from the crowd?

Understand the procurement landscape

More than ever, in the wake of a pandemic and a fundamental rethinking of supply chains, the key to reaching the top of the procurement profession is having an intricate grasp of the broader business environment, where value is generated inside your business and what sort of external factors might influence your capital flows in the future.  

“The profession has become even more critical than before,” says Jorge Gouveia de Oliveira, managing director at Russell Reynolds Associates and a member of the PPL selection panel. “This may be a key moment for procurement to enhance its visibility and conquer its place at the top table of decision-making. The key component of supply chains currently being rethought is where to source components and intermediary products, and should we relocate back from China?” he says.

“The other dimension is social responsibility and the environment. That is expected to accelerate as a trend for companies to focus on even more than before. Procurement professionals play an absolutely key role in identifying sources of energy, raw materials or intermediary products that offer the best possible environmental footprint. These two dimensions of the current changes directly offer procurement professionals an opportunity to make an impact.”

Andreas Sjostrom, principal at Heidrick & Struggles, adds that technology and data science are procurement tools that will become increasingly important. 

“It is around software-based processes and systems, and using data science to increase cash flow and save costs. Data science will also be used to evaluate suppliers as a risk mitigation tool, and help identify and support critical suppliers that might be at risk (in a downturn). Data analytics is an early warning system, so that side of things is going to be extremely important,” he says. 

However, the use of technology is not only reactionary. Sjostrom argues that implementing supply chain planning underpinned by data science, as well as a grasp on last-mile logistics, will be critical for business health in the months and years to come. 

As such, leaders will be required to go beyond simply implementing these tools, and instead fully embrace how they can be used for maximum effectiveness and smarter, more agile procurement functions.   

 “How do you get your finished goods to your customers? Sometimes this is not within the procurement person's remit. It might be under the COO's remit but it's important that a procurement person has a broad perspective and a learning mindset to be successful,” Sjostrom says. 

 Diversify your experience

As well as understanding the acceleration of key trends, headhunters are seeking candidates who can demonstrate a wide range of skills and a solid track-record of delivery. That means having an holistic view of operations, which some recruiters believe is often gained from working across different sectors or disciplines. 

The result is a focus not limited to cost reduction, but one that encompasses how procurement leaders impact larger values and strategies, such as corporate social responsibility. Diverse roles across the public and private sectors, and perhaps even industry and consultancy, provide a breadth of experience that often leads people to do particularly well. It demonstrates an individual is flexible and adjusted, and willing to learn along the way.

Ideally, this breadth of experience lends itself to an adaptable working style in order to reach and inspire different people in different ways. For instance, a leader may have a strong mission, but they need to inspire their teams to fulfil it. As James Day, senior client partner at Korn Ferry, says: “In the roles we've been filling recently, one of the key things clients have said is they've got to be able to be a good storyteller. 

“This is not someone who spins a good yarn, but someone who can create the vision to take people on a journey. And that is not just within their own team, but that's their peers, or the people that they're reporting into. You need to have somebody that's going to be visionary and engaging.”

Day also believes that, in his experience, the most successful people tend to have a strong commercial dimension, and the ability to look outside of their function to provide solutions. “They're more business savvy. In terms of leadership, they are people that will develop and create a vision, and people will follow that and understand their role in that. It's not just creating the procurement vision, but creating the commercial business strategy,” he says. 

Part of this inspirational leadership comes from an external focus, as the leaders who stand out the most are often those who use their networks effectively in a multitude of ways. 

In current times, this could be handled in a multitude of ways, for instance thought leadership, content creation, public speaking or use of social media platforms. However, an aptitude for weilding all of these channels in order to develop a strong personal brand is likely to reap the greatest rewards, and clearly indicates the ability to network effectively. 

When in comes to inspiring teams to carry out a vision, being seen as engaging and impactful are increasing important. 

While headhunters and recruiters still value the need for cost discipline and strong relationships, Lucy Harding, global head of practice, procurement and supply chain at Odgers Berndtson adds that fast-changing times call for additional skills. These extra skills would include experience working across multiple markets, leading teams remotely, and the ability to work with data and analytics. 

Harding, one of the selection panel, also highlights the growing need for leaders to demonstrate softer skills such as empathy, especially during periods of remote working and high stress. “They need to be perceptive with their teams in terms of mental health and wellbeing, with more frequent and different ways of communicating. All of these things are coming to the fore. Good leaders before are still good leaders now, they're just accelerating all the things that they were doing previously,” she says. 

Avoid the pitfalls

The biggest mistake procurement leaders can fall into is to make decisions without considering both business strategy and customer need, says Bernhard Raschke, senior client partner at Korn Ferry.

Raschke, also on the panel, says: “If you're a leader who is very inwardly focused and really just talks about procurement terms, the rest of the business will probably not be that interested because they may see procurement as a policing function, or as a pure service function rather than a competitive edge.” He recommends procurement leaders articulate their investment needs in the context of the wider strategy. “It's no coincidence that a number of the CPOs that are now being put forward have at some point in life held commercial roles. That's a real differentiator,” he says. 

And Sjostrom agrees, reinforcing that CPOs should avoid putting themselves before the success of the team by failing to be inclusive. “A classic pitfall as a leader is not adapting to manage through other managers. You have to learn to lead through other leaders,” he says.

Be brilliant

From the variety of skills and competing demands required it can seem like successful procurement leaders need to be almost superhuman. 

But Gouveia de Oliveira says distinctly human traits like flexibility and resilience are still at the fore, supplemented by an understanding of digital transformation and an awareness of risk management. They also need highly proactive approaches in terms of leading digitally rather than face-to-face, he says. “The successful CPO of the future will have to be an authentic and empathic individual, with a strong understanding of risk and capability, an awareness of digital and the resilience, flexibility and knowledge of transformation.”

Harding puts it simply: “They just need to be doing their job. They need to be relevant to their businesses, relevant in their boardroom. Build high-talent, highly capable teams that are talked about by their businesses as being a great function and a real enabler of the future business strategy. 

“If you're focused on doing your job brilliantly, leading your team brilliantly, gaining the respect of your peer group and your senior internal stakeholders, the rest will take care of itself.”

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