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From Job To Profession …. Maybe

July 8, 2013

There are many people with a Contract or Commercial Manager job title. IACCM research shows that a large majority enjoy their work. They find it fulfilling due to its variation and their sense that it is making a real contribution to the bottom line. Most believe that what they do is special and somewhat unique – for example, a large number think it is not a skill that is readily transferable between industries or from buy-side to sell-side support. Indeed, a significant proportion (especially in the more senior ranks) perceive their underlying knowledge as something that can be gained only through experience, not through education. There is strong resistance to the idea that there could be meaningful university qualifications and graduate entry to the world of contracts and commercial remains very much the exception.

Given this summary, it is not surprising that few can quickly describe their role. Even less can clarify its precise business value (except perhaps in a context of the bad things that might have happened if they were not there). And most are surprised when senior management questions whether the expense of contract and commercial management can be justified.

Dipesh Taylor, an IACCM member based in the UK, was fascinated about the attitudes of practitioners to their job and the extent to which they understood or welcomed moves towards professionalism. He worked with IACCM staff to develop a survey exploring contract and commercial management as a career. The results will be the subject of a webinar on July 18th (visit http://www.iaccm.com/events/register/?id=1687 to register). Once more, they confirm the enthusiasm that practitioners have for their role, yet also the weaknesses – and the threats – that come from a continuing lack of professionalism. It is far from clear how people develop in this role, or where staff of the future would come from. Perhaps most important, there is no evident commitment to research and continuous improvement.

As society develops, jobs tend to disappear. Professions have continuity. It is important for contract and commercial practitioners to decide – are you performing a job, or are you part of a profession? Join the discussion on July 18th – or share your comments below.

3 Comments
  1. David Lowe permalink

    Tim,

    As ever, a fascinating observation.

    As a function commercial and contract practitioners interface with established professions – legal, engineers, accountants, architects etc. Some individuals and organisations seek the status and esteem that these groups hold. For example, BT, Rolls Royce and BAE Systems (and others) participate in Manchester Business School’s MSc in International Commercial and Contract Management. The aim being to engender professional ideals and provide a degree of status. Similarly, MBS also developed and ran a bespoke postgraduate programme for 90 senior commercial/contract management leaders from Thales.

    Our programmes are based around individuals taking aspects of theory and best practice, applying these within the workplace, reflecting upon their learning and preparing an action plan on how this new knowledge can be applied and disseminated throughout their team and organisation. The purpose is to encourage delegates to take responsibility for their continuing professional development – a key feature of established professions.

    Our experience is that, although the process can be challenging (in terms of time commitment and places participants outside their comfort zone), most acknowledge that the results have been transformational. Some participants, however, are not prepared to take ownership, believing that their organisation should be responsible for meeting any development needs and, moreover, that this should occur within work’s time not their own. Highlighting the schism between those that see their role as a professional contribution and those who that consider it to be a job.

    Programme details:

    http://www.mbs.ac.uk/executive-education/programmes/core-programmes/leadership/commercial-contracts.aspx

  2. Simon Rowley, of executive search firm Rowley Bateman, sent this comment:

    Commercial Managers-the Unsung Heroes?

    Having just read with interest Tim’s blogs from yesterday and today, “From Job to Profession” and “Contract Management: Where are all the Youngsters” I wanted to join the discussion.

    Having recruited commercial managers for the last twelve years, there are two observations I would like to make. Firstly, commercial management as a function is supportive of sales and delivery and is not employed to be the loudest voice in the room. Secondly commercial managers themselves are very often modest, actions-speak-louder-than-words type people. Is it nature or nurture that makes them this way? Probably both. The combination of these two points means that very often commercial managers are the Unsung Heroes on a deal. The perennial bone of contention being the size of the sales lead’s bonus versus that of the commercial lead.

    I believe that both these points have a bearing in the job versus profession debate. Commercial, without board representation and supportive by its very nature has its challenges in being truly recognised as a profession. Secondly (and here is where I tread carefully), you might say that the modest gene is also partly responsible.
    In these twelve years the standing of commercial management within organisations has undoubtedly increased as the Unsung Heroes have become recognised. Very often, these days, the commercial lead on a programme will be at the right hand of the General Manager and the commercial lead on a bid will actually be leading the bid. If this is the view from the inside looking out, then ultimately the view from the outside looking in relies on torch bearers, heroes (not the Unsung version) and the commercial community to be a bit less modest about its own abilities?

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  1. Contract Management: Where are all the youngsters? | Commitment Matters

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