Talent is one topic that is always on the radar of CPOs (chief procurement officer).
Sometimes procurement chiefs discuss a ‘shortage of talent’, which can refer to a lack of appropriately qualified candidates for open positions or headcount shortages. Other times, they talk of a ‘talent mismatch’ between the people in their teams and the projects at hand. ‘Talent maturity’, which requires investment in order to upskill the whole procurement team, is another challenge function heads face. Regardless of their focus at any given time, CPOs (chief procurement officer) are always on the lookout for new talent.
We use the word talent in place of many other words: headcount, capabilities, intelligence, knowledge. It is easy to forget talent is often naturally possessed, rather than learned through experience. This may be a difficult notion to accept because it places control directly outside of a procurement chief’s reach, but they need to assess the natural talents of each person in their team.
Once these talents are identified, individuals can be positioned in the most value-adding places within the team, which will help the function build closer relationships with stakeholders and add value beyond cost savings.
CPOs (chief procurement officer) should look out for the following traits.
Ability to read people
For some professionals, there is a second language being spoken in every meeting. From recognising changes in tone and body language to perceiving silent dynamics such as interpersonal friction or suppressed ambition, those able to read the signs can understand what lies behind the actions and words of suppliers, executives and stakeholders. When these underlying motivations are factored into plans and strategies, procurement professionals can identify and address core issues. Staff who can read other people are best placed in high-stakes negotiations, spend categories with difficult stakeholder personalities and complex cross-functional projects.
Being able to react quickly to changing circumstances in the right manner is critical to the function’s long-term success. This includes everything from speedy mental calculations to controlling one’s emotions so actions align with the function’s overarching priorities and philosophy. Fast thinking is effective if a professional can instinctively balance procurement’s quantitative goals with an enterprise’s qualitative objectives. Fast thinkers are best placed in categories with dynamic cost models or in which pricing is index-based, where suppliers have substantially greater leverage, or where supply chain risk is considerable.
Not to be confused with fast thinking, actionable optimism opens a window when a door is closed. Having the drive and creativity to find a way forward when the expected path is blocked moves a procurement professional out of the realm of qualifying available options and into the realm of creating alternatives. Action-orientated optimists are best placed in categories with a constrained number of supplier options, where enterprise specifications leave little room for negotiation or where change and innovation are required.
A CPO (chief procurement officer) can teach process, technology and even category expertise but the natural talents that transform teachable skills into enterprise value are harder to learn. Not only should this be a primary consideration from a recruitment and retention perspective, it should also be leveraged when positioning procurement internally in the business. After all, you can always enrich a team with new skills and experiences, but the natural talents they possess determine the total potential of their impact on the organization.