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Tackling the image of Contract Management

August 9, 2013

Guy Strafford recently wrote a blog that asked whether the word ‘Procurement’ is toxic. He asked readers to suggest an alternative name that might assist an image make-over – and offered a bottle of champagne to the winning idea.

The blog attracted lively input, a majority agreeing that Procurement tends to be viewed in a relatively negative light. The underlying sense appears to be that the role is seen as narrow in its contribution and that it has never achieved the respect associated with established professions. Those who made comments overwhelmingly agreed that a change of name would be beneficial, though there was no apparent consensus over what that should be (perhaps because of the desire to win the champagne). However, the term ‘Commercial Management’ arose several times because of the need to reflect both a broader role and also a more holistic basis for the selection and management of supply relationships.

In many ways, Contract Management faces a similar challenge. The role and status of Contract Managers varies widely, resulting in confusion in both scope and contribution. As with Procurement, for many it remains a largely tactical, administrative role, supporting ‘true professionals’ such as lawyers or project managers.

The image will not be fixed just by changing the name; it requires a genuine and sustained shift in business value and contribution. The opportunity for such a shift exists and those who identified the potential in Commercial Management are correct. ‘Commercial capability’ is a big deal right now because senior management is increasingly conscious of the need for improved decision-making and commitment processes, achieving a balance between control and creativity in external trading relationships. This has resulted in a surge of membership and training for IACCM, from both buy-side and sell-side personnel.

The IACCM vision has long been that those responsible for creating and managing trading relationships should represent a single profession because they require similar knowledge, tools and techniques. But we know that it is often hard to change management attitudes and images; and indeed, many of the incumbents in Procurement and Contract Management may not have the internal drive or desire to move to a higher level of contribution and ‘professionalism’.

So perhaps the real point behind a change of name is to establish a division between those who are content with their largely administrative, operational role and those who have the enthusiasm to rise to new challenges and grasp the opportunities that come with professional status. However, it has been pointed out to me in the past that ‘true professions’ all have a singular noun to describe them and do not use the word ‘manager’ – for example, lawyer, accountant, engineer, even ‘marketeer’.  And in that case, is Commercial Manager the right name?



One Comment
  1. I fear that contract- and commercial managers will always have a hard time positioning themselves as “professionals.” I think that may well be because their colleagues in sales, marketing, etc., aren’t accustomed to recognizing them as having obligations outside the company / firm.

    Nearly all business people recognize that lawyers, physicians, surgeons, accountants, engineers, architects, etc. are accountable to their respective professional bodies for failure to live up to professional norms. Those bodies can take away a professional’s ability to earn a living. It’s generally understood, I think, that those professionals won’t necessarily go along with whatever random thing a business person wants done.

    In contrast, contract- and commercial managers can’t be disbarred; they don’t have a license that can be taken away by an outside body if they mess up. I suspect that this contributes to an unconscious expectation on the part of many business people: Rightly or wrongly, I think some business people expect that when contract managers are given instructions by their superiors in the company, the managers will salute smartly, say aye-aye sir (or ma’am), and do as they’re told. That doesn’t strike me as “professional” status. I’m not sure what if anything can be done about it.

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