Procurement Needs a New Operating Model, Part 2: Talent


As a diamond is forged under conditions of intense heat and pressure, people and organizations are also capable of accelerated resilience and growth in response to a crisis. As stated in the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Trends report, “The challenge for many will be to sustain that momentum to discover new ways to thrive in the long term, even as disruption constantly resets the path forward.” How better to rise and meet that challenge in the Procurement Foundry community than through a focus on developing, attracting, retaining and diversifying talent? I hope these perspectives will help you to do just that.

“What is procurement?” is a question I am frequently asked. 
The short answer is that procurement helps a company make purchasing decisions and optimizes the value from every dollar a business spends.

But the real answer is that we wear many different hats in a single day and can serve as a matchmaker, counselor, negotiator, accountant, police officer, judge, jury, and lobbyist all in one and all in the same day. Procurement professionals are entrepreneurs, innovators, visionaries, and strategists!

During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to build teams from scratch, transform, and elevate the performance to better support the business. One thing that has been consistent in my journey is the importance of having the right people with the right talent, diversity, team dynamics, attitude, and ambition to drive meaningful change.

In the first part of this blog, Procurement Needs A New Operating Model, Part 1: Process, I made the case that procurement operating models have to evolve, but we must also consider what that means for our most crucial resource — our people.

The art of procurement is quickly evolving, from executing RF(x)’s, increasing Spend Under Management, and monitoring compliance to becoming a strategic business partner. Procurement is now responsible for managing third-party risk, driving value, innovation, and guiding companies into the future.

But becoming Scrum Masters and bringing together various cross-functional teams that manage complex business challenges require very different skills. It’s quite the gap from the traditional “blocking and tackling,” competitive negotiations, and deep commodity/category expertise that procurement is familiar with. Add to that disruptions from technological advancements that allow companies to capitalize on opportunities more quickly, and the need for changes in skillsets becomes apparent. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robot Process Automation (RPA), and the digitization of the entire Procure-to-Pay process requires us to rethink what skills we genuinely need.

The Changing Skills of Procurement

The role of procurement has traditionally been about cost reduction. The 2020 Procurement Insight Report found 60% of companies believe the pandemic exacerbated their existing procurement challenges around people, processes, and technology. While this has made automation more appealing, it has also changed workforce needs. A report by APQC ranked social and soft skills as critical, with some of the top skills including critical thinking, communication, stakeholder management, and relationship building.

Procurement teams have had to source goods (e.g., Personal Protective Equipment) in sectors where they have no experience and relationships. More teams are working remotely and with new digital capabilities. So what key traits will the practitioners of the future need?

Over the past 20+ years, I have been fortunate enough to drive transformation, establish and develop procurement, and build out teams often from the ground up. There are several criteria I seek when hiring people on the team I support:

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Michael Van Keulen (aka “MVK”) is a passionate and seasoned procurement evangelist with a comprehensive track record of driving value through business transformation at global companies.  MVK is currently the Chief Procurement Officer at Coupa Software, the global leader in cloud-based Business Spend Management software, where he is responsible for driving best-in-class procurement practices across the company, support business development and be a source for peers looking to elevate and (digitally) transform procurement.

MVK is especially passionate about building teams, driving value, organizational transformation, CSR, and diversity & inclusion.