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Insights from Procurecon 2019; sustainability, agility and knowledge

Over three days at Procurecon, a host of topics get covered, all of which impact on how we need to think about procurement, and how we might adopt and amend our approaches. On Wednesday, the undercurrent was about sustainability and how we need to adapt to deliver new strategies for that business requirement. On the closing day, the challenge addressed was the skills required in the business to deliver the procurement role of the future.
Recruit or grow the skill required

It’s clear that the mix of skills needed to deliver the most critical outcomes are a step beyond those a traditional transactional buyer typically has. The descriptions used by people included change management, big data capability and broad commercial and business insight. This leads to a rapid discussion of whether it is possible to recruit to this skill set, or whether it should be grown. Given the shortage of those with the full aspirational skill set, we are going to have to grow at least a proportion of the skills needed.

In turn, this suggests a wide-ranging development path which needs to be built for individuals, with the supporting coaching and mentoring structures which are necessary to embed skills. An in-room poll suggested that there were few who felt comfortable with their current talent development when facing that broader business role going forward.

Changing conditions require agility

A second theme emerging is the concept of agility – are we able to react to rapidly changing market or social conditions within the structures and behaviours which we have in place? The challenge of changing conditions was illustrated for many attending the Procurecon event as protests broke out around the airport linked to local political challenges. Dealing with macroeconomic change now means that we have to react swiftly to changing conditions, to ensure that we can ensure supply as well as meet broader business requirements going forward.

This brings out two contrasting, or perhaps complementary, approaches in the discussion. Firstly, building in resilience, which makes sure that we survive in a changing environment. Secondly, building in agility, which means that we can change swiftly. Of course, we may need to address both areas in many circumstances.

Agility has a built-in challenge – many internal systems are in place which aim to impose a lack of change and a high degree of compliance, often for good reasons. There is a danger of being agile that we spend time and effort reacting to an external change which isn’t sustained. However, if the environment is changing all the time, that agility is going to be necessary. The broad discussion suggests that, at present, we tend only to be agile at the point of real challenge – everyone can be agile when a supplier collapses and a replacement is needed. So, how can we replicate the speed we can work at when we have to, and deliver the value we believe exists from Procurement activity.

Combining the two areas above shows an extra set of skills we need to build; excellent knowledge and capability in agile ways of working, in a way that can be readily applied to our ever-changing environment. If we can capture and foster these ways of working, we can get more out of the procurement approaches that we have around us.

Agile might be both a high-level approach and a detailed approach; in the software world, scrum management and agile development are well established. Many of the skills in that area can be applied to driving through procurement approaches, particularly where we are dealing with category or strategic supplier processes.

Overall, this speaks to a need to reach beyond our usual models and expectations, to adopt and adapt approaches from other disciplines to optimise our capabilities into the world we are now facing. It’s an exciting time!

Further reading

Blog post: The Deep Impact of Sustainability – Guy Fawkes

Blog post: Sustainability and the supply chain

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