21/04/19 - 14:51 Filed in: Procurement
This job advert caught my eye:
The role is a senior strategic sourcing role, (not an analyst role). Look at the second bullet point.
- Be advanced in Microsoft Excel
Five words that reveal so much! Firstly, what do you think is the relevance of Microsoft Excel to a senior strategic sourcing role? It’s in the mix somewhere, isn’t it? But the second bullet point?
I will go out on a limb here and say that an ability to analyse data is important for many procurement roles, but an ability to analyse data and being ‘advanced’ in Microsoft Excel are not the same thing.
A senior strategic sourcing role requires the ability to interpret data. An obvious example is spend analysis. You would expect a sourcing practitioner to be able to capture the spend data, and - assuming there are no analysts in the organisation - cleanse and analyse the spend. But the real value is in opportunity analysis; what does the data mean? Which categories could be managed differently to release some value? What is the scale of the potential benefit, and how easy or difficult will it be to access that value? None of those judgements are directly related to an ability to use pivot tables.
The second issue that I have is with the definition; ‘advanced in Microsoft Excel’. If I asked you to develop an assessment task to establish the actual level of capability of a candidate, what would the task be, and what would be the threshold that you would calibrate as ‘advanced’? Given the widespread belief that candidates inflate their actual capability, how would you validate that a candidate really does have ‘advanced’ capability in Excel?
Now you may think that I am getting overexcited about a single job advert. (And you may be right!) But what then, do you make of this advert?
This is for a senior sourcing role in a University. Universities are among the most challenging cultures for professional service practitioners to operate it. Business cards for key decision makers have to be A5 in size to fit in all of their qualifications and academics operate in a culture of intellectual freedom. The key capabilities that underpin success for sourcing practitioners in this context are interpersonal skills. The ability to build rapport, engage and influence stakeholders, and build a ‘guiding coalition’ to support initiatives. To be fair, the advert does mention collaboration, (though with procurement peers). But what’s that?
- “A high level of competency using Excel and Procurement Systems and sound analytical capabilities”
At least the capabilities mentioned include the ability to analyse, not just a facility with Excel. And in this organisation, the level of capability needed is not ‘advanced’. It’s only ‘high’. Phew! I may stand a chance, then! And ‘contract development experience’ is so important it gets mentioned twice. Maybe it is doubly important?
I know it is easy to criticise, so I will list what I believe are some generic capabilities positively correlated with actual strategic sourcing behaviour, rather than data analysis or tactical procurement. Before I do that, let me say that I think these two adverts show:
The commoditisation of the recruitment services industry by the growth of SEEK and LinkedIn and, yes, by procurement processes squeezing rates - has led to recruiters spending less time on each job. These ads may be the result of wafer-thin rates.
These job adverts demonstrate that the people who wrote them know next to nothing about procurement
I have little confidence that recruitment and selection processes based upon the published criteria will select suitable candidates for the roles
The preoccupation with Excel in people specifications is a symptom of the failure of the procurement profession to communicate what it is that we do, or how we do it, to other professions.
To be more constructive, here are three domains of capability relevant to procurement roles:
Manage procurement; we must be capable of managing the procurement process
Manage people; we must be capable of influencing and managing relationships with peers, stakeholders and suppliers
Manage the business; we must be capable of aligning our contribution to the goals of the organisation
Here is a simple graphic to visualise the three domains of capability. The job adverts reflect that procurement people can’t just be good at procurement, we also need to be able to relate to others. And if the business sees no value in what we do?
We all know the consequences of that, because it is often all too prevalent. I have listed some specific capabilities in each domain, and as a target I have myself a maximum of ten. This is for a senior strategic sourcing role, (the same as in the two adverts)
Translates business strategies into procurement solutions
Reviews the spend portfolio and identifies opportunities
Manages benefit realisation to drive tangible outcomes
Manage the people
Influences others effectively
Analyses opportunities and problems
Makes decisions under conditions of uncertainty
Builds and leads teams and coalitions of stakeholders
Manage the business
Participates in strategy development
Develops and champions business cases
Leads change programs and drives out benefits
Do you agree? By all means add some you think are important, but remember to take away one capability for each capability that you add. More than ten capabilities is more than enough! I am experienced in developing capability frameworks and in diagnosing capability. I have developed capability diagnostics for procurement practitioners and for human resource practitioners, and I have developed capability frameworks for many different organisations
You are still reading? Here is an actual job advert I spotted a few weeks ago. Enjoy!
To be successful in your application for this engaging and exciting new opportunity the candidate will be a decisive and proactive team player and will have a demonstrated ability to work autonomously, to manage multiple priorities in a fast-paced environment and provide innovative solutions to complex issues. The ability to identify strategic alignment and identify and drive continuous improvement activities whilst engaging and influencing others to achieve operational excellence will be paramount in this role. Additionally you will ideally have experience of working within a technical engineering environment and be able to effectively build and manage partnerships with key internal and external stakeholders in order to deliver value from strategic partnerships, innovation and to support to REDACTED growth aspirations.