All posts by Elaine Porteous

How Generation X Managers Can Help Generation Y Succeed

Hundreds of column inches and pixels have been dedicated to the challenges of managing Generation Y, that group of upwardly mobile professionals that are currently in their twenties or early thirties.

vchal/Shutterstock.com

Also called millennials, they have had a lot of bad press, not all of it deserved. Generation X managers, born somewhere between 1965 and 1980, and now with their youth behind them, have inherited Generation Y, and are grappling with both age and cultural differences in their teams.

Generation Y employees need flexibility, interesting team-based work, and freedom to work with new technologies. The over 50s may work independently, prefer to be office-based and are often reluctant to embrace new ways of communicating.

The key is to be able to align the two without providing any special treatment to the newcomers, which can have its own pitfalls, legal and otherwise.

What Does Generation Y Want?

Human resource managers and recruiters tell us, in no particular order, that they want:

  • Interesting and challenging project-based, non-routine, exciting work
  • Career growth opportunities and active mentoring
  • Inspiring and enabling leadership including regular feedback.
  • Flexibility – telecommuting, working remotely and time for their other life
  • Access to key decision makers. They need to know about strategy and how their job fits into the organisation’s goals
  • Community-centric and supportive working environment
  • Access to data and information. They want to see the full picture.

This shopping list may look impossible at first glance but some organisations are making strides to adjust their HR policies and operational guidelines to accommodate at least some of the requirements.

Retention of key staff in procurement needs a new approach. Some US companies that are leading the way with Generation Y are Shell, Boeing, Caterpillar and Cisco. They must be doing something right as they have some star employees under 30 years old who love their jobs.

What Generation X Managers Need to Provide 

  1. Leadership and guidance.
  • Don’t try to manage Generation Y, just lead them
  • Provide guidance and direction while giving consideration to their input; they don’t take kindly to direct instructions
  • Facilitate mentoring between different levels of employees, not only top down
  • Focus on the results employees produce rather than on how they get it done
  • Set aside time to provide honest feedback – feedback is coaching
  1. Provide flexibility in their work life
  • Consider offering partial telecommuting and/or working offsite
  • Build in some scheduling flexibility to allow management of their personal time. It doesn’t matter as long as the work gets done.
  • Review conventional approaches to face-to-face meetings – use available technology
  1. Career development and training
  • Keep employees engaged by providing inter-active and technology-based educational and training opportunities as well as career growth advice.
  • Make small promotions regularly – don’t make them wait for a year.
  • Regular performance management systems won’t work – more regular and constructive one-on-ones are needed
  1. Team-based projects
  • Take advantage of Generation Y’s preference for teamwork
  • Fulfil their high expectations with special assignments.
  • Give them full responsibility for a sub-project or make them a “champion”
  • Consider putting them on a task force to solve an outstanding problem.
  1. Open communication channels
  • Let everybody to contribute to decision-making through sharing of information and collaboration.
  • Allow multiple communication methods depending on preferences.
  • Use available electronic tools to speed up project delivery

What Does Generation Y Need to Do to Succeed? 

Generation Y individuals need to show a willingness to learn more and feel free to ask for help. The internal culture must support this approach, if it doesn’t, find out what the problem is and fix it. My advice to young procurement professionals is:

  • Build your technical skills and get qualified to give you a head start on the competition
  • Take ownership of your job by taking pride in your work and assuming responsibility for your results and outcomes. Go beyond the job description to do whatever it takes to get a task done.
  • Grow your job by making it your own and taking on any challenges that are offered. The expression “it’s not my job” is not in your vocabulary.
  • Ask for technical guidance and advice when needed from subject matter experts. Most successful people are keen to share their knowledge.
  • Read widely on your chosen field and make it your mission to learn about best practice and apply it in your own environment.

3 Final Tips for Managing Generation Y

  • Understand and accommodate different learning styles.
  • Consider personal employee needs, such as flexibility with scheduling.
  • Be careful not to follow blanket age stereotypes.

How To Get Ahead: 5 More Key Skills For Generation Y

If you are part of Generation Y (born between the mid-1980s and 2000) and have ambitions to get ahead in procurement, you can expect great opportunities ahead. In Part 1 of this article we suggested five critical skills you can acquire through training and experience.

This time we look at other important abilities that are concerned more with communication, and your approach and attitude to your job. Success in procurement is not only about systems and processes; it’s about how we handle people.

Recently, a leading chief procurement officer said that up to 80 per cent of his time is spent influencing internal stakeholders. What does that mean for the ambitious young procurement professional? It means, besides having top class technical skills and experience, to get ahead you need to be a sales person as well.

1. Listen more, talk less

Sales training includes advice on how to be an active listener. In addition to giving your full attention to the speaker, it is important that you are also seen to be listening. You can convey interest to a speaker by maintaining eye contact, nodding or uttering regular words of encouragement to continue (such as “uh-huh”, “yes”, and “go on”), even if you do not fully agree. By giving this verbal and non-verbal ‘feedback”, the person speaking will communicate more easily and openly with you.

Inter-personal relationships with internal customers and stakeholders can always be improved. You can develop a reputation for being approachable and for solving your users’ routine problems. Ultimately, attitude speaks volumes.

2. The power of persuasion

It is important to position yourself as a credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable person if you want people to follow your way of thinking. Understanding human nature and the principles of persuasion and influence can help create better working relationships.

Persuasion means presenting your case so that you can sway opinions or motivate a decision, usually by appealing to people’s emotions and sense of logic. Dr Robert Cialdini, the author of the popular book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, talks about reciprocity. Your internal customers are more likely to be persuaded if you can give them something personalised or unexpected in return. Remember the old adage: under promise and over deliver.

3. Change management

Much of a procurement professional’s time is spent in managing change, sometimes without realising it, Conventional wisdom says 20 per cent of people will embrace change, 60 per cent will go along with it, but 20 per cent will outright reject it. Knowing how to handle the bottom 20 per cent can save you time, money and stress.

The implications of ignoring stakeholders that have a vested interest in a given solution cause extra work, aggravation and a poor result. Remind yourself that they are always thinking of this acronym: WIIFM – what’s in it for me?

Knowing how to approach people and make them feel important is a skill that will work for you forever. Stakeholder management is developing into a core competency. Dale Carnegie wrote a classic in 1937 called How to Win Friends and Influence People which is still completely relevant today. He teaches the principles of dealing with people so that they feel important and appreciated. He also emphasises fundamental techniques for handling people without making them feel manipulated.

4. Networking

Networking is about creating sustainable relationships over time, and the best ones involve considerable up-front investment. It helps to see your network as a living organism that needs food and nurturing to sustain it. You need to be proactive in helping it flourish. Technology can help in this, but ultimately it is a human process. Making time in the canteen, corridor or coffee break to grow your network will be time well spent.

Learn to help others with contacts, experience and knowledge before helping yourself. Many people fail at networking because it’s obvious they are only after what they can get out of it.

Networking is a two-way street. The potential rewards are high. We all know how our work grinds to a halt when the ‘network is down’, so make sure yours is up 100 per cent of the time.

5. Be a Team Player

Working in teams is a fact of life in procurement. It can be rewarding but at times, it can also be difficult and downright frustrating. Whether you are the leader or just an active participant, you can improve the experience for both yourself and other team members by expressing your thoughts clearly and directly in a positive, confident, and respectful manner.

Good team players, despite their differences, figure out ways to work together to solve problems.

Much of the communication within teams takes place informally. Keep other team members in the loop with information and expertise, this helps get the job done and prevents surprises.

Elaine Porteous is a B2B freelance writer with specific focus on careers in procurement and supply chain.

Read part 1: Five key skills for Generation Y

How To Get Ahead: 5 Key Skills For Generation Y

Five skills to give you a head-start  in your procurement career

If you are one of the Generation Y (born between the mid-1980s and 2000) and have ambitions to get ahead in procurement, you can expect great opportunities ahead due to the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

There’s a lot of criticism – much of it unfounded – about young professionals having a sense of entitlement, being inwardly focused and having a preference for job-hopping. Procurement people, however, mostly don’t behave like that.

Generation Y, also called “Millennials”, have the advantage of immersion in new technologies from an early age, and exposure to rapid change has made them fast learners. The challenge is to put these skills to work.

Success in procurement is not only about systems and processes; it’s about how we handle people. The so-called “soft skills” are more critical than ever.

Here are five of our suggested success criteria. They are skills you can acquire through training and experience. Some may require you to re-train or adjust your approach and attitude to your job.

  1. Data Analysis

Being able to slice-and-dice spend data will not be enough. Your manager will expect you to have well-developed financial analysis skills. You could be asked to do a should-cost-analysis, explain the implications of fixed and variable costing, and analyse financial ratios, so just be ready. There is also much talk of “Big Data”. The sheer volume and complexity of available data will require new skills. It has the potential to assist procurement professionals to make better, more informed decisions if properly understood and managed well. Advanced MS Excel skills may be required, so get up to speed by taking a course and practicing the techniques.

  1. Researching the market

A natural curiosity helps here. Supply market analysis and gathering intelligence may be hard for some, but it can be learnt. Start with an overview of the global market and industry indicators, and then consider how this applies to your category plan or sourcing event. Get to know the market leaders in depth. This includes evaluating the financial health of the main players, studying their results and their profitability. Keep updating your knowledge of the global and local market as it pertains to your job role.

  1. Negotiation skills

This is definitely a learned skill; everyone uses some type of negotiation in their everyday life. In procurement, negotiation is a process in which you and your supplier attempt to reach an agreement on a matter of mutual interest, despite conflicting objectives.

Traditionally the goal is to:

  • source the right product or service
  • at the right price,
  • at the right time,
  • in the right location, and
  • in the right quantity

Negotiation is all about compromising, on both sides, to meet somewhere that is acceptable to both parties. There are many learning resources available to ambitious young people on how to develop negotiation skills, but don’t discount practical experience. Ask to sit in or take notes in meetings to have the chance to observe seasoned professionals in a real life negotiation situation.

  1. Understand Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

TCO is a concept widely applied in procurement and strategic sourcing. It is often illustrated with an Iceberg metaphor, like in the image below. Make sure you understand the model and can communicate its importance to your internal customers and users. In its simplest form, it is “an estimate of all direct and indirect costs associated with an asset or acquisition over its entire life cycle”.

 

  1. Using social media

Be aware of your organisation’s policy on social media platforms, such as Twitter and LinkedIn. The Internet is a powerful tool when used in the right way, but fraught with pitfalls. A word of caution: manage your personal on-line behaviour as if your boss is always watching, no matter your privacy settings.

Many companies support the use of social media in procurement within certain limitations. Work out how to apply the technologies for best practice in your job, while staying within the parameters outlined in any company policies. You could look for vendors, gauge how active and knowledgeable they are, see what issues they discuss and what value-added information they offer. Through social media, you can get insights into a supplier’s capabilities and his approach to innovation.

Your confidence, ability to process and apply new ideas, and your understanding of new technologies can help revitalise an otherwise pedestrian procurement function.

Influencing skills can be learnt – start now

Leremy/Shutterstock.com

Last week a leading Chief Procurement Officer said that up to 80 per cent of a CPO’s time is spent influencing internal stakeholders.  What does that mean for the ambitious procurement professional?   It means that besides having top class technical skills and experience, to get ahead you need to be a sales person as well.

Listen more, talk less 

Sales training includes advice on how to be an active listener.   As well as giving your full attention to the speaker, it is important that as an active listener you are also seen to be listening.  You can convey your Interest to the speaker by maintaining eye contact or uttering regular words of encouragement to continue.

By giving this ‘feedback”, the person speaking will communicate more easily, openly and honestly with you.  Inter-personal relationships with internal customers are always open for improvement, even if you have been trained repeatedly in “soft skills”.

You can develop a reputation for being approachable and for solving your users’ routine problems. Without stating the obvious, attitude speaks volumes.

The powers of persuasion 

It is important to position yourself as a credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable person if you want users to follow your way of thinking.  Understanding human nature and the principles of persuading and influencing can help create better working relationships.

Persuasion is presenting your case so that you can sway opinions or motivate a decision, usually by appealing to their emotions.   Dr. Robert Cialdini, the author of the popular book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion talks about reciprocity. Your internal customers will feel better disposed to your overtures if you can give them something personalized or unexpected. They may even get to like you.  His six principles are beautifully explained in this info graphic drawn by Everreach.

Change management

Much of a CPO’s time is spent in managing change, traditionally not a mainstream procurement function.  Conventional wisdom says 20 per cent will embrace change, 60 per cent will go along with it, but 20 per cent will outright reject it.

Knowing how to handle the bottom 20 per cent can save you time, money and stress.  The implications of ignoring stakeholders that have a vested interest in a given solution cause extra work, aggravation and a poor result.  Remind yourself that they are always thinking of this acronym:  WIIFM  –  what’s in it for me?

Dale Carnegie wrote a classic in 1937 called How to Win Friends and Influence People which is still completely relevant today. He teaches the principles of dealing with people so that they feel important and appreciated. He also emphasises fundamental techniques for handling people without making them feel manipulated.

Knowing how to approach people and make them feel important is a skill that will work for you forever. Stakeholder management is developing into a core competency.

Should you ever rehire an ex-employee?

When you rehire an ex-employee, especially one that was a star, it looks like you are getting a great deal. What you see is what you get. They understand your business and its own unique culture, are immediately productive and bring industry knowledge and new ideas.

The best-case scenario is when an employee wants to return because he has had time to learn new skills and has gained in-depth work experience somewhere else that he can share with you.

The good news about rehiring top performers

Rehiring former employees often costs much less than hiring from scratch, especially since you can cut out the extremely costly recruiting and interview process. When budgets are tight, you can explore this avenue using social media, alumni groups and word-of-mouth to find out who is actively looking.

The potential rehires, also known as boomerangs, are easier to assimilate into the organization and you will save you orientation time. The thinking is that since they know exactly what they’ll be signing up for, they will be likely to stay longer the second time and therefore be less risky, more productive and better for your retention statistics.

There’s also some thought that a rehired person can provide you with a fresh perspective, innovative ideas and some industry intelligence.

So what can go wrong? Quite a lot

Not all former employees are worthy of rehiring. Let’s hope they left for the right reasons and of their own accord. Obviously, you will exclude anyone who was fired, incompetent or unproductive or suddenly has accumulated a criminal record.

Here are a few of the main disadvantages of rehiring former employees:

  •  Current managers and co-workers may feel threatened if the employee returns with a new set of skills, and especially irritated if they come back onboard with a higher remuneration package, which is quite likely. They may feel an employee already had their chance.
  •  The reason that they left in the first place may still be a problem: the boss from hell, lack of benefits, poor promotion prospects and/or lack of opportunities to learn.
  •  There may be unintended consequences if the rehire is appointed at a higher level than his previous role. It may trigger other departures if promotional prospects are blocked, i.e. waiting to fill “dead man’s shoes.”
  •  Returning employees may just not fit in. The climate and culture of the company may no longer be the same. In this case, their new presence may be disruptive and cause tension.

Develop a rehiring policy

A definite success factor is having a firm policy that is applied fairly to all potential “Comeback Kids.” Who is eligible to be rehired should be agreed upon internally and be legally defensible.  Two important elements to include are how long after leaving an employee can return, and  what’s a reasonable maximum time to be away.

In some industries, some employers also refuse to rehire an employee who left to go to a competitor. Other organizations may welcome the broader experience and give preference

to ambitious ex-employees who went off to try their hand at consulting or starting their own business.

Booz Allen Hamilton, a leading U.S. consultancy, is such a staunch believer in rehiring that it sponsors a Comeback Kids program, through which it actively reaches out to past employees and those from the military.

A few more things to consider when rehiring

  • Make sure the conditions that caused that person to leave are not still barriers. Exit interviews are notoriously unreliable. so it’s best to work out why the employee really left. If he undervalued the company before, has anything changed?
  • Is this person really the best candidate for the job? It should not be a quick fix — don’t take the lazy recruiter’s solution.
  • Are you overlooking quality internal candidates? Someone else internally might be just as qualified to do the job. Think about the message you’re sending and the possible repercussions of rehiring instead.

Don’t forget to brief the new employee on how things have changed since he left and any new projects that have come up since.  A “welcome back” interview shows that your company is open to hiring the best people, whatever their job history.

Would you rehire a great former employee? Let us know by commenting on the story below.

Job survival skills : get a grip on the numbers

There is fierce competition for the most interesting and challenging roles in procurement. Role content is constantly changing; procurement specialists and sourcing managers need to be more analytical and sharpen their finance skills. 

Only being able to slice-and-dice spend data will not be enough.  Managers will expect you to be able to do a should-cost-analysis, explain the implications of fixed- and variable costing and analyse financial ratios.

Fluctuations in commodity prices and upward pressure on day-to-day costs mean that you have to be on top of market and commodity price movements, technology and other innovations affecting the industry or field you work in.

Finance within Procurement 

Procurement management jobs are emerging that are really finance jobs in disguise.  Here’s an highly-paid opening posted by a global leader in industrial chemicals:

“We currently have an exciting opportunity for a Procurement Finance Lead. This individual will partner with the Global Procurement Lead to develop sourcing strategies, improve quality of supplies and services, and deliver economic efficiency.

Goldman Sachs recently advertised a senior procurement role where the main tasks were to keep up-to-date with emerging business, economic, and market trends. The successful applicant must have strong research skills,  pay attention to detail, take initiative to broaden his/her knowledge and demonstrate appropriate financial/analytical skills.

Nice work if you can get it! Employers like these look for evidence that a candidate can focus on profitability and cash flow and not just manage down current costs.

Supply Market Analysis

There is so much data available on-line with a few clicks.  However, this is not usable information.

Supply market analysis is hard, but rewarding work. An effective supply market analysis for a product or service starts with an overview of the global market and industry trends. Applying it to a category plan or a sourcing event, the researcher has firstly to validate the data and

  • understand historical prices and the price drivers
  • study the supply and demand fluctuations and market forces
  • follow the price indices such as Producer Price Index  (PPI)

all of which require analytical and research skills.  Secondly, get to know the market leaders in depth. This includes evaluating the financial health of the main players including studying their results and their profitability.   The final steps are to do a comparative analysis of the major players and prepare an industry analysis report on which you will base your sourcing decisions.

5 things to do to get ahead of the pack

1.  Brush up on your MS Excel skills now.  This involves getting to, at least, Intermediate level which means being able to analyse and sort complex data, create advanced formulas, work with look-ups, pivot tables and graphics.

2.  Become an expert user on your Company’s ERP and other internal systems.

3.  Be alert to new technologies that are being introduced to your organization including those supporting mobile media and social/business platforms. Work out how they could be applied in the procurement environment.

4Go back to school!   There are many opportunities for distance learning even if you have a day job.

5. Be more organized with your research process. Document the results and update them regularly.  It is possible to learn how to do research in a structured way. It is not all about Googling. 

What else could you do to be ready for the higher paid roles?  

Your job role might be obsolete by 2020 – will you be sustainable?

Many of the job roles we know today will be obsolete in 2020. 

If you are a meter reader, a telemarketer or a computer operator, your days are surely numbered.  Fortunately, the need for procurement management skills will not decline, but the requirements will definitely change.  Employers will be looking for those with new skills such as understanding the triple bottom line.  Will you be ready?

Understanding the sustainability agenda

Job descriptions for chief procurement officers (CPOs) and senior managers in 2020 will include responsibility for sustainability strategies.  These leaders will need to define the value that sustainable procurement brings to a business as well as being able to implement the best tools and leading practices.

What is Sustainable Procurement?

The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) says that it isn’t simply about being “green”, it’s about:

  • Socially and ethically responsible purchasing
  • Minimising environmental impact through the supply chain
  • Delivering economically sound solutions

Sustainable Procurement will aim to achieve a balance between the three pillars: people, planet and profit.   Your challenge will be to address them all without affecting costs and damaging supplier relationships.

What role should procurement play?

We have to:

  • reduce costs through saving water and energy,
  • promote the re-use of products and recycle,
  •  minimise packaging and transportation

And most of all, we must question why we need the product or service at all.  We need to be aware of be aware of environmental factors like emissions to air, land and water, climate change, biodiversity, natural resource use and water scarcity.

Where will the jobs be?

Many large international organizations such as Unilever, MacDonalds, Sodexo, Mattel and Alstom already have policies in place.   L’Oréal is a leader in this field.  These types of companies may become employers of choice for those people keen to follow a career in this new area.

Global not-for-profit organizations such as the United Nations and Oxfam are leaders in the public sector where it is taking hold faster than in the private sector.

Jobs that exclusively focus on sustainable procurement are rare, for the moment, but they are coming.  Within a few years, more organizations will have a dedicate person designing and managing their sustainability agenda.  A recent job advertisement for a dedicated sustainability procurement manager promised the successful applicant both an influence on strategy and a remuneration package in excess of £50 000, plus benefits.

In the retail environment and fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG) sector, consumers’ preference for healthy and fair-trade products and services will force companies to rethink their agendas.     Reputational risk and brand damage are real threats to global businesses.

What skills will you need?

Stakeholder management skills and the ability to develop good relationships at all levels, both internally and externally will be vital.  Other requirements will be those common to any senior procurement job, e.g.  influencing and persuasion skills and problem solving.

People with solid experience in managing categories such as facilities management and essential services will be in demand.  Right now, most of us are too busy doing our day jobs to worry about some of these critical issues.   Read widely, take some time to absorb the discussions and keep up-to-date with developments.

Could you become a specialist in sustainable procurement?