Assessing A Procurement Team’s Skills

Special thanks to Charles Dominick, SPSM3 of the Next Level Purchasing Association for this guest post.

You have a procurement team. It isn’t performing quite as well as you’d like.

You instinctively know that there has to be mismatches between the skill levels required for each position and the skill levels possessed by the occupants of those positions. You know action is required. But you can’t exactly put your finger on a way to solve the problems that are preventing you from maximizing procurement performance.

Where do you start?

Well, you can’t solve a problem unless you identify it. And you can’t effectively go to war without knowing what weapons you have. So, at this point, you need to assess the skills of each member of your procurement team.

Now, conducting a world-class procurement skills assessment is a pretty involved process. For the brevity required by a blog post, we will have to cover some parts of the process by simply stating what tasks need to be done and not necessarily how to do them. For example, before you assess procurement skills, you need to determine which competencies are required to achieve organizational goals. That’s an hour-long seminar in and of itself. Let’s assume that you already know what competencies are required for success and, therefore, what skills you need to assess. There are many options for assessing procurement skills, so we will spend more time on that process.

There are three ways of assessing procurement skills. The following is an excerpt from a Next Level Purchasing Association white paper entitled, “The Procurement Leader’s Guide To A More Successful Team: Seven Steps For Improving Skills & Getting Better Results.”

Skill Assessment Method A — Self-Assessment

One commonly used approach is to have each team member complete a self-assessment. For example, you may list your desired competencies and ask each staff member whether their skill levels in that competency are high, moderate or low. While this can get the job done quickly, it is not likely to be accurate.

First, the assessment is inherently subjective. Any skills assessment should be able to challenge a skill level claim with the questions “according to whom?” and “compared to what standard?” The answer to these questions for this method would be “according to the individual” and “compared to that individual’s opinion,” respectively. Not the strongest benchmarks.

Second, there is a risk that a self-assessment might be completed defensively. Individuals may feel that the reason for the assessment is to identify candidates to be downsized or to award promotions or raises. Therefore, individuals may rate their skills higher than they truly are in order to avoid punitive measures or to achieve rewards. Attitudes of individuals in these situations may be characterized by statements such as “If I don’t recognize my skills, how can expect others to recognize them?” and “If they knew my real skill levels, they wouldn’t be asking me to do this self-assessment, so why be modest?”

Skills Assessment Method B — Manager Assessment

Another approach is to either

(i) begin with a self-assessment and validate it with a manager’s review and update of that assessment or

(ii) to simply have the manager assess each staff member’s skill levels independently.

Of course, this approach is still subjective and “inside the box.” An internal assessment does not compare skills with best-in-class procurement professionals — it compares it with internal expectations, which often can drift to one of two extremes:

(i) the current team has inadequate skills or

(ii) the current team has been here a long time and the team members know their jobs inside and out.

When it comes to mastering all aspects of procurement, you should always lean towards the mantra of “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

Skills Assessment Method C — Third-Party Assessment

Yet another approach is to have the skills assessment performed by a third party. A third-party assessment can provide the most objective data. And you may be surprised that, depending on the provider, you can have a procurement skills assessment performed at little to no cost and little effort.

Regardless of the method chosen, you need to have an idea of at least two tiers of skill level in each competency: acceptable and unacceptable. A graduated measurement with data between these two tiers is better, but you must at least know the demarcation point between acceptable and unacceptable.

Using Assessment Results

Once you have assessed the procurement team’s skills, you need to do a gap analysis. Again, that’s one of those things that I could write on and on about. I’ll simplify it by saying you’ll document which team members lack adequate skills in which competencies.

Once you have your skill gap analysis, then can develop a roadmap for training in order to close those gaps. That topic deserves plenty of attention, so I will dedicate my next guest post to that topic.

Stay tuned!

Thanks, Charles.