The best procurement managers lead from the front, listen to their team, and are extremely good at explaining “The Why.”
Like many of my past blogs, I felt today would be a great day to the write the next tail spend series blog 40,000 feet up on our way back from a customer onboarding engagement in Ohio. Quick side note, our team was 100% saved by TSA pre-check to catch our flight. For anyone that doesn’t have it, I highly recommend it.
For this article, I want to talk about the different leaders we’ve meet with over the past 2 years (customers and prospects) and reflect on what I’ve seen to be highly effective and ineffective procurement management styles. For context, I wrote a similar blog towards that end of 2017 breaking down the 3 different profiles of CPOs, this is more focused on the Procurement Manager and Procurement Director position (mainly within companies over 500 employees).
In my opinion, the 3 traits that produce the best overall team performance and result in the most respect for a Procurement Manager are: 1) Leads from the front 2) Great listener with buyers 3) Great at communicating “The Why’ for new initiatives or process changes. Let’s breakdown each one.
Leads from the front: Like any role, time is a precious resource but the best Procurement Managers have an incredible ability to constantly be in the mix, walking the floor, and showing that they’ll willingly get in the trenches with their team to help get the job done. This doesn’t always mean being the individual that is actively sourcing and processing requisitions (although they can be during a growing backlog or urgent request), but it’s more about showing that they understand what the buyers are doing day-to-day and bring a certain level of performance uplifting to the office. Inversely, we’ve spoken with managers that rarely leave their office and not only are unwilling to get their hands dirty but also don’t care to learn. They lack a platform to earn respect, lead, and influence their team.
Active listeners: Procurement departments are typically made up of teams that come from different fields, backgrounds, and with varying professional experience. As a group, procurement is full of diverse ideas and knowledge that can be utilized for the better of the team, department and company. I’ve observed that the best Procurement Managers have a knack for uncovering the strengths of each team member, and embracing it to increase team productivity. They uncover these strengths by going beyond the Office Space-esque TPS report conversation and facilitating an open forum for people to feel comfortable providing input and feedback. And once that input is provided, they dig deeper by asking questions to further qualify the feedback. Finally, they act on it, and no matter how small or large of a change, it sends a message and snowballs in a tremendous way from there (this also appears to help retention, employee self-development, and future leader identification). To flip the coin, I don’t think it’s difficult to think of a few procurement leaders that still employ the tops down my-way-or-the-highway approach, but these leaders barely know their team’s first and last names, certainly not their backgrounds. I do acknowledge that you can keep the train moving and make necessary changes, but these leaders will never motivate, inspire, or truly optimize the potential of their teams.
Great at explaining the WHY: For any CPOs, COOs, or CEOs reading this, your Managers and Directors that have this trait should be flagged and fast tracked as future leaders. For Procurement Managers and Directors, if you don’t think it’s your strength today, it’s a skill that can be worked on and improved over time. At Fairmarkit we do about 40-50 meeting per week, including many that are either customer onboarding or meetings where managers and directors are introducing Fairmarkit to members of their team. When we kickoff the meetings we’ll confirm the agenda and have the main customer contact take the floor to explain why we’re here, what he or she has seen, and WHY they believe this was a worthwhile meeting to schedule. The best managers begin with outlining current process and outputs, then move on to align the potential efficiency gains or risk reduction that Fairmarkit offers, always concluding with the WHY this is either going to help the company make money or save money. I notice that they don’t dig into features or small details, but rather deliver the message in a non-bias, but passionate style that conveys they have thoroughly thought out WHY this is the right move for the organization. No matter how sideways an attendee tries to take the meeting, the rockstar Procurement Managers and Directors have the ability to uplift the conversation to the business values stated in the beginning, and defend them with conviction, logic and data, to earn the respect and mindshare of the audience.