From “unchartered waters” and “Wild West” analogies, what will procurement leadership look like in the post-COVID world?

In the past few days, if not shell-shocked, we have all probably felt inundated by the surprising, attention-grabbing headlines that flash across our screens. Let’ face it, for most of us this is as Bill Gates put it “the biggest event that people will experience in their entire lives.”

Gates then went onto say that through a lack of preparation, we are now entering “unchartered territory.” While the Microsoft founder was talking about the economy overall, I think it is safe to say that a similar sentiment applies to our supply chains.

For example, a major television network in North America reported on the stories circulating of how “unnamed countries” were sending government planes to China with suitcases “stuffed with cash.” They intend to purchase much needed medical supplies as they were being “loaded” on planes for shipment to another buyer.
In his response to these stories, one government official went so far as to suggest that “It is really a Wild West when it comes to buying medical supplies right now.”

Beyond the above, there is a growing belief that overly aggressive low-cost country sourcing strategies were a bad idea. With their increasing frustration with supply shortages, heads of state are railing against the overreliance on countries like China and India while talking about the need to repatriate supply chains to achieve greater self-reliance.

Problems with overreliance reared its head early in the crisis. Volkswagen AG CEO Herbert Diess reported that the coronavirus had “hit its production lines in China” impacting the company’s production capabilities.

Beyond mythical importance

Against this backdrop of unprecedented events, procurement and ensuring the continuous flow of products and services has taken on an almost mythical importance.

When I say mythical, it is in the sense that before COVID-19, even the most knowledgeable in our industry could not have expected our profession to be “thrust” into the bright and scrutinising global spotlight it now finds itself.

Think of all the people who are now talking about low-cost country sourcing and government intervention in private sector supply chains. These are everyday people to whom the supply chain was little more than the background noise regarding a delay in an Amazon shipment.

It is fair to say that we in procurement might one day soon look back on our quest to move out from the shadows of dismissive interest and long for the anonymity of the past. However, anonymity is not an option, and as such, we need to bring our A-game starting at the top.

The new procurement leader

The growing talent gap is a well-known challenge in our industry. There are countless examples of organisations who after months of searching, are no closer to hiring their next Director of Procurement or CPO than when their search began.

I do not think that the task is going to get any easier anytime soon, especially given the present crisis. What this means is that you must make every interview count, starting with knowing what to look for in your next Director of Procurement or CPO.

In other words, there is a requirement for a different leadership mindset than in the past. Between negotiating extended supplier DSOs without hurting the relationship to establishing new sources of supply, procurement leaders must possess an agility to deal with these challenges on a larger and more urgent scale. Specifically, they must be skilful communicators, collaborate using an open book level of transparency, and adapt quickly to situations without losing sight of the bigger picture.

Think of it as the communicate-collaborate-adapt interview formula that can be uniquely adaptable to different hiring scenarios and criteria.

The challenge, of course, is assessing these characteristics during the interview process. A resume alone won’t ascertain whether they possess the capability or ability to perform and deliver the businesses overall vision and goals. Remember, “keywords don’t drive change; people do.”

In my next article, I will discuss in greater detail the communicate-collaborate-adapt formula and how you can – during interviews, quantify the candidate’s ability in each area.

In the meantime, I would like to invite you to download my latest Knowledge Note Securing Top Procurement Talent in the Digital Age.

A collaborative effort between Sourcing Solved and CPO Strategy Magazine, this Knowledge Note will provide you with an accurate and highly useful picture of the current market for talent, including its unique demographic make-up to better position your organisation for success.