5 Skills You Need to Nail in Procurement in 2021

Procurement is constantly changing and evolving. Professionals need to make sure they have the key skills required to take themselves and the profession to the next level.

The pace of global change is on an exponential upward curve. What seemed outlandish only a few years ago now seems like a normal state of affairs. The fact is that no-one can rest on their laurels, because we simply don’t know what’s around the next corner. Just when you think you have it made, the world throws a colossal curveball that shakes everything up again.

Procurement may have found its feet as a strategic partner but it would be wrong to think that the journey ends there. Procurement has been granted the opportunity it has craved for the longest time and in order to grow and thrive in this role, it needs help from its professionals.

To meet the new challenges, known and unknown, on the horizon, procurement professionals need to ensure that their skills are up to scratch against emergent trends. Based on the past year and some of the major changes we have seen in procurement and organisation-wide, we’ve picked out our top five emergent skills for all procurement professionals.

1.       Risk Management

“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

Maya Angelou, Poet

When it comes to the supply chain and global trends, it’s time to think the unthinkable and be as prepared as you can be for anything that comes your way. This isn’t just about the external environment, but also for the manner in which all sourcing activities are conducted.

Procurement must be an organisational leader through the development of key skills in risk management. In the macro environment, this means being up to date on all the current rules and regulations governing the procurement process, for example the UK Public Procurement Regulations. Professionals also need to be aware of changes in national and international legislation on Health & Safety and employee relations.

Procurement professionals need to conduct thorough risk analysis for sourcing activities throughout their supply chains. The UK’s recent legislation on buying goods from China’s Xinjiang province is just one recent example that procurement needs to stay on top of. This is far more complex in the era of multi-tiered supply chains, when knowing and understanding the supply base is critical.

Modern slavery, ethics and sustainability: all parts of comprehensive supplier management and on-boarding; all part of the modern procurement professional’s armoury.

2.       Storytelling and Executive Presence

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”

Steve Jobs, co-Founder, Chairman and CEO – Apple

Procurement and supply chain are getting increased levels of attention at C-Suite level, so it’s important that the profession understands how it is portraying itself. Procurement needs to be able to take advantage of this through executive presence and the art of great storytelling. 

We don’t mean storytellers in the “Once upon a time…” mould, but how the profession sells itself and showcases its successes. Stories with procurement at the centre of the narrative detailing value-adding activities, mitigating reputational damage with great risk management or delivering for customers at times of massive upheaval, help bridge the gap between procurement and other functions.

Having executive presence means procurement has the gravitas to be taken seriously and have the C-Suite recognise the importance of the profession.

3.       Continuous Development 

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”

Aldous Huxley, Writer and Philosopher

No-one in the procurement profession got to where they are today without hard work and an investment in personal and professional development. But the only way procurement moves forward as a profession, and its professionals move forwards in their careers, is through continuous personal development.

You might not think that this is a skill but having the drive and determination to keep pushing yourself, putting self-education and development at the core of your career is most definitely a skill. Not only that, but there is no small level of skill involved in being able to state your case as to why the business should invest in you for professional development. Develop this skill and your professional development won’t stall.

4.       Business Intelligence

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

Jack Welch, CEO – General Electric (1981-2001)

Organisations will seek to gain whatever competitive advantage they can in a crowded marketplace using technology. For procurement professionals, developing their Business Intelligence skills in their own department could not only provide a competitive advantage for their organisation, but enable procurement to free itself of the shackles of manual tasks.

Being passive isn’t going to cut it – professionals need to be forward-facing, lead from the front and challenge the departmental and organisational status quo. Knowing what tasks to automate and being ready to adopt new processes and technologies will allow procurement to be an enabler for change, rather than being taken along for the ride.  

5.       Be a Digital Champion

“When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly; but when done wrong, all you have is a really fast caterpillar.”

George Westerman, MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy

Tying into the Business Intelligence skills is setting yourself up as a Digital Champion. The future for the procurement and supply chain profession is digital, using Big Data and disruptive tools to get rid of old-fashioned, manual, transactional processes. By doing this, professionals can free up precious time and resources to ensure that procurement’s time is spent in the strategic areas it should be in.

In the post-COVID era of remote and/or home working, professionals may also choose to focus their training and professional development in digital skills. Previously face-to-face activities like negotiation and supplier relationship management will be carried out on a digital platform. From maintaining eye contact to visible hand gestures, these digital skills will be critical for professionals to continue delivering for the business.