The future of talented Procurement teams

2nd October 2019

We are told the expectation of procurement is changing. For years it has been a function that did not have a seat at the board, yet it is now expected to make an impact beyond delivering bottom line savings. Despite this, Deloitte’s 2018 CPO survey stated that ‘51% of procurement leaders believe their current teams do not have sufficient levels of skills and capabilities to deliver on their procurement strategy’. We investigate how the changing expectations of the procurement function impacts its practitioners and leaders.

In our previous blog, we looked at the advantages of bringing in talent from other business functions, posing the question; ‘Are soft skills more important that technical expertise?’ We regularly hear the same rhetoric of professionals ‘falling into’ procurement at the start of their careers. If this is the case, why can this not happen at a later stage of a career, once an individual has fine tuned their commercial skills and business understanding?

We sat down with Stephanie Bell, Executive Director of Procurement at Avon. Stephanie moved into procurement in 2014, joining Diageo, having spent much of her career in marketing and media leadership roles around the world.

Stephanie shared her insights and experiences on moving into the procurement function later in her career, and how this influenced her decisions when building successful teams of varied backgrounds and diverse thoughts:

“If you want something new you have to stop doing something old” – Peter Drucker

It’s widely discussed that diversity is a key success factor for businesses and organisations actively looking to build teams of mixed skills, cultures and styles, and my career has been hugely enriched through the different people, companies, roles and countries that I’ve experienced. I have been globally mobile with Media agency planning and broadcaster sales management roles out of Budapest, led media agencies in Asia before leading media and digital with L’Oréal across APAC, living and working in Bangkok and Shanghai. I returned to London to lead global marketing procurement for Diageo and, most recently, joined Avon where I lead the global marketing transformation program.

I asked Stephanie why her background and experiences enabled a successful transition into procurement, and what she would do differently if she had her time again?

The core skills of modern procurement leadership include; commercial acumen, developing talent, aligning stakeholders, setting a strong vision and execution plan, transforming business, inspiring others to achieve their best, navigating and negotiating, and delivering business performance. These have all been alive in most of my previous roles, regardless of title. That being said, when I steered my career into procurement I wasn’t surprised to hear “but you have no procurement experience”, in the first couple of months of my first procurement role, as my trajectory wasn’t a traditional one.

Working and living abroad gave me the opportunity to learn more than just the core technical skills of the job. In my first international role in Budapest, I found myself quickly choosing to work with people ‘like me’. I still painfully recall attending a large media pitch for a major FMCG client with a team of expats full of western experience and a sense of superiority. We lost the pitch. The debrief was painful. The lack of team ‘variety’ was a standout reason for failing. Sadly, many years later, I still see companies presenting their ‘A team’ and it’s clear much still needs to be worked on.

Throughout my 10 years in Asia, I was always learning, adjusting and energising. The pace of ‘decision to implementation’, the power of trust and building long term relationships, the importance of giving face (or low ego), innovating and taking risks, and the endless opportunity to apply them. As a result, I realised that continuously staying open, learning and ‘wanting more’ was a gift in itself.

I asked Stephanie what she felt leaders should be doing differently regarding talent management, to promote innovation and bring diversity of thought?

Most of the leaders I know have a voracious appetite for knowing about and learning from others who have succeeded ahead of them. Bookshelves, Kindles and audiobooks are littered with the words of Jobs, Ma, Sandberg et al; yet when it comes to hiring, the briefs are often the tried and tested, looking for many of the same qualifications, company profiles and work experience whilst searching for transformation, directional leaps or competitive advantage through new approaches and innovations. Ultimately, building teams in the shape of themselves.

When looking to hire or to develop talent, leaders need to be clear on the big purpose: where are we now, where have we come from, future possibilities and understanding the accelerators and barriers to progress, or lack of, to date. Cast the net wide and look for someone with the game changing skills you need which are complementary to the team’s strengths and weaknesses, adding new dimensions and bringing oxygen and energy to overall performance.

My hires have varied, including a manager from the hospitality industry for a media agency client development role with a focus on engagement and building a trusted relationship, and a senior hire from an engineering company into a media data analyst function, where the focus was on disciplines and PM structure. I also brought ‘hard core’ supply procurement skills into the marketing procurement function to add some discipline and edge on a previously ‘loose’ category to challenge the thinking and approach to media procurement by bringing digital media experts in-house.

My best practice to give a competitive edge in hiring or shaping a team includes:

  • 50/50 male/female from the top with direct and marketing procurement experts in the same teams to bring magic and logic together.
  • Multi-cultural for better connection, communication and understanding, which ultimately gets the best out everyone, resulting in huge competitive advantage.
  • External skills to deepen the expertise, learning and possibility, and develop deeper business partnerships with all stakeholders (internal and external).
  • Cross-functional teams: give people the opportunity to move out of their swim lane and collaborate around a business challenge. Debrief post-event to address pain points.
  • Give clear direction, accountability and the space and support to deliver.
  • Promote mixed styles of working. I wanted to avoid a team of visionaries with no finishers, or a team of detailed analytical types without the balance of simplification .

The formula has worked well so far, delivering brilliant business results, seeing colleagues’ personal and career growth, working with and learning from highly talented people and enjoying the journey on the way. I will continue to prioritise transferable skills and right styles when hiring or promoting with a strong bias towards a positive mindset, tenacity and energy and, at all costs, steer clear of divas!

A change in the expectation of what procurement delivers to an organisation should encourage a change in what we look for when identifying talent. Searching for talent in the same ‘tried and tested’ areas, using the same techniques and practices, is likely to produce the same results. Perhaps it is time for organisations and those responsible for hiring to consider different backgrounds and behaviours, encouraging diversity of thought to produce different results.

At Berwick Partners we specialise in recruiting Procurement and Supply Chain leadership roles across all sectors.