Consider the following:
- The Future CPO will have performed a stint outside of Procurement before becoming CPO.
- Digital is creating and will accelerate the rise of horizontal and diagonal career pathways.
- Developing/equipping individuals and teams extends beyond classical procurement skills.
Everything is changing. So what is (are) the career path(s), and what does this mean for the CPO reflecting on their team’s development and the evolution of their function?
Let’s assume that as a profession we are successful in evolving the role of Procurement. The evolving needs of organizations and the role that suppliers play (in delivering to these needs) assumes that Procurement could and should expand its remit through various customer, process, and outcome lenses.
And so the future structure of Procurement functions will mirror other functions; a blend of deep technical and functional specialisms glued together by enabling leadership, knowledge, and digital. Progress into the role of CPO will no longer be defined by being a better and better sourcing specialist. Being the best at “procurement” won’t be enough to manage a high performing team with broad responsibilities across commercial and supply chain.
That said, there will be talent pathways through sourcing, as there will through other emerging competencies such as Supplier Risk Management, Sustainability, Digital Infrastructure, Data Intelligence, Business Partnering (Insight/Network partners as we call them at Proxima), or Supplier Collaboration. There will also be leadership roles in these teams and corresponding Centers of Excellence.
For some larger organizations, the delineation already exists, although few have genuinely arrived. But progressing up through this type of function will be no guarantee of reaching CPO. Why?
Learning from our colleagues
A good reference point would be how the future Procurement Function and thus career pathway may mirror a Finance function consisting of treasury, transaction processing, management accounting, internal audit, etc. Each is a valued and specialist career path but it is not enough today to become CFO. Something more is required.
Similarly in Procurement, having got to the top of the center of excellence, for example, you will now need – if you have not done so already – to leave and come back. That could mean leave the organization, or leave the function, but in any case, C-Suite leaders will be seeking broad rather than narrow business and leadership experience.
For today’s CPO’s, developing people and teams might mean preparing for a life without key individuals. Part of what now makes a great leader is understanding that developing talent may mean challenging top performers to progress outside of your function. Conversely, if you create brilliant career pathways and experiences, new talent will want to come and work for you!
Think of your role like a coach. Some of your students will go on to excel in the sport, others in other subjects and disciplines, but a the point in time, you have them to teach and inspire. You get the chance to spot their talent, guide, and support. Your reward is in watching them progress, and in the CPOs case, possibly come back.
So if you are CPO today reflecting on how to grow your future talent, you have a great responsibility. You have also got some training to do and mindsets to alter. You have to figure out how to give them the depth and breadth of experience which makes them attractive to the rest of the business, and what skills you want to give them.
But how do you change your own mindset?
A recent conversation with a FTSE 10 CPO perhaps illustrates the point. The CPO in question was pondering how to do more, with less. Essentially this would mean driving operating efficiencies (with less), but building better engagement and problem shaping skills (do more). The CPO took the route of hiring senior leaders with Growth Mindsets into a small number of director roles. The majority of the incoming team members did not have a Procurement background. But with the right balance in the broader team, he was able to infuse new skills and challenge into a technically competent team.
The success of this story was all about recognizing needs and creating balance. The CPO was able to bring knowledge and technical competence through his existing team, technology, and consultants.
Tips for success?
- Stage one: Create a brand of procurement that deeply considers skills and career pathways. Making Procurement an exciting, attractive, career-enhancing place to come, and go from.
- Stage two: Develop a personal KPI to be measured based on where your team comes from and goes to. How many people arrive in your team from or leave your team to join another function in the business?
- Stage three: Shift your mindset to consider consultants, partnering, and pooling. For example, digital is going to be hard to find and you may need to develop/participate in an eco-system of digitally savvy resources. Digital may be the specialism, not procurement.
- Stage four: Understand where and when to prioritize creativity over process. Assuming you create a well-functioning Procurement function, creativity may help you to move beyond “delivery of what is expected” and into “delighting by going beyond”.
If it’s not quite time to rip up the rule book, it is time to be noting down a few new rules of your own.