Soft Skills Make a Real Impact in Supply Chain Management
For what seems like decades now, the conversations around procurement and supply chain management have focused on the themes of innovation and evolution. The function, conventional wisdom suggests, is changing quickly and gaining a new, more prominent position within organizations. You wouldn’t know it to look at job listings. Conduct a quick search and you’ll find that the same skills that powered procurement through years of tactical obscurity are still (apparently) in high demand. Maybe that’s why just 49% of CPOs feel confident that their teams have everything it takes to meet their goals.
It’s obvious that most procurement groups are lacking for the tech and data-centric skills they’ll need to enter a new digital era. Focusing on technology alone, however, is wildly short-sighted. That’s not the only skills gap holding the function back. Less obvious (though no less wide) is the “soft skills” gap.
So-called soft skills are the attributes that make it possible for a person to engage with their peers and lead effectively. Recent years have seen them become a popular topic in strategy discussions. Organizations list “soft skills” highly on their lists of objectives and (on paper, at least) have set out to develop them. Like most “priorities,” however, the move to build soft skills appears to include more talk than substance.
Look no further than this LinkedIn article. While the go-to professional social network suggests that soft skills are essential, they include just five on their list of 30 must-have qualities. While I’m exploring just five skills in this blog, you’ll notice I’m not juxtaposing them against their more “hard-value” counterparts. Are you putting in the hard work to nurture these soft skills?
Supply chains are built on relationships. Professionals who are unwilling to engage with partners and identify mutually beneficial solutions will soon find themselves in search of a new job. While collaboration is an important skill in any business unit, it should prove especially useful for procurement teams headed into a new era. Historically, the function has been saddled with a less-than-stellar reputation. That’s because it’s typically been anything but collaborative. To distinguish itself as something more than a cost-cutting entity and build cross-functional partnerships, procurement needs to place a new emphasis on working together with its peers.
Whether you’re a consultant or a practitioner, success in procurement depends on your ability to listen in and quickly gather insights. Strategies are no good at all if they’re developed with the help of just one perspective. Effective procurement teams consult with stakeholders and suppliers to assess pain points and develop response plans. Increasing geopolitical uncertainty also demands active listening to the goings-on around the world. Open eyes and ears are often enough to ensure an organization navigates around obstacles effectively.
Internally and externally, procurement teams are often tasked with pitching themselves and their ideas. The best occupy a privileged position, one they can only maintain with a wealth of persuasive skills and an affinity for effective communication. To continue its strategic evolution and keep itself relevant in an increasingly automated world, procurement will need to make a series of persuasive appeals. On a more obvious note, these skills are essential for the function’s day-to-day responsibilities. Persuasion is perhaps the most important skill there is when it comes time to draw up contracts and establish new partnerships.
It’s not always easy for procurement to inspire passion. Whereas functions like marketing and IT conjure up images of high-impact, strategic initiatives, procurement still strikes many as boring and set in its ways. That means stakeholders are hesitant to engage and the executive suite rarely offers a seat at the table. Procurement has to start by stoking passion and enthusiasm within. Hiring managers in particular should be on the lookout for this intangible. After all, passionate and engaged attitudes are often infectious.
The world of Supply Chain Management is an inherently volatile one. That’s never been truer than throughout the last several years. As extreme weather and geopolitical tension wreak havoc on global supply chains, it’s incumbent upon procurement teams to provide accurate forecasting and devise effective response plans. There are no more one-size-fits-all solutions. Procurement’s preferred strategies are continually growing more and more out of date. What’s more, the spread of automation suggests that huge chunks of the population will need both creativity and adaptability to ensure they stay employed (let alone be successful) into the future.
It goes without saying that soft skills aren’t a fixture of traditional academic curricula or corporate on-boarding programs. Truly excellent leaders have both a challenge and an opportunity ahead of them. By reworking their approach to leadership, rewriting old job descriptions and placing a new emphasis on soft skills in the workplace, they can build procurement teams capable of thriving in the new economy. Remember, however tech-empowered or data-centric procurement becomes, it’s the human element that will ultimately provide for success.
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