How to Be a Better Procurement Boss

June 28, 2017


Procurement is changing all the time, with new strategies emerging from big data, and new tools making the more “clerical” aspects of the profession a thing of the past. We’ve written a lot about how to advance your Procurement career, advice that we think is still relevant today. But we wanted to write about what to do once you’ve achieved some of your career goals and risen to Procurement leadership. How do you be a better boss in today’s Procurement landscape, and avoid the pitfalls that lead to disengaged stakeholders and disillusioned team members?

Here’s some leadership advice that’s tailored specifically to the always-expanding world of Procurement, based on some of our numerous conversations with some of Procurement’s leading lights.

Talk Less and Listen More

People moving into any leadership position tend to want to make an impact. This applies even more-so in modern Procurement, which often defines success based on business transformations. But one piece of advice we hear over and over again from successful CPOs, VPs, Directors and other people who have led Procurement transformations, is to talk less and listen more, especially for the first sixty to ninety days in a new role.

This approach applies for all three of the major groups you’ll be interacting with. Listen to what your internal clients and stakeholders are saying about their priorities and you’ll find opportunities for cost savings. Listen to what your suppliers are saying about their market and you’ll find opportunities for innovation. Listen to your direct reports about their difficulties and you’ll find opportunities to transform the Procurement process. 

Work on Your Presentation and “PR” Skills for When You Do Speak

As a Procurement leader, you’re the main advocate for the Procurement function within your organization. So while it’s important to listen more and talk less, it’s also important to make sure that you’re an effective advocate for Procurement when you do have a chance to speak to senior leadership. This means being concise, as well as using visual aids and concrete metrics to help drive home the impact that Procurement has within the organization. So often, we in the Procurement industry expect business leaders to understand our value, but we have to be our own boosters. This means learning to speak the C-suite language rather than assuming that they understand the terminology that’s our stock in trade.

Encourage a Diversity of Skills and Categories

Procurement teams stagnate when the work becomes rote. In the past, Procurement was a “back office” clerical function concerned with filling purchase orders. If you define the roles of your team members in an overly-rigid way, you’re encouraging them to fall into familiar patterns instead of innovating and developing new supplier relationships. One suggestion is to rotate the categories of your staff. Let Procurement Specialist A work on the Facilities category for three months before moving her to Travel. Let Procurement Specialist B work on Travel before moving to HR. Let Procurement Specialist C work on HR before moving to Facilities. We often tell ourselves in Procurement that different categories require specific knowledge – and they do – but the fundamental best practices are the same. Your team will love the opportunity to work on new projects, and bring an outside eye to identify uncovered opportunities, while having more reason to collaborate with their fellow team members who have subject matter expertise.

Think Strategic, and Eliminate Busy-work whenever possible

Technology is offering a lot of possibilities for eliminating the busywork and more “clerical” aspects that used to define Procurement. Look into technological solutions that streamline proposals, purchase orders, vendor management, contract management, and other bread-and-butter Procurement tasks. If you show your direct reports a commitment to eliminating grunt work and busy work, they’ll reward you by spending time on more impactful projects that you can take to business leadership.

Fight for your Direct Reports.

This is one of the biggest things you can do from a people-development standpoint. While we often focus on getting buy-in from other functions in business – a considerable task that consumes a lot of our mental energy – it’s also important for us to get buy-in from the Buyers, Specialists, Category Managers, Purchasing Agents and others we supervise. This means fighting for them, avoiding micromanagement, and encouraging them to offer dissenting opinions and new ways of doing things. It’s true of any field, but in Procurement especially, if the whole team isn’t rowing in the same direction, the boat starts to take on water fast. Help them figure out how they can get better buy-in from stakeholders, and if they’re not getting it, put in the work to help establish Procurement’s credibility with those stakeholders.

Solid Procurement leadership is an evolving process, just as the field itself is evolving. This list is based on years of conversations and interactions with senior leaders in the Procurement field, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely exhaustive. And we know we have lots of great Procurement leaders who also have input, so weigh in! What do you think are the most important qualities in Procurement leadership? 


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