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Is Indirect Procurement Really So Complex?

You could be forgiven for thinking the management of indirect procurement is akin to rocket science. Is it really so complex?

Sourcing and contracting indirect goods and services in categories like I.T., consulting, HR and travel is important to keep the business running.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the procurement of such services is akin to rocket science, especially if you listen to those many external “solution providers” whose income stream may depend on you.

It may be tempting to consider outsourcing some or all of the management of your indirect spend. In many organisations it is often poorly recorded, loosely managed, widely dispersed, and, generally, messy or neglected. But first let’s consider the issues, and how this indirect spend could be managed internally.

Direct and Indirect Procurement 

Direct (or core) procurement traditionally focuses mainly on the sourcing of goods, and some allied services, that are used in the manufacturing or production of goods for sale. These items are usually clearly specified, often with a pre-defined supplier base.

Indirect procurement is different. It is essentially the sourcing of services (and maybe some goods) to support day-to-day operations.

The indirect spend may make up around 30 per cent of all third-party spend, but there are significantly more suppliers and the buying community is more decentralised. Add to that, a higher potential for maverick spend and sensitive stakeholders, and there is the added complexity.

What is happening now is that the percentage of indirect spend-under-management is growing in many companies. Difficult areas such as advertising, insurance and consulting fees are slowly being brought into the category structure.

It is often said that indirect procurement is not strategic. However, some high spend categories, such as sponsorship and employee benefits, could definitely qualify.

Key issues in Indirect Procurement
  • Buying decisions are often dispersed throughout an organisation into diverse and competing business units or locations.
  • Stakeholders can, and will, resist any changes on which they have not been consulted.
  • Managing an indirect category such as marketing services or consulting requires assembling the historical data and providing reliable spend information. Often transactions are miscoded – sometimes on purpose – which creates the wrong picture.
  • Suppliers can only be a resource for continuous improvement if the communication channels are open in both directions.
Strategies for Indirect Procurement  

The first step in a category strategy should be to aggregate the spend and understand it and its sub-categories. Next, present this information, in a digestible form, to stakeholders to elicit their input.

It is never too early to talk to stakeholders about the data or the proposed Scope of Work. After the Request for Proposal has been issued, it is too late.

Two of the success criteria in indirect procurement are a robust Scope of Work and a detailed Service Level Agreement with workable measurements.  Without these, any contract can fail.    

Indirect Procurement as a Career Choice

The requisite technical skills for individual success in procurement have been well-documented. One of the key skills of the future is to be numerate and have analytical ability, but not necessarily be a mathematician.

Managing indirect categories requires a different skill set from that which is needed for working in direct procurement. Behavioural skills, which can also be acquired, come into the spotlight here.

Particularly important is the need to collaborate with stakeholders. An aspiring category manager needs Influencing and listening skills, empathy, and the ability to take the initiative as well as being decisive when the need arises.

Indirect categories (when the tail-end spend is excluded) do not easily lend themselves to automation or the use of the e-procurement tools, such as e-catalogues or vendor management systems.

This creates a dilemma for external service providers who have these tools, but readily admit that there are nuances and emotions at play that may be beyond their control.

The organisational culture and landscape on the indirect side has many nuances that do not exist on the direct side. Procurement executives will therefore need to traverse the waters of indirect spend with unique strategies to ensure success.

Indirect procurement is all about building trust with stakeholders and suppliers to ensure continuity of supply and smooth operations.

Just try to procure the same make and model of smartphone for everyone, or change the catering company without considering end-users.

I Can’t Get No (Job) Satisfaction

A third of workers are in struggle town to get job satisfaction and almost one in ten say choosing the wrong career is their biggest regret in life.

A study commissioned by Start Profile has indicated that job satisfaction in the UK is low, with many workers wishing they were doing something entirely different with their lives.

The Satisfaction Results

 The research into job satisfaction uncovered that:

  • 39 per cent of people are happy in their career
  • 24 per cent confessed that they ‘fell into’ their profession
  • 36 per cent are unhappy at work
  • 14 per cent actively admit to seeking new job opportunities

The results are a little alarming, indicating that 61 per cent of participants are unhappy in their current jobs. The research went on to reveal that in Britain, people working in retail were the most likely to seek alternative employment opportunities, closely followed by the transport and healthcare industries.

So why is job satisfaction so hard to come by?

On an interesting note, the study revealed that nearly 1 in 10 participants stated that choosing their current career is the biggest regret in their life. A further 17 per cent wished that they had followed their dream instead, while 11 per cent are just putting up with the job.

Andy Pickles, CEO of Online Careers Service at Start, commented that, “Many of us end up in a job we don’t enjoy because of decisions we make at a young age, whether that be choosing the wrong subjects, or not having enough guidance at school.”

Interestingly, a third of respondents said their parents had provided the most influence on their careers. 9 per cent indicated that it was their teachers who inspired their career path, and 6 per cent claimed to have been influenced by a literary or TV character.

satisfaction

With Job satisfaction getting harder to achieve, is salary the key to our happiness?

The relationship between money and happiness isn’t as straightforward as we might think. Michael Page, the British based recruitment business, used data from the Cabinet Office’s Wellbeing and Policy report to plot salary against happiness of 260 occupations.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 12.09.21Click here read more on Salary vs. Happiness

‘Happiness’ was measured as the mean life satisfaction rating (a score out of 10) taken from the Annual Population Survey 2011-2013. The life satisfaction ratings were grouped as followed:

  • 0 to 4, (low);
  • 5 to 6, (medium);
  • 7 to 8, (high);
  • 9 to 10, (very high).

Salary data has been sourced from the 2013 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

The Happiness Curve

The happiness curve indicates the overall relationship between happiness and salary. Compared with the general trend, occupations appearing above the curve are happier than you might expect for people on their salary, and those below the curve appear less happy than you’d expect.

Who are the happiest outliers?

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 14.13.54

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Happy outliers are those jobs which appear furthest above the curve. The biggest outliers are fitness instructors, who despite earning significantly less than many occupations, are actually happier. Dental nurses (who are happier then dentists) and school secretaries follow closely after fitness instructors.

When you look at the top happiest jobs, we see a huge salary range from £18k for company secretaries, to £117k for CEOs and senior officials. The clergy come out on top in terms of happiness, despite earning nearly 6 times less than CEOs and senior officials, who sit in second place.

How does Procurement stack up against job happiness and satisfaction?

According to happiness curve, the procurement profession is holding steady, with buyers, procurement officers, and purchasing managers and directors having a high happiness rating of 7.4 (the red dots on the happiness curve below).

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 14.31.46

Procurement Leaders highlighted a fascinating point about job satisfaction and happiness – satisfaction levels tend to fluctuate, and can be dependent on a particular day or week.

Furthermore, in the 2016 Procurement Leaders Salary Survey, which provided an insight into the earning potential of those working in roles across the procurement function, it found that there was a clear relationship between earnings and satisfaction. The survey indicated that the more you earn, the happier you tend to be.

The survey also revealed a difference between men and women. Men’s satisfaction levels increased with their earnings, whereas women’s satisfaction levels did not follow the same pattern.

Throughout the results, the conclusion is clear – job satisfaction is the dependent variable. Happily, the procurement function is positioned uniquely to offer global travel opportunities, participation in stakeholder negotiation and collaboration on an internal and external levels.

Combined with higher than average pay, and the chance to create meaningful impact across organisations, this has the potential to make procurement a very attractive career choice (and not one to regret!).

So maybe Mick Jagger was wrong after all…