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.
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.