If you want to hold on to your procurement career in the long term, you ought to be worrying about mastering your soft skills!
We got wind of the fact that IBM, arguably the world’s most robotically advanced procurement team, is focussing on its employees’ soft skills.
As Justin Mcbryan, Learning & Development, Strategy, Communications Manager- IBM, explained, why would IBM need a high volume of data scientists in their midst when they have Watson!?
Technological advancements will soon permit the automation of our processes; handling the sourcing and the market intelligence. In this environment, it’s the softer skills procurement professionals must master to ensure a long-term career. That’s the real skills gap procurement should be worried about!
In this blog we outline the specific skills procurement pros should be mastering to prepare for the post-cognitive age, with the help of Justin and John Viner Smith, Principal-Mercer.
1. Design Thinking
There are some “incredible and transformative technologies that offer solutions to problems that were unimaginable just a few years ago ,but they’re just half of the puzzle.” begins John.
“Subject matter experts will have a role to play in framing [these problems] in the most efficient way.” It’s important that the solutions aren’t simply “sticking plasters but fundamental root cause fixes”.
This is a role for procurement’s best and brightest, and the skill needed to fulfil this role is Design Thinking; “the process of being at the forefront of bringing new technologies to bear on business problems.”
2. Thinking at the speed of digital!
Joh asserted that procurement must recognise that “thinking of digital solutions requires some understanding of new processes and ways of thinking.”
“Procurement people should be learning about methodologies like Google’s Design Sprint or Eric Ries’ concept of Intrapreneurship as defined in the Lean Startup that are used in other types of digital business.
“Too often procurement thinking is slow, bound in process and incredibly risk averse. Technology problem solving is experimental, iterative and views failures as key to learning. The idea of developing hypotheses, testing them, failing fast and iterating or pivoting in the course of a week, as per Google’s Sprint methods, would be alien to many Procurement people.”
Procurement has worked at a certain pace, thus far. And it’s going to have to get faster!
3. Active questioning and listening
This wouldn’t be a piece about soft skills without a mention of communication! We already know how important this skill is for procurement people but it’s going to be all the more valuable in a post-cognivite age.
Justin reminded us that communication is vital for everything “from presentation skills to phone etiquette and how to ask probing questions to your suppliers.”
In a post cognitive world you’re “going to become more of an owner and less of a process facilitator” asserts Justin, which is where active listening comes in.
When it comes to managing negotiations with suppliers, clients and colleagues, “We all have scripts e.g. How many widgets do you need, when do you need them by etc.”
“Every now and then, you’ll have been in a situation where a client has given a little bit more than you asked for. This is where the active [and critical] listening comes in.” How do you use that information to do the best job possible?
“We rely on the threat of competitive pressure to do our negotiating for us” says John.
“We source the spec and don’t always listen to challenges from Suppliers. When we’re engaging them to help solve complex problems, we will need to be more commercially empowered and highly skilled negotiators; able to get the best from our suppliers by offering the best of ourselves while optimising value.”
“The future role of procurement can be solved in one phrase: problem solving” says John.
But procurement’s problem solving needs to take on a more innovative and imaginative approach.
“Not every situation is going to call for an RFX” explains Justin. “That speaks directly to the change we’re looking for [at IBM].” Too often “we see a need and our reaction from a process point is let’s go and do the RFX.” Instead professionals “should take a deep breath and start understanding the client and exactly what they need,” and approach the problem in alternate ways.
John concedes, arguing that “running tender might be the solution (increasingly rarely!) but collaborative innovation with the suppliers we have is important.”
Procurement peoples’ jobs will largely focus on bringing innovation to the supply chain in the first place and really helping the business to understand their demand.
In short, Procurement needs to have a relationship with the organisation that is much more strategic and puts the function in a partnering and consultative role. As Justin sums up, ‘ [at IBM] We’re still looking for the procurement experts, we’re still looking for people who can do the job. But we’re adding to the soft skills portfolio.”
This blog was first published in October 2017.