There’s an old saying: “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.”
From my 20+ years in procurement, I can confirm this phrase applies to the procurement workplace as much as it applies to any workplace.
In fact, I sense that this may apply to the procurement workplace just a teeny-tiny bit more than some other environments.
Well, consider how some people become “bosses” in procurement.
Many people are promoted to a procurement manager position because they were good buyers. They performed well at the classic things buyers do: negotiating low-cost deals, expediting supplier deliveries, replacing under-performing suppliers and the like.
All of those responsibilities require a certain…tenacity. The people that do well at those things often have their personalities compared to that of a pit bull – one of the most aggressive breeds of dog*. Pit bulls make good buyers.
But pit bulls may not make good procurement managers. Leadership positions require a whole new skill set than the positions that they supervise.
Most of us know that taking a partnership approach with strategic suppliers is a purchasing best practice. But, we also acknowledge that there is a place for tenacious negotiation with tactical suppliers and even during some phases of relationships with strategic suppliers. Abrasiveness in appropriate situations can often be shrugged off as “just business, nothing personal” and “part of the game.”
But, dealing with subordinates is a different story. Abrasiveness has far fewer opportunities to be applicable.
The smartest procurement professionals realize this. They can turn their abrasiveness level up or down, on or off at will. They choose to use their words, their tone of voice, and their demeanor as tools – carefully and strategically selecting the right tool for each situation. They can be a tenacious pit bull one minute with a supplier and a caring labrador retriever with a subordinate the next.
As such, organizations need to be careful who they select for their procurement leadership positions. While knowledge of procurement and demonstrated procurement success are important factors, leadership qualities are at least equally important.
And if you’ve been promoted to a procurement leadership position, you need to do a self-evaluation of your leadership capabilities. Can you adapt your demeanor to the different situations that a procurement leadership position requires? Or are you more of a pure-bred pit bull?
What scares me is that many procurement managers will admit to being a pure-bred pit bull but not care. They will repeatedly lose talent and not change a thing. They may blame the hot economy for providing the most “greener pastures” for an entire generation of workers. Or, worse yet, they may take pride in losing people. They will feel like “Ha! Some people just aren’t strong enough to work for me. That’s fine. We’ll weed out the weak and get only people who have thick skin.”
Those types of bosses are unlikely to change because they see nothing wrong with losing people and nothing wrong with how they behave.
But, in my opinion, if you lose talented people, you’re simply a bad leader. If you’re a tyrant, you won’t be attracting the best and brightest talent. You’ll be attracting people who put up with more crap than they should. People who have no backbone.
And, as a procurement leader, if your team lacks the backbone to give themselves a rewarding career, will they have the backbone to do a good job with those classic buyer responsibilities I mentioned earlier?
Unlikely. They are a submissive breed, much like the pug dog. Supplier price increase? OK. Supplier can’t deliver on time? OK. Boss wants me to work the weekend? OK.
Doesn’t sound like a great buyer, eh? Well, those are the only people who will work for a pit bull.
So, if you’re a procurement leader and you are replacing employees who are quitting their procurement jobs, they may be quitting YOU. It’s probably time for you to go to obedience school and work on being the best dog, er, procurement leader you can be.
* Yes, I know that calling pit bulls aggressive is a stereotype and not true in many situations. But I wanted to be metaphorical with this post to drive home the point. Please excuse it and accept my apology for any offense that may be taken.