Got Talent?

Noting that it has been a while since my last Talent post, I went trolling for good articles. On the CPO Agenda site I found not one, but two great articles on talent development. Deep Sea Fishing by Adrian Done and Nurturing Talent: A Numico Case Study by Haide Villuendas from last fall’s Autumn issue.

In Deep Sea Fishing we are warned that purchasing functions often make the mistake of adopting a catch-all approach to competence development and that those organizations that fail to apply sufficient thought to developing appropriate deep sea purchasing competencies are destined to stay splashing in the rock pools; or worse, find themselves dangerously out of their depth in ill-conceived quests for the bigger fish.

According to the article, the key to success is the development of appropriate contextually-specific competence configurations that drive specific strategic competitive priorities in the most crucial areas. This is accomplished by formulating an appropriate framework for the dimensions of purchasing competence (which can start with the basic framework provided) and determining the impact of each of the purchasing competence dimensions upon performance.

Although blatantly obvious, step two is often easier said than done. Just because company A did X and experienced Y does not prove that X actually causes Y or that what will work in company A will work in company B. Although you can hypothesize there is a correlation between action X and effect Y, you cannot scientifically draw a far-reaching conclusion from a sample size of one. In order to determine the effect of a competence dimension, you need to establish appropriate objective and subjective measurements and take multiple measures. Then you will know for sure how important a given competence dimension is for your organization.

Of course, when designing, or re-designing, a purchasing function, you will likely not have the measurements you need to determine the appropriate competence dimensions. In this case, you can still proceed scientifically to arrive at a hypothesis of the appropriate dimensions. Conduct a study of what other organizations are doing and measuring and review the relevant literature. If you find two or three dozen studies and articles from reputable sources that all indicate a given competence dimension is relevant in your type of organization, than, chances are, it is not only relevant but will be relevant to your organization. Furthermore, if it is has been shown to impact one or more of the most common purchasing metrics, including the seven important metrics described in the article, it’s likely a sure thing. (The metrics listed are quality, on-time delivery, accuracy, cycle time, commodity knowledge, professionalism, and negotiating ability.)

By now you’re probably asking, just what is this competence dimension you keep referring to? A competence dimension is simply a meaningful measure of competence relevant to a purchasing department. The article lists six basic competence dimensions as part of their framework:

  • Employee Competence

    Personnel are well trained and have the ability to apply innovative ideas.

  • Empowerment

    Personnel are involved in key decisions, have autonomy, and have job security.

  • Internal Interaction

    Personnel regularly collaborate and share knowledge with each other and with other departments.

  • Product/Service Development

    Personnel communicate regularly with product and service development departments and assist in the early phases of new product development.

  • External Interaction

    Personnel collaborate and share knowledge with suppliers, do joint production and delivery planning, and share risk.

  • IT Competence

    Personnel use IT to achieve company-wide visibility on spend, use eSourcing to get the best value, and make continuous improvements to the procurement cycle.

Nurturing Talent tells us that it can be difficult to attract and retain top purchasing talent and that any organization that wants to do so needs to make a serious effort in terms of time, resources, and commitment. But more importantly, it also spells out what talent looks like to Numico and what talent should look like to you. Talent consists of three broad attribute categories:

  • Attitude

    etiquette, passion, and EQ: emotional intelligence

  • Brainpower

    analytical thinking, structured reasoning, and creativity

  • Knowledge

    general knowledge, qualifications, and relevant experience

Furthermore, attitude and brainpower are given priority – since purchasing specific knowledge can be taught as long as the person has enough brainpower and the right attitude, as could be evidenced by a university degree and a desire for continuous learning.

The article also provides some good advice for growing and retaining talent.

  • Renumeration

    Good buyers spend the bulk of their time asking what a product or service is worth – it’s only natural they’re going to ask what they’re worth.

  • Learning on the Job

    Not only does it give your organization a competitive advantage, but it gives a purchasing professional a sense of accomplishment and, when done right, fun!

  • Career Path

    Good procurement personnel are ambitious. They want to know that they can advance over time.

  • Mentoring

    This can make both the mentor and the mentored feel valuable and maintain your competitive edge as relevant knowledge is passed on within your organization.

  • Team Diversity

    Business is Global – and Procurement even more so. Encourage and support diversity on your team, who will enjoy learning about other cultures.

  • Say Goodbye with Grace

    Your top talent leaving can be a good thing! A recently departed employee can be an ambassador for your firm – promoting it to potential future employees and customers. Furthermore, if an ambitious employee left because your firm didn’t have the appropriate position for her at the time, there’s no saying that such employee would not be interested in returning in the future when such a position opened up. Since there is nothing more valuable than a dedicated employee who brings back knowledge of best practices from other companies, it’s important to make sure they leave on the best of terms.