Category Archives: Career Management

This Little Procurement Pro Went To Market…

How do you know when you should  go to market? ThomasNet discuss strategies for three common sourcing scenarios. 

Strategic sourcing is all about generating a return on investment for every sourcing initiative. However, different sourcing scenarios require different levels of investment – in terms of time, effort and resources. Therefore, it’s important to approach each situation differently as well in order to produce the best results.

Here are three common sourcing scenarios, along with proven advice you can use to ensure an optimal return.

Scenario 1: Reducing Costs With A Strategic Partner

Your current supplier is deeply involved in the design, engineering, and process improvement of your product. You rely on them for the success of your day-to-day operations, and they have invested heavily in technology to ensure the success of your product. However, you are exploring ways to reduce costs.

When your incumbent supplier already acts as a strategic partner, the potential return on investment from pursuing alternate suppliers is significantly reduced. In fact, pursuing alternative suppliers can actually yield greater risk than reward. That’s because the supplier has provided you with capital investments that they have engineered and maintained, and the transition costs are likely to exceed the cost savings opportunities available with an alternate vendor. In addition, your current supplier has a comprehensive understanding of your product design, so they are less threatened by outside competitors who are likely working with imperfect information, and therefore less likely to reduce their pricing.

The Strategy

Rather than pursue alternative suppliers, you should engage the incumbent supplier in direct negotiations. Leverage the value your business brings to their operations; be upfront with your desire improve pricing; and be transparent about your procurement goals. Should negotiations prove unsuccessful, that may be a flag that your supplier is too complacent in the relationship, and alternate options can be explored at that time.

Scenario 2: The Unsolicited Proposal

Before reviewing a purchasing category, you reach out to suppliers within that category to notify them about your initiative. One supplier responds with an unsolicited proposal that reduces costs or otherwise increases value.

As a Supply Chain Project Analyst at Source One, this is a situation I encounter often. After a supplier realizes that their spend is being reviewed or a sourcing initiative is being considered, they attempt to get ahead of the process by offering up a proposal. The proposal typically includes a cost reduction in exchange for a longer contract or additional business.

The Strategy

The supplier is aware that their costs are not market competitive and are adjusting accordingly. However, while it may be tempting to award your existing supplier and reap the savings, it’s better to conduct a full sourcing initiative through an RFP, eAuction, or even an RFQ. At worst, you will have alternative bids to use as leverage with your incumbent supplier. At best, you can save a substantial amount of money. In fact, in my experience, the savings you can realize from alternate suppliers is often greater than the cost reduction proposed by the incumbent.

Scenario 3: Tactical Versus Centralised

Your business has been purchasing tactically in a particular category. The overall market basket is high mix, low volume, with very few recurring purchases to leverage for specialized pricing.

This is a common occurrence in indirect categories such as industrial supplies, industrial hardware, safety supplies, and office supplies. Employee preferences and unique company needs can influence purchasing, and standardization of products is nearly nonexistent.

The Strategy

 In this scenario, the continuation of tactical purchasing may seem like the most appealing option, as prompting a centralized supplier to bid on such an immense market basket would likely result in poor pricing and participation. However, it’s almost always prudent to conduct an RFP. Invite suppliers that can cover all required geographies and product categories. Focus on leveraging the overall value of the market basket to establish discount structures, rather than having suppliers exhaust resources pricing out an extensive product list.

To gauge the potential savings available, examine a random sampling of products and ask suppliers to apply the proposed discounts to those items to compare to your baseline price. If you do eventually move to a centralized account, lean on the supplier to drive product standardization and compliance. This will give you the opportunity to further refine pricing and terms down the line.

Other Strategies


Granted, not all sourcing events will fall into one of these three scenarios. However, there are some principles that can be applied universally:

  • Closely monitor the relationships with current suppliers
  • Don’t be afraid to shake up the status quo if a competitive event can yield cost savings or product improvements
  • Maintain clear and consistent communication between procurement and other departments
  • Above all, remember that the strategic sourcing process does not begin with the identification of an initiative, it thrives on the constant analysis of the current state of purchasing

Jennifer Engel is a Supply Chain Project Analyst at Source One Management Services, responsible for executing strategic sourcing and process improvement initiatives for Fortune 1000 clients.

This article was orginally published on the ThomasNet blog. 

Order Up! 5 Supply Management Capabilities You Can’t Leave Off The Menu

When it comes to supply management, are you managing your customer orders effectively? Dave Food discusses Order Management and five more capabilities you just can’t go without.

Last week, Dave Food talked us through five of the key supply chain capabilities that everyone needs. This week, he’s come up with five more!

From order management to shop floor execution and supply chain visibility, these are the things procurement and supply chain professionals should be on top of.

1. Order Management (OM)

Knowledge and skill necessary to manage the receipt and scheduling of customer orders. An integrated OM system may encompass these modules:

1) Product information (descriptions, attributes, locations, quantities)

2) Inventory available to promise (ATP) and sourcing

3) Vendors, purchasing, and receiving

4) Marketing (catalogues, promotions, pricing)

5) Customers and prospects

6) Order entry and customer service (including returns and refunds)

7) Financial processing (credit cards, billing, payment on account)

8) Order processing (selection, printing, picking, packing, shipping)

2. Shop Floor Execution

This is the area in a manufacturing facility where assembly or production is carried out, either by an automated system or by workers or a combination of both. The shop floor capability may include equipment, inventory and storage areas. You can create customer orders and shop orders for each product manually or import shop orders from an ERP system. When this shop order authorisation is created or received, it contains a specified quantity of the product to be built on the Shop Floor.

Once you define your production work floor processes and rules, the platform to optimise operations can be implemented. Real-time status updates can be provided to your organisation and your customers as they need them. A SF provides an on-demand view of bill of materials, routing details, work instructions, material availability, part and product images and programs, to develop optimal SF processes. These should match your business needs, increase view production work orders at any stage of manufacturing, and rework instructions are sent directly to the factory floor to coordinate processes efficiently and improve customer service.

3. Supply Chain Continuity Planning

This is the process that seeks to optimise Supply Chain strategy, processes, human resources, technology and knowledge. Supply Chain Continuity Planning controls, monitors and evaluates Supply Chain risk, which serves to safeguard against new uncertainties that may emerge affecting profitability. The continuity of the company is vital for the long-term success of the business, in today’s world; all aspects of the functioning of an organisation are vulnerable to disruptions and risks. Supply Chain Continuity Planning controls, monitors and evaluates Supply Chain risk.

4. Supply Chain Visibility

Supply chain visibility (SCV) is defined as the ability of parts, components, or products in transit to be tracked from the manufacturer to their final destination. SCV enables you to perform “what-if” scenarios. Visualising these different scenarios can help you predict issues and problems that may arise, and then plan for them and their solutions.

Visibility allows people in the supply chain to see problems before they occur and take necessary steps to avoid the expense in real time. Visibility also provides insight to make more intelligent decisions early in the order cycle (just in time inventory) and perform more intelligent audits in the distribution centres on inbound shipments. Finally, visibility can also be a major driver increasing throughput in the existing distribution network and thus delaying the need for costly new DCs

5. Supply Chain Network

The collection of physical locations, transportation vehicles and supporting systems through which the products and services firm markets are managed and ultimately delivered; it can be manufacturing plants, storage warehouses, carrier, docks, major distribution centres, ports, intermodal terminals whether owned by a company, suppliers, a transport carrier, a third-party logistics provider, a retail store or an end customer.

Emerging technologies and standards such as the RFID and the GS1 are now making it possible to automate these SCNw in a real time manner making them more efficient. A SCN can be strategically designed in such a way as to reduce the cost of the supply chain. Designing a SCN involves creating a network that incorporates all the facilities, means of production, products, and transportation assets owned by the organisation or those not owned by the organisation but which immediately support the supply chain operations and product flow.

There is no definitive way to design a SCN as the network footprint, the capability and capacity, and product flow—all intertwine and are interdependent. Following on from this, there is also no single optimal SCNw design, in designing the network there is an apparent trade-off between responsiveness, risk tolerance and efficiency.

Dave Food is a supply chain innovator, a passionate educator, a futurist, a trend-watcher, an insightful consultant and a marketing strategist. This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Raising Procurement’s Image – One Person At A Time

Who’s willing to stand up to bear the flag of procurement pride and improve our image? Elaine Porteous wants reinforcements to help raise the function’s status up to where it belongs.

We’re still hearing comments like “we only involve procurement because it’s the policy” and “procurement slows down the sourcing process”.

There are some lonely but passionate practitioners out there waving the flag and highlighting pockets of excellence, but we need reinforcements.

The image problem

Procurement has traditionally been poor at championing its successes and promoting a positive image of its contribution. Perception is reality. There’s no shortage of published articles and news about fraud, corruption and litigation involving purchasing people and their organisations. So where is the good news? Maybe we could all benefit from a lesson in public relations; in reality, procurement is not so different from sales.

Five ways you can raise the status of procurement yourself

  1. Develop better listening skills

The only way to understand what internal stakeholders, suppliers and customers currently expect from procurement is to listen well. Too often, procurement teams complete projects in a poorly-informed vacuum, failing to get solid input from key stakeholders. By asking for stakeholder feedback on sourcing plans we can reach agreement on success factors and manage their expectations. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Hear what your customers need and work with them to deliver it.

  1. Focus on encouraging innovation

We engage with suppliers every day, so what are we doing to get them to offer ideas that add value rather than asking them to just cut costs? Many suppliers complain about their improvement ideas getting lost somewhere in your organisation, let’s make sure that it is not procurement that is the black hole.

  1. Take the lead on sustainability initiatives

For most companies, taking a ‘green decision’ often means increased costs. It could also mean a compromise in quality or a slower speed to market, but it doesn’t have to be so. Eliminating waste, finding alternative energy solutions, managing the cost of utilities and reducing packaging are all sustainability goals. It will immediately enhance your position if you can apply best practice in sourcing to your company’s sustainability strategy. If there is no strategy yet, there’s your opportunity to contribute.

  1. Talk in the language of the listener

We are guilty of talking in our own shorthand using expressions like strat sourcing, catman, SRM and RFX, which only serve to irritate. Internal customers appreciate receiving communications in terminology they understand. In some high-tech and specialist categories, stakeholders, also known as customers, will suspect that you may not have the depth or breadth of knowledge required. Talk their language to let them know that you are fully up to date on trends and immersed in their technical detail. This way you can prove that you are worthy of dispensing advice and providing guidance.

  1. Highlighting our successes

Easier access to information is changing the way we work; we can see what other people are doing and they can see what we are doing. Not many procurement teams use a well-thought-out internal media strategy to highlight their achievements. Communicating and celebrating individual and team wins are all important steps to ensuring that your internal customers stay on-side. Tracking of cost savings and reporting the results in a digestible way can show the positive impact that procurement has made to business success.

Could we learn something from the Human Resources (HR) function? Applying the tried-and-tested HR business partner model could work well in tricky situations and traditionally out-of-bounds functions. One person is directly allocated to be the enabler between the customer and, in this case procurement, with the main aim of removing process obstacles and smoothing the way for others.

Best Of The Blog: The Top 5 Ways To Stand Out In Procurement

There are millions of procurement professionals in the world. How do you make sure you stand out from the crowd?

Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an article by Anna Del Mar who explains how to stand out from the crowd!

Stand out from the crowd

There are millions of procurement professionals around the world. And every single one is different.

Which is fortunate, given the range of activity which Procurement has to undertake, and the different characteristics which are necessary to succeed in those roles.

In amongst that diversity, there are a number of characteristics which the most successful can display. These characteristics are ones worth cultivating in our careers.

There is no particular order here. But our top five ways to stand out will always contribute to success, both when working in the organisation and when we’re seeking to develop our careers.

1. Communicate like a Professional

This is true in many parts of the business, but is absolutely critical for Procurement. We’re often trying to sell hard ideas, to get concepts across, to change opinion and views, and to do all of that we need to be excellent at communication. Not just Powerpoint, but using a wide range of media, types of communication, styles and messages.

We also need to be excellent at preparing and rehearsing our communications, getting them on point and noticeable, able to stand out above the in-company noise. To do this, we need to spend time practising and getting our messages right.

As Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Be hard on yourself, and seek to improve. Being able to prove your understanding of the way Procurement needs to communicate and influence upwards with examples, will impress any recruiter.

2. Take the Wider View

Procurement can be accused of being one dimensional. We can get sucked into delivering price based targets, and loose sight of the bigger picture.

To operate effectively, we need to be excellent at maintaining a broader commercial perspective for the organisation, and making sure we’ve got both the short view and the long view in our sights.

The best in Procurement stand back and take in what the business really needs to achieve. They seek a balance between often conflicted requirements from different stakeholders. If we can maintain that overview, we will often deliver far more than if we get sucked into a one dimensional view.

Showing business aptitude and seeing procurement in terms of solving business problems, is an extremely valuable asset to any procurement function.

3.Bounce Like a Rubber Ball

Procurement can be tough. As the people on point for delivering value from the supply chain, we often can feel the weight of the business on our shoulders, while still trying to get through to a value improvement we can see but can’t quite reach.

To maintain a high degree of performance we need to have a high degree of resilience, to be able to bounce back and keep going. Holding onto our core beliefs, keeping going when it’s being sought and getting to the outcomes we want to achieve are great outcomes all by themselves.

There is no doubt that Procurement requires tenacity. Be able to prove your ability to stay the course for long term sustainable results rather than short term glory.

4. Network

The technical stuff is often less of an issue than the people stuff. This means that we need to network hard, identify the decision makers and opinion formers, and be aware of their issues and agendas.

Knowing who people are, what their concerns and needs are, and being able to reach out to them to both influence but also to offer support, is a massive help when trying to progress our own agendas.

It isn’t a one way street of course. These relationships are precious. We need to make sure we’re managing our relationship resources, just like we should be protecting our time. Show how you value your network and how this helps improve the positive effect of procurement.

And finally…

5. Know your Stuff

There’s nothing better than watching someone with a fantastic grasp of category and business issues making a case.

Having a broad grasp of what is happening in a market, how it relates to the business overall, looking at short and long term effects, providing imaginative solutions which test the range of what is possible, with stakeholders aligned or at least neutral, with a thought through plan of action. Those are the days when the future of Procurement looks brightest. The individuals delivering that insight will look like stars in the organisation.

Whilst you may not need to have deep category knowledge to get your dream job, having an understanding of procurement excellence and the challenges of buying in markets is key to bringing true expertise to the function and will be seen as an asset.

None of the above happens by default. It requires personal insight and understanding to make sure that skills and attributes develop in these areas. Spending time in each area is extremely worthwhile. Taking time out appraise ourselves in these areas, or get feedback from others, will give a big step up in how we’re viewed.

Good Luck!

Contingent Workforce: Why Procurement Still Hasn’t Found What It’s Looking For

In some ways the procurement profession is in a stronger position than ever before. But in others, in the words of great philosopher Bono, we “still haven’t found what we’re looking for” when it comes to the contingent workforce.  

Different Categories, Different Organisations, Different Value

Is our role really about cost reduction when it comes down to it? Or are we moving into a brave new world where the small, but perfectly formed, procurement function is focused on extracting innovation and competitive advantage from key supply markets?

Clearly, “value” is a word that has to feature, but saying procurement is about value is a bit of a truism;  of course it is! And so is everything else that an organisation does.

This in itself doesn’t help us to progress very far in the debate but one useful thought might be this: Every spend category within our organisation contributes value to the organisation in a different way; and for any given spend category, that value will differ from organisation to organisation too.

The Evolution of Procurement and What it Means for Managing Contingent Labour

In our new paper, The Evolution of Procurement and What it Means for Managing Contingent Labour, written in conjunction with Spend Matters, we look at this issue and also touch on other aspects around where procurement might be heading, including the fashionable idea of “procurement as a service”.

Using contingent labour as an example it is possible to illustrate how procurement has evolved and how a category can create value in various ways.

In some organisations, obtaining the right contingent labour, such as highly skilled technicians, creative folk or IT experts, might be a direct source of innovation and, as such, competitive advantage. In other cases, cost reduction and operational efficiency through a super-slick engagement processes for contingent workers might be the key factor.

The key point, however,  is that every procurement professional needs to understand the contribution for their categories in their organisation.

Procurement Must Take A Multi-Pronged Approach To Contingent Labour

(An Excerpt from The Evolution of Procurement and What it Means for Managing Contingent Labour

Any analysis will immediately confirm that procurement must follow different approaches depending on both the category of spend being addressed, and the nature of the business and the drivers of success.

Are the ingredients for a food product important to its success, or is it enough that they are safe to eat? If we spent more on a better quality purchase, would we sell more or be able to charge a higher price?

Considering services spend categories, how important, for instance, is marketing to the success of the firm? If innovation and new products are key drivers, then supporting that by identifying and working successfully with the very best external marketing services providers will be more important than haggling over their margins.

Contingent labour spend may simply be a case of minimising cost at an acceptable level of risk, or it may be much more strategic, with access to hard-to-find talent, and speed of engagement critical to the business.

That was reflected in our roundtable last year when we heard several excellent examples of how the use of contingent labour was truly linked to organisational strategies. “We are looking at scenario planning and resourcing models to help predict blue collar contingent labour requirements.” And the days of the contingent workforce being purely low-level blue-collar or administrative staff are long gone.

“Some of our contingent workforce are key to how we win business from our own customers; they are a strategically important and also scarce resource”.

You can download the full white paper for free here.

Subscribe to our mailing list and get access to more complimentary content from Comensura.

Want That Job? 7 Pitfalls To Avoid On Your CV

This seasoned recruiter skim-reads CVs for an average of two to three seconds before deciding whether to read them in their entirety. How can you make sure your CV doesn’t end up in the bin? 

Even with the digital revolution changing the world, CVs are still the Number 1 way to showcase your skills and achievements to a new employer or recruiter.

Before a prospective employer reads a CV they may well have supporting information in the form of a referral,  LinkedIn profile or a cover letter. But however good any supporting information might be, the CV is still the deciding factor when it comes to getting you a face-to-face meeting.

Recruiters have to place even more credibility on the CV than line managers. I have read over 250,000 CVs in my recruitment career and can skim read a CV in two to three seconds to decide if I want to read it in its entirety. If you are reading 100-400 CVs a day, can you really spare the time to read a cover letter as well? The CV is still king!

My goal whenever I am coaching CV writing is:

To make it as easy as possible for the reader to find the information they are looking for.

Worst case scenario: you have two to three seconds to get someone’s attention, so you need to give them the information they need as easily and accessibly as possible. When you think about your CV from this perspective you will need to make sure you identify your audience correctly to ensure it’s hitting their criteria.

Make sure you don’t fall into these traps:

1. Not Making The Most Of Your Success

Most people avoid talking about success like the plague. But if you’re writing a list of your responsibilities, the very least you need to demonstrate is that you have completed those tasks. Ask yourself:

  • Is it obvious I am successful?
  • Did I deliver this bullet point/responsibility?
  • Could a cynic read this and interpret it as failure?

You spent a whole lot of effort and time doing these things. At least take credit for what you delivered.

2. Inducing Claustrophobia

The majority of CVs look cluttered. Not “easy for the reader to find the information they are looking for”. Make it an appealing document to look at:

  • Decrease your margin widths (1” – 1.5” margins are fine)
  • Use white space

-90% of bullet points should be two lines maximum. If most of your bullet points are longer than that, look at splitting them into two points.

-Don’t have massive blocks of bullet points together. Four to five bullet points is enough. If you have any more than that, split them into sensible headings (Responsibilities and Achievements; Categories and Savings; Projects and Delivery etc).

-Have a small space between roles.

  • Font

-Make it an easy-to-read font (Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Garamond)

-Don’t worry about size too much. People read CV’s on a screen so can zoom in if they need to. (10 – 12 pt is fine)

3. Contact Details Taking Up Your Prime Real Estate

Geoff Molloy BSc (Hons)

132 Partridge Way, Bishops Stortford, Essex, CM23 3XY

Tel 01279 333 444

Mob 07788 111 222

E-mail [email protected]

Most people have their contact details at the top of their CV. You have two seconds to get their attention and you want them to read your phone number? It doesn’t make sense when you think about it unless you think your phone number, address or e-mail address is the single factor that will get them to give you a call!

Move them down to the footer and reduce your address down to town and postcode.

4. Information Above Your Career History/Experience

The problem with adding information above your career history is that it’s hard to make it contextual. Context is the only difference in impact between meeting an

IT Director

or

IT Director for Google

The difference between these two people would probably be significant and, but for a tiny change, you wouldn’t know it.

Try and keep the information above your career history to a minimum. It’s useful to be able to summarise your skills/experience/achievements etc but be aware that it loses impact if it’s not contextualised by the role you were in when you delivered it.

5. Proof-Read, Spell Check

Make sure it’s perfect. Spelling, grammar or punctuation are all indications to the employer. Some people get really irritated by mistakes so make sure you don’t put them off immediately!

  • Your/you’re
  • Were/we’re/where
  • Its/it’s

Get a friend/colleague/pedant to read your CV after you have checked it, and checked it, and checked it.

6. Squeezing Your CV Onto 2 Pages

If your CV is well written, relevant, articulate, demonstrates success and is easy to get the information the reader is looking for, it doesn’t matter how long it is (within reason). “Two pages” is a myth. But, if you’re going over the page make sure you use the next page fully.

If you’re not convinced, look at it the other way. If it’s awful they won’t get to the end of the first page! Make sure your CV is giving them the information they want in an accessible way. They will read it if you are relevant.

7. References

“References available on request” or “Reference Details”. Once you have risen above “School Leaver”, everyone assumes you have references so it adds no value and takes up space. In fact, it probably impacts negatively as it raises some doubt in the reader’s mind. If they want references they will ask you.

About the Author

I set up The Chameleon Career Consultancy to coach CV Writing, Interview Technique and Linkedin Profile writing building on over a decade of corporate recruitment specialising in Procurement and Supply Chain Professionals. During that 11 year period I read in the region of 250,000 CVs (100 a day for 11 years as a conservative estimate!). I made the decision to take a sideways step out of recruitment to help the candidates get the roles they really deserve.

If you would like any advice on any of these areas or more help on your CV feel free to get in touch at [email protected] or www.thechameleon.org or our Linkedin page.

Best Of The Blog: Can We Agree To Stop Calling Them Soft Skills?

How did soft skills come to be known as this? And does calling them this underplay their importance in the modern procurement world?

Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an article by Hugo Britt  in which he explains why soft skills are anything but!

The English language is full of misnomers. Just ask the killer whale (actually a dolphin), or the horny toad (actually a lizard). Once a word or phrase has entered common usage, it’s near-impossible to change it, even if the population generally understands that the term is misleading.

Which brings me to “soft skills”. I work for an organisation that provides training for procurement and supply chain professionals. As such this is one of the terms that I hear bandied about many times a week.

My argument is that defining this skill-set as “soft” actually devalues an essential part of every procurement professional’s toolkit.

To quickly summarise, soft skills are those used in dealing with other people. These include skills such as communication abilities, language skills, influencing skills, emotional empathy, and leadership traits. In contrast, “hard” skills – such as tendering or IT competencies – are readily measurable and (importantly) easier to train.

How Did They Come to be Called Soft Skills?

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been able to pinpoint the first usage of this term.

The concept has been applied to business environments since at least 1936, when Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People was published. Carnegie’s work, which has sold a phenomenal 30 million copies to date, is essentially the definitive guide to soft skills. However, it stops short of actually using these words.

Recently, there seems to have been an explosion of articles and training courses focusing on soft skills, particularly in procurement. My theory is that procurement – having moved from back-office to business-partnership status only a decade or so ago – is, in effect, late to the soft skills party, and is currently playing catch-up.

It’s possible that the term “soft skills” simply came about as an antonym to hard skills. Perhaps it reflects the “softly-softly” approach, where managers choose to influence, rather than confront, and to make suggestions, rather than issuing orders. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s a misleading term due to the other connotations of “soft”.

These Skills are Anything But Soft

To my ear, “soft” means easy, pliable, or yielding readily to pressure. Yet a procurement professional with excellent communication abilities, who is adept at reading people, will be a “harder” opponent in negotiations, than a colleague lacking these skills.

Similarly, the connotation with “ease” is deceptive when it comes to trying to train for skills like change management or leadership. And quantifying the results of that training is more difficult still. Hence we’re hearing more and more that employers are hiring people based on their attributes (cultural fit, communication skills, willingness to change), recognising that hard skills can be easily picked up later on.

This has changed the approach recruiters are taking in job interviews. There is now less emphasis on hard skills, and more behavioural questions about how you would react in certain situations.

It’s worth considering whether, in the future, soft skills will become so vital, they’ll become a requirement for procurement roles. That situation already exists in some professions. Look at Medicine, where aspiring doctors are interviewed for qualities including maturity, communication, the ability to empathise and collaborate. Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, with his acerbic bed-side manner, would in reality never have gained entry into medical school, no matter how brilliant he was.

There’s a school of thought that when it comes to soft skills, you’ve either got it, or you don’t. Soft-skills training, therefore, is ineffective because you can’t change someone’s personality. Personally, I disagree because I’ve witnessed colleagues who have worked hard to develop skills like effective listening. There’ll always be hard cases, but the days of people dismissing these skills as “fluffy” or otherwise useless are over.

Three Alternative Names for Soft Skills

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, it’s nigh-impossible to change a term once it’s in common usage. However, if professional organisations, training providers, and the like, were to phase out the words “soft skills”, and call them something more accurate instead, we might see this phrase begin to disappear.

Here are three suggestions for a more accurate description of “soft” skills.

1. Essential skills: I’ve borrowed this one from ISM CEO Tom Derry, who also isn’t a fan of the term “soft skills”. Tom used the term “essential skills” when launching ISM’s Mastery Model to describe the many interpersonal attributes required on the journey to achieving accreditation.

2. EQ: “Emotional intelligence quotient” is the technical term for soft skills. I like this term simply because it contains the word “emotional”, which pretty much sums up what soft skills entail. Calling it a “quotient”, however, raises the argument that EQ, like IQ, is something you’re born with, and can’t be improved upon.

3. People skills: The simplest, and possibly the most accurate, alternative for soft skills is “people skills”. After all, every one of these skills involves dealing with people, while hard skills can generally be put to use sitting alone at your computer.

If you have other suggestions, or already use a different terminology in your workplace, please add a comment below!

Procurement Needs People: How To Nurture Your Top Talent

As the global marketplace changes exponentially, the need for both personal and professional development becomes ever more crucial for procurement pros. Jim Baehr explains why  organisations need to invest in their people.

Category Management. Risk Management. Contract Management. Supplier Relationship Management. All are part of the Supply Management vernacular in 2017. They represent best practices. Those who have mastered these competencies are sought by companies wanting to take their Supply Management to the next level and beyond. Yet, step back and look at the big picture. How many Supply Management professionals have the time, the skill or the support to pursue these best practices?

Applying the 80/20 Rule In Procurement

Continuing to look at the big picture, let’s apply the 80/20 principle to this question. Considering all the spend of all companies – large, medium and small – it’s reasonable to believe that 20 per cent of the professionals in Supply Management are managing 80 per cent of spend. (This number may be even more acute based on benchmarking articles found elsewhere at My Purchasing Center.)

Bigger companies have more spend and are more likely to have invested in their organisation as led by a Chief Procurement Officer. The professionals in these organisations are expected to be proficient in these higher-end responsibilities – the Managements (Category, Contract, Risk, Sourcing, Supplier Relationship, etc.). These professionals can practice and hone their competencies daily. This is a good thing. This means that in many ways the profession has taken the lead set by the Peter Kraljic “Purchasing Must Become Supply Management” article found in the September 1983 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Flipping the principle would make it logical to believe that 80 per cent of Supply Management professionals are handling 20 per cent of the spend. Here’s the challenging part: It is likely that these are the same professionals who are handling 80 per cent of the purchasing churn – dealing with requisitions, purchase orders out the door, tracking delivery, invoice reconciliation, etc.  The result is they don’t have the same opportunity to apply best practices like their counterparts in bigger companies. Not because they don’t want to. They simply don’t have the time. Or, more frustratingly, the ability. But, seeing the articles and blogs – all the attention given to “the Managements” they want to do the same.

Purchasing Vs Procurement

While the terms Purchasing and Procurement tend to be used interchangeably, there is a big difference; moreover, the responsibilities of a Purchasing and Procurement professional are not the same.

Purchasing is operational, process driven,  ordering, receiving and paying for goods or services. Procurement is more tactical, more purposeful. Procurement calls for establishing requirements, performing market research, evaluating/selecting suppliers, and negotiating contracts or purchase orders. (Yes, POs can be negotiated.)

For the purpose of the remainder of this article Purchasing is used as the title for the group that handles  buying, procurement and, in some cases, sourcing.

It’s understood that technology is automating many of these routine functions. It’s agreed that that the developers of these systems are doing their best to “democratise” the technology – making it available, applicable and affordable to all companies – regardless of size. While the technologies are making inroads, there’s still a long way to go. And, when we get there one of two things will happen – positions will be eliminated or, companies will direct their Purchasing professionals to become more Procurement-like. Hopefully, it will be the latter.

Do we need to wait until technologies and automation address operational needs to free up the time for (paraphrasing Kraljic) Purchasing to become Procurement? The answer is “no.” Good Procurement, efficient and effective,  for the foreseeable future, is a people matter.

Is Purchasing Only About Getting The Lowest Price?

Before offering any recommendations, we first must recognise the realities. Purchasing, in many cases, is still viewed as “getting the lowest price”. This perception impacts relationships internally with business units and externally with suppliers. It creates a misunderstanding of purpose. The Purchasing professional is relegated to coordination of buying activities instead of having the opportunity to collaborate with internal clients, and suppliers, to produce value.

If we go back to the 80/20 rule the negative perceptions of Purchasing are conceivably based on the interaction of internal business groups and suppliers with the 80 per cent group. They are the majority population and they drive a perception that Purchasing “gets in the way” rather than adds value. Again, flipping the numbers, 80 per cent of the expectations for Purchasing come from what senior leadership reads or hears about the state-of-the-art techniques that the (upper) 20 per cent apply to the “Managements.” The result is that many businesses think their Purchasing group is not effective.

Research shows that staff and talent constraints inhibit Purchasing professionals from being all they can be and, more importantly, all they want to be. The abilities of these professionals are, and may continue to be, underdeveloped. But, there is an opportunity to build on what they already know and have experienced. We can reinforce what they know and make them comfortable with the basics and then introduce them to the “Managements.”

Personal and Professional Development Is Crucial- So What’s The Solution?

As Purchasing becomes more sophisticated, as business becomes more demanding and as the global marketplace changes exponentially, the need for both personal and professional development becomes proportionately as important. Let’s accept that not all the next generation of Purchasing professionals will come with MBAs from universities with Supply Management programs.-

So, now that the problem has been stated, what’s the solution? Keeping it simple – consider the following:

  • Recognize that the 80 per cent is underdeveloped but able and wants to do more.
  • Accept that this same 80 per cent  is under-appreciated and underserved.
  • Acknowledge that talent management requires talent development.
  • Commit. Business leadership, as well as professional associations, must step up and do more for the 80 per cent.
  • Invest in developing the 80 per cent as the cost pales, in comparison, to the potential return in value.

Here’s the good news: There are companies that already recognise this need. They are making the commitment to invest in their people. But, there must be more – many more. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt – “Nothing has been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’”

Jim Baehr is the Lead for the Sourcing Strategies Group LLC (SSG).  Currently he is the President of the ISM – Pittsburgh Affiliate, a member of the Board of Governors of the Joint Chemical Group of Pittsburgh and a member of the Visionary Council of Coupa Software Incorporated based in San Mateo, Calif. This article was first published on My Purchasing Center

5 Core Supply Chain Capabilities Everyone Needs

What are the supply chain capabilities that everyone needs? Dave Food gets to the core of the issue…

What are some of the key capabilities for supply chain professionals?  When it comes to acing decision-making, cost effectiveness, forecasting, and productivity you can’t go wrong if you’ve nailed these five things.

1. Capacity Planning

CP is essential to determine the optimum utilisation of resources, and plays an important role in the decision-making process. It is a technique used to identify and measure the overall capacity of production. CP is utilised for capital intensive resource like plant, machinery and labour. Capacity planning also helps meet the future requirements of the organisation; it ensures that operating costs are maintained at the minimum-possible level without affecting the quality, and ensures the organisation remains competitive and can achieve its long-term growth plan.

2. Inventory Management & Optimisation

IMO is a top investment priority for manufacturers. It is driven by a set of values which are typically service level and inventory investment. IO is widely known as a way to free-up working capital or cost-effectively increase service levels. IO can:

  • identify all the stages of inventory
  • point out exactly which stock is excess inventory and where it is stored in the supply chain
  • understand which warehouse space can be freed up (and which shouldn’t be)
  • create a series of “what-if” scenarios based on the organisation’s improvement ideas and alternative configurations.

An IO solution should offer opportunities for supply chain professionals to understand the causes of inventory, accept or reject recommendations, and build trust in fact-based decision-making.

3. Demand Management

Demand Management is a planning methodology used to forecast, plan for and manage the demand for products and services. DM has a defined set of processes, capabilities and recommended behaviours for companies that produce all manner of goods and services. DM outcomes are a reflection of policies and programs to influence demand as well as competition and options available to users and consumers.

4. Master Production Scheduling

Scheduling is the process of arranging, controlling and optimising work and workloads in a production process or manufacturing process. Scheduling is used to allocate plant and machinery resources, plan human resources, plan production processes and purchase materials. It is an important tool for manufacturing and engineering, where it can have a major impact on the productivity of a process. In manufacturing, the purpose of scheduling is to minimise the production time and costs by telling a production facility when to make, with which staff, and on which equipment. Production scheduling aims to maximise the efficiency of the operation and reduce costs.

5. Materials Replenishment Planning

Most MRP systems are software-based, but it is possible to conduct MRP by hand as well. In almost all supply chains, materials need to be stored or buffered. This competency involves different steps, considering aspects of the planning environment/conditions about the product and the supplier. The importance of the companies’ goals/motives for materials supply must also be assessed.

MRP uses global demand plans to create a pull-driven replenishment process; this prevents ordering from the supplier when there is excess stock elsewhere in the supply chain.

Dave Food is a supply chain innovator, a passionate educator, a futurist, a trend-watcher, an insightful consultant and a marketing strategist. This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Recruitment Insider: Demand For Temporary Workers Fast Outstripping Supply

Demand for workers is accelerating so fast that it’s outstripping supply. How can organisations find the employees they need without racking up a whole load of extra cost?  Jon Milton explains  the elephant in the recruitment room.

A cursory look at REC jobs market figures show that turnover in the recruitment industry for 2014/2015 was £31.5bn, the highest since records began in 2001/2002.

Permanent recruitment revenues have increased by 58.4 per cent from the recessionary lows of 2010/2011. Temporary or contract revenues are up by 60.1 per cent over the same period. Unemployment is exceptionally low.

What this means is;

  • Demand for workers is accelerating
  • Organisations are turning to recruitment agencies to help them meet it
  • The pool from which to draw workers from is receding

Any situation where demand outstrips supply should result in higher costs. These costs may be reflected in margin, pay rate, expenses or even resource commitment as your organisation searches to find the right worker fit. We have, however, gotten used to paying workers at a certain level and it’s possible to secure low margins from agencies.

How do you deal with this challenge without racking up a whole load of extra cost? Not as you perhaps think – and it’s probably worth addressing that particular elephant in the room first.

The Urban Myth: Exchanging volume with a single agency supplier will solve all my problems.

There are c24000 recruitment agencies operating in the UK, employing about 102,000 recruitment consultants. It’s a massively fragmented supply market that has never responded well when customers with diverse needs have attempted to exchange volume with a single supplier.

In the managed service world, some providers have responded to the challenge of keeping margins low with brute force, transferring workers supplied by incumbent agencies to their own books at implementation, and attempting to fill every requirement that comes along. In the long term this approach inevitably drives off contract buying and significantly reduces quality. This will obviously impact organisational output and competitiveness.

Keeping rates sustainable – making it worthwhile for the agency

The rate paid to an agency is sustainable if it covers their cost of sale and generates a reasonable profit. Cost of sale is important here; agencies typically pay their temporary workers at the end of the previous week worked and get paid by the customer in arrears. As such, prompt and efficient payment is crucial; agencies only get paid once they have filled a role successfully. Providing a decent level of opportunity on a level playing field is extremely important; and they are a vital component in delivering the temporary workforce so it is important to allow them to be heard (and not just through email) and responded to.

In terms of return, it’s important to pitch rates at the right level. Instinctively you may distrust agencies if you have stung by high spot fees in the past, but there are boundaries beyond which margins simply don’t work and render the fee payable non-profitable. Clearly it’s important to push these boundaries where the market dictates, but you will need to develop a strong understanding of the market to do so.

In our own managed service model suppler relationship management is a key component of our service and one that has helped us to address these issues. If you’re considering the managed service route, do talk to your agencies and ask them to give their views on different managed service providers – it will be an interesting conversation and one that should form part of your market approach.

Keeping rates sustainable – making it worthwhile for the worker

Whilst demand for skilled workers is currently outstripping supply it’s easy to think that the amount that you pay for those workers will have to go up, but this is not necessarily the case. Whilst pay rate is of course important, a workers decision on where to work is also led by a number of other factors. The includes the work itself, length of assignment, departmental profile and culture, amenities and work-life balance.

Keeping rates sustainable – managing expectations

Over the last 24 months we have been regularly canvassing the views of our agency suppliers to understand market dynamics, and one consistent theme has been of expectations. In an uncertain economic market where there is an abundant supply of skilled workers, the chances of recruiting someone who meets all your criteria are relatively high, so conversely with the market going full circle, expecting the same now can lead to disappointment.

The best way to address this is to allow agencies to manage the expectations of your line managers for you. This will help your managers to focus on their required outcomes rather than their perception of what they need. It will enable them to benefit from the recruiters’ knowledge of the market and what skills are available.

Whether you allow a managed service provider to manage this on your behalf or not, what is of paramount importance is that these relationships are strictly governed.

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