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People are the answer … and the problem

April 25, 2016

The starting point is people”. Those are the concluding words in a blog on ThinkProcure.

The author, Stephen Ashcroft, is a procurement leader with an inquisitive and open mind. In his blog, he compares and contrasts findings from a recent survey (which he finds depressing) with the inspirational presentations he encountered at a recent conference.

 He found those presentations inspirational because it involved leaders with a vision for the future, of how to ensure that supply and supplier management delivers real value.

 He found the survey depressing because it paints a very different picture, of practitioners struggling to do more than negotiate transactional arrangements with (often) the wrong suppliers and then failing to manage their performance. That’s exactly what the rest of the business sees – a group that is frequently focused on the wrong thing, or on just a minor element of the overall process. Indeed, recent data from one CEO suggested that today’s procurement practices focus on only 20% of the available value.

The optimist in Steve then makes the leap to envisage a future where all those practitioners have seen the light and suddenly they are ‘breaking down barriers’ and leading an ‘integrated approach’ across the business. All it needs is for inspired leaders to ‘assemble talented Procurement people’ and everything will change …

But the challenge, it seems to me, is finding those talented people. If Procurement had many of them, surely the current situation would not exist? The problem I find is that most people do not have the knowledge or the skills or the tools that are needed to change results – and the majority would prefer to be left alone to do what they are doing. They convince themselves that a) the skills they have really are the right ones anyway and b) if they hold out long enough, these ‘visionaries’ will go away and take their change agenda elsewhere.

On what basis do I say this? Through a combination of research and on the ground observations. And of course the issues I highlight are not unique to procurement. Our surveys show that around 80% of practitioners believe they have or are acquiring the skills they personally need for the future; and a similar percentage believe their colleagues do not have those skills or the enthusiasm to acquire them.

And if further evidence is needed, it is worth noting that the names Steve cites – those leaders who inspired him – do not actually have  background in Procurement. Like many other functions today, the leadership is being recruited from outside. (hence the similar debate for legal groups “Should the General Counsel of the future be a lawyer?”).

So Steve, I agree that today the starting point is people. But the challenge is finding the right people for the work of the future – and maybe, just maybe, they are not today’s incumbent community.


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