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Review of "Procurement Value Proposition" misses the point…ISO "Mr. Impossible"!

A recent review by Peter Smith of my new book, “The Procurement Value Proposition”, co-authored with Gerard Chick, provides some solid support for the message Gerard and I were seeking to develop.  Peter Smith is a writer for the organization Spend Matters, which has spawned a UK division as well.  In his review, Peter calls our work “an impressive book”, with its key theme being “the message of value as the central proposition and driver for procurement activity, rather than cost savings or transactional execution.”  Indeed, this is a theme that I have emphasized in a number of my own blogs over the past few years.

Smith also notes that perhaps we are emphasizing skills that are beyond the ability of most people to deliver – that we are indeed creating the need for someone who is “Mr or Mrs. Impossible”.

I beg to disagree.  It is indeed a challenge to find people with all the right skills.  In fact, I have given several presentations on the Future of Procurement where I use the idea of “FutureBuy Man / FutureBuy Woman”, as an action figure or super hero who has all of the capabilities required to meet all of their stakeholders needs.  This is a challenge – but then again, as I have written in the past, purchasing is the most difficult job in the organization.  If we are not up to the task, and can’t bring the best talent into a role that has responsibility for over 50% of an organizations costs (in most modern enterprises), then perhaps the leadership team doesn’t have their priorities in the right place!

So how can organizations find and develop this new generation of superheroes?  In my mind, they need to invest in a talent management strategy, beginning by partnering with targeted universities to help shape and develop the people that they need to fulfill these roles.  In my most recent blog, I described the type of person that organizations such as Apple are seeking to find:  tech savvy, smart, humble, able to work on unstructured projects with challenging requirements, analytically oriented, and most of all, willing to learn and take on new problems!

My co-author Gerard Chick concurs.  He notes in the most recent Spend Matters blog that “The modern procurement skillset is changing and today’s procurement professionals need to be increasingly commercially aware. They also need strong quantitative fluency and be competent in developing and deriving solutions from datasets. The people with these skill sets may not work in your industry; hire them anyway!”

In a recent discussion with Gerard, he and I also noted that it is up to educational institutions to address this shortfall.  We need to be able to emphasize and develop curiousity in students, not just pushing the same old tired Harvard Business School cases on them, hoping they will develop intuition for solving problems.  As Gerard notes in his most recent blog, “Curious people are self-starters; they read and get a kick out of thinking. Curious people are good at solving difficult problems for their employers because they’re really solving them for themselves. However, despite its rising value, we are not very good at cultivating curiosity.”

“The education ‘systems’ are increasingly focused on preparing people for specific jobs. To teach someone to be an engineer or a lawyer, however, is not the same as teaching them to be a curious or innovative engineer or lawyer. Schools focus on preparing students for the world of work, rather than on inspiring them, and we end up with uninspired students and mediocre professionals.”

The way that people learn to deal with new and difficult challenges is by diving into them headfirst.  That is exactly what initiatives like the SCRC do, is bridging the world of industrial and service supply chains with the academic and learning environment.  People need to have the ability to explore, use new tools, and tackle new problems in a safe environment.  That is how learning takes place.  We need to be up to the challenge of creating the “impossibly talented” procurement professionals of the future.  Our organizations need people who are ready to take on the many challenges that exist in the procurement environment we face today.