Making Yourself An MVP: Increase Your Worth To Your Company And Your Co-Workers
Susan Scott, C.P.M., CIRM
Susan Scott, C.P.M., CIRM, Sr. Consultant, Harris Consulting, Inc., Lexington, MA 02173, 781/674-0041, email@example.com
84th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1999
Abstract. In an era of constant change, we can no longer count on holding the same job until we retire, regardless of how hard we work. Mergers, lay-offs, and re-engineering force us to rely on our own marketability to ensure continued employment. What can we do to enhance our chances of being recognized as top contributors within our companies and within our networks? What makes us more valuable to our superiors and highly valued by our co-workers? How can we become the Most Valuable Player on a high performance team?
Individuals advance in the procurement field not only due to their technical knowledge of procurement, but due to a set of acquired management skills. I want to bring to your attention ten (10) aspects of personal development that are usually not addressed in typical training/education forums. Further, I'll identify ten (10) dimensions, as portrayed through the personal experiences of senior purchasing managers at Fortune 500 companies, which if pursued, will lead an individual to MVP status.
Throughout my career I have met many successful procurement people. These individuals stand out from the crowd. Based on my experience, I believe people are successful because they have addressed underlying, structural, personal development dimensions which lead to personal improvement, analogous to the training Mark Maguire did on body and mind to reach his record-breaking 70 home runs in 1998.
Many of the current writings include random lists of activities of noted leaders in the private and public sectors. However, these writings are not based on personal experience or case histories. Nor do the writings offer developmental suggestions to assist in personal improvement (e.g., like improving your baseball swing and RBI).
During my career, I have trained many individuals in various subjects, including leadership, quality awareness, team skills, negotiations, and functional areas such as manufacturing and supply chain management. In these programs, much is said about best practices and how to develop a core competency in the area of focus. I have heard many stories about the effectiveness of procurement professionals, each with anecdotes highlighting exemplary individuals. However, to a great extent participants discuss how to attack problems in management and in the organization. They focus on the negative rather than the positive.
One of the best ways to model competency is to evaluate the reasons for the success of those procurement leaders who have reached the top and continue to be influential in their respective areas. I use the sports metaphor because we are almost all working in teams and find our success is advanced or hindered by our relations with our teammates. In fact, most companies make it a point to host some "team training" sessions to assist us in working together. Yet important aspects of personal development are constantly being missed:
Based on my observations, conversations with seminar participants, and work with the operations and human resource people in various companies, I have found that jobs are rated on the basis of skills required. Then training and development plans are structured for broad categories of people, when to be effective :
- Development plans should be specific to the job and provide a description of the core competencies needed to be successful in that endeavor.
- You have to help create your own development plan. These plans have to be owned by the individual and followed-up by the manager. Too often we're "let off the hook" by a manager who knows we feel no ownership for a plan we had no say in creating.
- There is a lack of knowledge of overall core competencies for career success.
When was the last time you sat down and asked yourself "what skills do I need to do my job really well?
- Specific training and development plans are put in place, but no one is reviewing the common threads of competency present in all such plans.
- These skills are not provided for in a common body of knowledge.
- These skills are not taught at the secondary or college level.
- Generally, there is a lack of cause and effect in most written training materials. Little is available which shows a direct correlation between developing a competency and achieving success. This connection must be established.
- We need to record development successes and find ways to re-create them over and over.
- An international standard for success, with specific questions and categories, does not exist.
- A common sense checklist of actionable steps to develop competency is needed for effective coaching.
You need to be conscious of the ten areas listed above if when you're striving to attain the core competencies for professional success in procurement. These ten axioms are the foundation of this body of knowledge. Each of these dimensions require ongoing plans to improve capability from one recognizable level to another-and can be extended in quality. The practice fields are worn because they are frequently used; people get injured by making a wrong move and have to work their way back into the game. Others become coaches and trainers, so that people can follow their lead. Using the sports metaphor again, there are ten approaches to put in your play-book if you want to get to the top of your profession without sacrificing your good standing with your teammates.
- Customer "Service" Focus: An interview with the Director of Procurement for a large pre-press system manufacturer identified his success with his "customer first" attitude toward daily business. In fact, the Director of Procurement was previously an internal customer of the procurement department. When he was approached to assume the position of Director of Procurement, he was at first puzzled with what he personally brought to the table. However, after considering his technical understanding of the manufacturing business and his long term association with supplier issues, he in fact was an excellent choice due to understanding of both the internal and external customers. When faced with purchasing decisions, he utilized his experiences as the customer to determine "How would I feel in the customer's position?" This customer focus has led to a good rapport between procurement and the customers. It has enabled purchasing to solicit end user input, develop long term procurement strategies, and it has simplified problem resolution. The Director of Procurement has demonstrated that appropriate attitude and demeanor is critical to maintaining a positive perception of the procurement department. That perception is a difficult balancing act, but crucial in implementing the department's long term procurement strategies. Ultimately, it is these strategies which lead to the effectiveness and success of the purchasing organization. Therefore, maintaining the customer "service" focus, has been a crucial skill in the career path of this Director of Procurement.
- Team Participant and/or Leader: A senior procurement manager at a large defense aerospace corporation identified his ability to lead a multi-disciplined group as essential to his career progression. His multi-faceted educational background of Business and Law, along with his skills as a facilitator and enabler, gave him the reputation of being someone who could make things happen. This reputation, originally recognized by his co-workers and ultimately by the company, helped him advance quickly in the organization. Throughout his career, he has held various procurement management positions. However, a large portion of his career has been dedicated to developing internal training and development for other procurement personnel. Hence, the values of becoming a team participant and/or leader are stressed as skills that would allow one to be recognized within the procurement department.
- Financial Aptitude : The Vice President of Procurement at a Fortune 50 Company which oversees seven different business units stated that, looking at his career in retrospect, he recognized that the skill which allowed him to progress and brought him to the senior management table in the procurement arena is his ability to work with numbers. His challenge in the procurement world is to coordinate a worldwide purchasing effort in a decentralized environment. How does one perform this task? As seen by this Vice President of Procurement, he begins by getting accurate data and formatting the data in a meaningful, convincing manner. He commented as follows "Data influences change. People in front of figures are obliged to change. In the absence of good data, people will do whatever they want." Someone who has the ability to collect, interpret, format, and present data in a meaningful, logical manner is someone who has the ability to persuade another party to their point of view. This skill of persuasion through the numbers is crucial in the procurement world. An individual who has mastered this skill is someone who will become a highly sought after procurement specialist. One must understand how a company/organization works in order to be successful in their career. In the eyes of the Vice President of Procurement, "Organizations are influenced by numbers."
- Analytical Skills: Following the career path of the Corporate Director of Purchasing at a large manufacturer of process control systems, it is apparent that analytical skills have been the foundation of his career. The Procurement position was an uncharted turn in his career path. However, regardless of his previous financial positions, he was always involved in some facet with procurement. Manufacturing companies spend on average 55% of their revenue on purchased goods and services. Therefore, an effective procurement organization is crucial to the financial health of most organizations. It has been recently reported that CEO's are looking at the procurement function as a way to add value to the bottom line. The Corporate Director developed a commodity management concept several years ago at a previous job for a Fortune 100 Company. This model is described as a rigorous process to establish purchasing strategies for the top 80% of goods and services purchased. This formal process forces the buyers/commodity managers to assess the outside market, benchmark, report on quality, delivery, and lead time, and determine how much is spent with which suppliers and why. This analysis is formally reviewed by the management team until the right comfort level is reached and the procurement strategy is formulated. This concept of market assessment and planning is commonly taught in training and development courses. However, in many organizations, it is overlooked outside the Purchasing Dept. At this company, the job of the Corporate Director of Purchasing is to reduce cost. Every month, costs on all commodities are indexed to measure the effectiveness of the procurement department. This concept of commodity management is how the Corporate Director of Purchasing has provided the required results. Solid analytical skills coupled with financial aptitude provide the background for success in this environment.
- Independent Work: The Director of Procurement at a leading consumer products corporation credits his success to his ability to perform independently and stay focused. In three instances in his career, he entered into an organization at a lower level position than that of which he had previously held. However, by beginning at a lower level, the Director of Procurement was able to gain an understanding of the internal workings of the company, understand the technology/service/product line the company was selling, and understand the organization's goals as they related to the procurement department. This strategy allowed the Director of Procurement to rise quickly through the ranks in each of these three organizations. He credits this rise on his ability to remain focused and work independently. First, I stay steady, gain an understanding of the company, and do my job. I do not get sidetracked or pulled off on issues not relevant to my job. I stay focused at all times. Secondly, I understand my job requirements. I do the job that is asked of me and give it 100%. Thirdly, I understand the objectives of the company/division. I always ensure that my work reflects the objectives of the organization. Should I disagree with the objectives, I will address this disagreement off line, behind closed doors, and not in a public arena. This independent, focused work ethic has proven successful for this Director, not in one organization but in three.
It is the opinion of the writer that procurement staffs must build coalitions with other groups within the company and then proceed toward the goals without always waiting for top management to review their plans. Let the results speak for themselves. Organizations need people who proceed boldly and work "outside their boxes" so that true innovation can be achieved.
- Technical Intelligence: Technical intelligence can be defined in many forms. It could be the ability to maintain the pace and speed of the computer generation, understand the technical complexity and manufacturing process of products purchased, or the interpretation of financial statements. As demonstrated by our participants in this paper, a successful procurement professional must bring some form of technical intelligence to the table. Examples of technical intelligence identified through the surveys include a Vice President of Procurement at a Fortune 50 company who previously was the Chief Financial Officer for the company. This individual brought a wealth of financial knowledge to the procurement field. Also on the financial side, the Corporate Director of Purchasing at the process control system company brought a solid financial analysis background to procurement. This individual utilized his background by requiring the members of the procurement organization to perform analyses for 80% of the components procured. The Director of Procurement for the pre-press system manufacturer brought an engineering background to the profession. His experience demonstrated that he intricately understood the requirements of the products to be procured allowing him to make accurate, technically knowledgeable procurement decisions. The same scenario is true for the senior procurement manager at a large defense aerospace corporation. This individual felt that his educational background in business and law helped him communicate and lead members of the organization to form strategic decisions regarding the purchase of subcontracted commodities. A solid foundation of technical knowledge will always enhance one's position in a procurement environment as it will enable an individual to stand out based on his/her unique capabilities. Many times your team members in other functions will be happy to help you increase your understanding. Likewise, suppliers can teach you a lot about the processes and the players in an industry. Ask questions. Keep learning.
- Continuous Improvement Orientation: Continuous Improvement is a concept that has been written about and taught at most procurement training courses. However, the concept is not the required skill. Rather, it is the implementation of the attitude in one's day-to-day work that will lead to MPP status. An interview with a coffee procurement manager was profiled in "Purchasing" on April 3, 1997. It alleged that the desire to constantly improve was the rationale behind their successful market impact. The company has grown beyond their expectations. The purchasing manager originally joined the company to purchase equipment for new stores and packaging materials for production. As the company grew from 100 stores to opening a new store per day, the focus changed to equipping new stores faster, at less cost, while retaining the highest quality. In order to keep pace with the overall corporate growth and strategy, a continuous improvement orientation had become a necessity for the procurement organization to evolve with the company.
- Presentation Skills: All of the individuals interviewed for this report stated that presentation skills are of the utmost importance for MVP's in any organization. In the area of procurement, presentation skills are required to present the status of materials or services to the company, train individuals both inside and outside the company, provide performance data, report action plans, and communicate the needs of the organization to the supplier community. Presentation skills are considered a mandatory skill that must be acquired and will be refined at any level and at any time in one's career. Failure to present ideas well will never persuade an individual or organization to accept your viewpoints.
- Excellent Writer: Writing skills were also considered a pre-requisite to the success of any procurement career. Every participant in our survey thought that writing skills were essential. At a minimum, an effective member of a procurement department will need to write plans, letters, purchase orders, contracts, and status reports. An individual who has the ability to write well will be an asset to any organization to which they belong. Writing skills can constantly be polished and refined at any level in one's career.
- Personal Development: ("Sharpening the Saw" as Covey would say.) The need to continue to develop one's self is not always considered a skill. However, faced with a busy schedule and the unending lack of time that most professionals endure each week, the ability to make time for one's personal development is in fact a skill. Also, the ability to recognize that one could benefit from personal development is also a consideration. Association Management, Feb 1997 asked five CEO's "What have you done for yourself lately?" Circumstances suggest that someone in a CEO position would not have time for self improvement. That answer is wrong. Responses to the question were that "we all have to be ready to learn all the time. You just do it." A procurement executive who takes the time to identify areas of improvement and invests the time in that improvement will be rewarded. Individuals who wait for their organization to train them will also be behind the learning curve. Companies traditionally provide training well after the skills and knowledge included in the training are needed.
Summary. As stated by all the participants in our research for this paper, all of the above skills link together. Acquiring one skill by itself will not guarantee procurement success. However, people who exhibit these abilities will see the linkages and will be able to leverage them. The acquisition of 5-6 of the above skills will allow you to gain recognition. The degree to which you hone your skills will determine the level of your success. Don't forget to use the golden rule when dealing with your teammates if you want them to nominate you for MVP. Appreciating their skills will surely lead them to look more favorably on yours. In a team environment, if you can find these ten (10) abilities within the core team members, aid each other's development. Balancing the weak spots of one member with the strengths of another is what team work is all about. To be the best in your field, you have to do exactly what the Mark Maguires and Roger Marises of the world do: train, practice, and work at honing all your skills. MVP's are not born, they are made. You could be one - with a positive attitude and a litle persistence.