Tag Archives: procurement skills

Can We Agree to Stop Calling Them “Soft Skills”?

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

House - Soft Skills

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!

Need help with your people skills or EQ? Want to get your procurement career in shape? Stay tuned on Procurious in September for our Career Bootcamp. More information coming soon!

Why Wait? Come to Training in Your Pyjamas

Have you ever had that nightmare where you’re wearing your pyjamas in class? With new training from ISM, your nightmare can be a reality (in a good way!).

Training in Pyjamas

I’m in training. I’ve got my laptop open on the table in front of me, a nice warm drink, and I’m waiting for the trainer to appear. A striking-looking instructor comes into view, walking slowly and deliberately in heels.

She’s wearing her ginger-coloured hair pulled back in a ponytail, quite a lot of blue eyeshadow and vivid red lipstick. She appears to have had eyelash extensions.

I sit up a bit straighter in my chair, before glancing down and realising with a shock that I’m wearing my pyjamas.

What is Micro-Learning?

But that’s okay, because it’s 9pm and I’m comfortably ensconced in a warm study in my own home. The kids have finally gone to bed and the dishes are done, so I’ve taken the opportunity to squeeze in one of ISM’s Just-in-Time Learning sessions, led by a flame-haired, animated instructor.

I’ve chosen a session called “Sourcing Strategy based on Forecasted Data”. At 8 minutes and 30 seconds, it removes my usual excuse about being too time-poor to invest in training. According to ISM’s Senior VP of Programs and Product Development M.L. Peck, this is what micro-learning is all about.

“People are craving content that address specific needs at specific times”, says Peck. “Micro-learning takes a ‘just-for-me, just-in-time, and just-enough’ approach”.

Training Essentials

This works for me, as my attention span seems to be diminishing rapidly as I grow older. The animated instructor’s voice has a slightly robotic quality, but she’s convincing enough.

She moves around the screen, gesticulating with one hands with the other resting on her hip. She (I’m not sure if the instructor has a name) even blinks and waggles her eyebrows as she drives each point home.

The instructor rapidly takes me through the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of sourcing – spot buying, buying to requirements, forward buying and speculative buying. As she talks, animated graphics appear and disappear next to her.

The content itself is drawn from ISM’s impressive global network of subject matter experts, who have created a remarkable library of digital knowledge.

The animation is interspersed with a video of Kevin from ISM, a (human) instructor who gives a real-world example of a restaurant owner who uses each of the four buying types as circumstances demand.

Sharing Essential Skills & Knowledge

Each Just-in-Time learning video has a different style. Some feature animated characters such as this, while others are led entirely by real instructors.

There are whiteboard animations, live interviews with executives and leaders in the profession, short lectures from industry experts, fun activities, games and flashcards.

This style of learning isn’t designed to be a deep-dive, but is a fast and effective overview of essential procurement skills and knowledge. Viewers can choose to explore further through eISM’s Guided Learning and Self-Paced learning options.

This particular video, however, is packed with fast facts, statistics, definitions from the ISM Glossary. It also includes real-world examples about sourcing strategies. By the end of the eight-and-a-half minute video, I have three pages of notes.

And what’s more, I even have time to sneak in another training video before my drink goes cold!

Learn More (in Pyjamas if you Want!)

Procurious now hosts three of the eISM Just-in-Time learning videos here on the website. Simply click on the “Learning” tab, or follow the links below to view:

For the full suite of eISM learning options, visit the ISM website.

ISM: One CEO, $1 Trillion in Procurement Power

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) represents 50,000 supply managers responsible for US$1 trillion in procurement power. Procurious talks to the man in charge, CEO Tom Derry.

ISM Mastery

ISM has been the hand at the tiller of the US procurement and supply chain profession since 1915, setting the standards as the responsibilities and expectations of procurement professionals grow at an incredible pace.

Since 2008, ISM has trained over 60,000 professionals in more than 30 countries. But in an ever-changing environment, the skills and capabilities that make procurement professionals successful today will not be the same as those required to be successful in the future.

No-one knows this better than ISM CEO and Big Ideas Summit keynote speaker Tom Derry. Tom joined ISM in 2012, and is charged with ensuring that the Institute moves forward at the same pace as the procurement profession.

Leveraging the Platform Economy

ISM’s knowledge programme has become increasingly agile in order to meet the needs of professionals in a continuously evolving business environment. And that’s where the ISM/Procurious partnership comes into play.

ISM is excited to partner with Procurious to bring their ground-breaking think-tank event, the Big Ideas Summit, to procurement professionals around the world on April 21st 2016. This unprecedented digital forum will enable Procurious’ 13,000+ members to innovate and crowdsource ideas with the most successful executives and thought leaders in the profession.

ISM’s partnership with Procurious is part of its strategy to leverage the ‘platform economy’, and to dramatically upskill the procurement profession. The rate at which technologies and the markets move now means we need to be constantly upskilling just to stay up to speed.

Tom is a major advocate for the use of social media within procurement. In the future, he sees it as a key tool for the profession in order to connect, collaborate and share knowledge.

Tom states, “I honestly I don’t see how anybody could plan to be an effective professional in our field without using the social media tool kit. Social media is a vital part of the way we work – the opportunities for procurement and supply chain professionals in social media are huge.”

Critical Skills for future CPOs

And as the profession expands its role and responsibilities, procurement teams will require the right skills to make sure they can succeed in this environment. And, of course, this will be led from the top by the CPO.

At the organisation’s centenary celebration last year, Tom launched the ISM Mastery Model, using the 100-year milestone to create a model that will drive standards into the next millennium.

The Mastery Model is designed to standardise roles and drive procurement success by deepening a team’s expertise and increase employee engagement through a clear career path to procurement mastery.

“It’s time to change the ‘soft skills’ label to ‘critical skills’ to reflect the importance of hard-to-learn competencies, as you’ll absolutely need these skills to advance in modern-day procurement,” Tom says.

Tom is a towering figure in global Procurement, and a major advocate for the profession. He talks passionately about bringing more young people into the profession, and how we can best engage Millennials. “If I was 25 again, I couldn’t think of a field that I would personally find more fascinating than a corporate career in procurement and supply chain.

“Here’s an opportunity to be based in almost any region you choose. You’ll learn new cultures and dramatically impact the success of the business that you work for. You’ll be working on some of the most interesting and creative projects your firm is involved in.

“In the past, procurement and supply chain have been seen as backward-looking functions. It was our job to get the most effective pricing put in place to support the existing legacy business processes.

“Now we are thinking about and acting on the future of our businesses. Business acumen, understanding and strategic planning are three skills that I believe are critical for successful procurement professionals.”

Tom DerryTom Derry will discuss driving procurement success and ensuring teams have the necessary skills to succeed during his keynote at the Big Ideas Summit 2016 on April 21st.

If you’re interested in finding out more, visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.