Jim Carter told the CIPS Annual Conference being artistic was part of a CPO's role © Leo Wilkinson
Jim Carter told the CIPS Annual Conference being artistic was part of a CPO's role © Leo Wilkinson

CPOs must break from 'pencil-pushing' stereotype

19 October 2017

New psychological traits found among CPOs show the function has moved away from stereotypes but more effort is required to change public perception. 

Last month SM and HR consultants Great People Inside (GPI) surveyed 45 CPOs from large, global organisations through GPI’s Full Spectrum—an assessment platform measuring their cognitive and behavioural traits, as well as their occupational interests. 

The results showed that on top of showing high scores in working with numbers and reasoning, successful CPOs were likely to be “brilliant at understanding and expressing ideas, as extroverted as a salesperson, better with words than a marketer and with an artistic bent”. It also revealed that most of the CPOs had an interest in enterprise.

Speaking at the CIPS Annual Conference 2017, Jim Carter, transformational director, Cabinet Office, said although he found the results surprising at first, the principles rang true.

“If I went to my chief financial officer and said what we are after are social, artistic and enterprising people [to recruit], then he’d think I was crazy, but if you get underneath the words, actually this makes a lot of sense,” he said.

“Social is working well with people, building good and lasting relationships, and artistic is often about being good at expressing ideas and finding creative solutions to problems. Sometimes it gets lost in the semantics but I think the fundamental principles of what [the results are] saying are really true and valid.” 

Martin Goodwill, CEO of GPI, said while the results were positive, they were only surprising because the profession had not made a conscious effort to convey a true image to others. 

“So there is a higher professionalism, emotional intelligence and business orientation amongst the people we measured than a lot of people might have expected, but that’s because of personal and professional PR,” he said.

“We are terrible in this country in particular at telling people what we do well because we expect people are going to notice and tell us about it but the problem is that generally they don’t and we end up disappointed. 

“There is absolutely no value of doing all this good work and really driving procurement forward if you don’t tell anyone.”

Goodwill suggested procurement professionals break down “pencil-pushing” and “number-crunching” stereotypes by speaking and acting like the new image to other people.

“Talk inside your organisation because I can guarantee you this stereotype doesn’t exist in a vacuum—it exists in your organisation too,” he said.

“More importantly, behave like the future not the past because if you want them to continue that stereotype, one word, one action can take them all the way back and undo a lot of good work you’ve done up to that point.”

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