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The future procurement manager: internal category expert or change agent?

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by Vel Dhinagaravel
7 January 2015

Over the last twenty years, procurement has evolved into a strategic function that is trusted and valued by senior leadership. As Procurement gets more strategic, more focus is being placed on increasing the attractiveness of procurement to the global talent pool. And going forward, procurement teams will need to attract top talent to stay ahead of the curve - especially when the function's very nature is going through an evolution, or a revolution even.

What will procurement's talent model be in the future? I have explored this from the angle of procurement's evolving approach to category management.

As most mature procurement organizations have exhausted all available "quick wins", value delivery is only possible through transformational sourcing activities. With this shift, the skills that will be most valuable are change management and the ability to build a compelling business case for change. Contrast this with the fact that technical/category knowledge is valued much more today.

Historically, procurement has had internal category experts and has brought in external change agents (consultants) to drive strategic transformations. In the future, as quick wins dry up, I believe this will need to be inverted.

To enable transformational sourcing, I see leading organizations moving to a model where they are looking for people who are fantastic change agents. The ideal candidate would possess requisite soft skills, business savvy, and who is excellent with financial numbers. And on the other hand, companies can bring technical knowledge from outside, which will enable procurement professionals to add more value.

The advantage with hiring internal change agents is that it increases the mobility of category managers, offering them attractive career options.  This fits neatly with today's knowledge workers, who don't want to spend 20 years managing the same category.

I believe that this change is critical to make procurement an even more attractive place for top-class talent.

Let's face it: As much as value can be added by procurement software and other such productivity enablers, procurement remains a largely human-driven activity. With this, the evolution of procurement can only be as good as the people it is able to attract.

We need to show procurement professionals a career path where they can grow across different verticals - and can even aspire to become the CEO. In fact, there are already cases of CPOs who have gone on to become CEOs. So this aspiration is not something that is outside of procurement's reach.

The fact is that procurement touches so many different parts of an organization and internal change agents will be in a position to leverage their skillsets across many organizational functions.

The all-round nature of procurement needs to be articulated well enough so that it becomes an attractive career option. Otherwise, how else can organizations embark on transformational sourcing?

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