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Corporate Procurement

How to Develop Strategic Staff

The procurement function needs to hire employees who can be "strategic," which means they must excel at a range of disciplines. Finding them is easier said than done

Team Meeting Managers Strategy Strategic PlanningAs we covered in previous posts, to pursue strategic activities beyond its historical remit, Procurement needs staff who excel at a range of competencies.

Like decathletes who must excel at a range of athletic events, these employees need multiple skills — the “innovator” and the “influencer” competencies, for example, as well as the “functional expert” and “results seeker.”

There’s a mismatch, however, between the skills the procurement function needs from its employees and their existing skills. Most procurement functions require proficiency across many competency areas, but few procurement staff excel at multiple competencies.

Procurement departments often invest in training to help employees improve these skills, but only a small proportion of staff show a significant improvement in any of these competencies as a result.

One vice president of procurement in the CEB Procurement network agrees with this view: “You are born with strategic skills, and can be trained to be better,” he said. “But you can’t be trained to be strategic. Not everyone has the ability to think beyond the obvious.”

Since all functions generally have this same problem, Procurement will rarely be able to find these multi-skilled staff elsewhere across the organization.

The Need for a Strategic Focus Has Become Urgent

This need for staff with a broader range of skills has become more urgent as Procurement is increasingly asked to pursue a wider variety of activities than its traditional remit.

Whereas previously the function could succeed with only a small number of staff who excel at multiple competencies, now Procurement needs this kind of employee everywhere, not just in a few categories. This means the organization’s limited amount of employees with these skills won’t suffice (see chart 1).

Evolution of Procurement's Need for Strategic Staff

Chart 1: The evolution of Procurement’s need for strategic staff  Source: CEB analysis


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One Response

  • Mark Zetter says:

    Good article on importance of procurement depth but for more info specific to the electronics industry expertise can be drilled down further. For example: a electronics product mix with a very high number of components is best managed by a ‘planner’ with purchasing experience.

    Whereas, for sheet metal, plastics enclosures… a buyer with planning experience is ideal.

    Then, for high-cost ASICS, its best to have separate planners and separate buyers.

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