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Is Modesty Your Biggest Failing?

June 22, 2011

At the IACCM member meeting in London this week, Simon Rowley of recruitment specialist Rowley Bateman, discussed the state of the market for contracts and commercial professionals.

Simon started by talking about the trends he has observed over the last 10 years. Many could relate to his observation about the growth of status of those in the post-award environment. “Ten years ago, the bid and negotiation role was predominant,” he said. “There was a lack of respect for anyone in the post-award contracts role – it was seen as a much lesser skill, almost administrative.”

The growth of ‘large, risk-laden contracts, over a much longer term’ has changed that – especially given the speed of change and therefore the need for continued oversight and renegotiation of contracts. “Today,” said Simon “only about 20% of the jobs are for pure pre-award roles.” He described the extent to which companies are investing in embedded contract management functions – many hiring into this role for the first time, and most expecting capabilities in the full contract life-cycle.

“The function’s role is evolving and today the expectation is that it will add value throughout the life-cycle of the relationship,” he added, commenting that the the post-award role has become especially challenging, since the contract manager must have the skills to simultaneously deal with issues such as managing the contention around a claim, while also negotiating a piece of new business with the same customer.

Simon then invited participants to define the skills and knowledge that determine ‘excellence’ in the contracts and commercial role. The critial areas – in the view of the audience – were predominantly in the skills that are needed. Most knowledge areas – for example legal or financial awareness, customer or supplier understanding, product or category knowledge – can be taught.  The skills / characteristics list was extensive and – in the view of participants – includes:

– inquisitive mind

– proactive approach

– flexibility / problem solving

– learning from mistakes

– communication

– integrity

– empathy

– pragmatism

– negotiation

– solution oriented, innovative

Simon confirmed that most employment opportunities today are seeking people with the right attitudes and skill-set. He divided the attributes into those of ‘science’ (e.g. contract law, drafting, pricing / cost analysis, export regulations, competitive dialogue) versus ‘art’ (communications, team player, relationship management, dispute management, consultative style).

When asked about the most common failing, he suggested that the biggest problem for many contracts and commercial staff is their modesty. “This may be key to being a good team player, but it is not helpful in the way we present ourselves. Toomuch modest can cost you a job.”

  1. Skills give commercial management professionals competitive advantage. The way you have those difficult conversations, the way you negotiate, the way you manage those tough relationships. These are the things that make commercial people excel. As such, commercial managers should get over their modesty and do some self-analysis to distill what their own key skills are. This self-awareness will benefit them not only when they are interviewing for a new role (either internally or externally) but it will also aid their professional development by providing a high level skills-gap analysis.

  2. Some really interesting food for thought. As an experienced Commerical manager myself who has worked on a good number of contracts, I would concur very strongly with the sentiments above

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