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Posts Tagged ‘communication skills’

I can certainly sympathize with people in my profession who think they are in dead-end jobs.  However it does not have to be this way.  It depends on what you are specialized in or which end of the spectrum you are located.  If you are more of an operations professional, the work is definitely going to be a bit more repetitive.  Yet for those who go for stability and domain excellence, they are in no better place.

With all due respect to my colleagues, I prefer to meet new people and lead new projects.  That keeps me on a constant learning mode.  Some headhunters questioned whether I would run out of “excitement” after the variety of projects, commodities, companies and industries I have been working in, and I told them not to worry.  We are living in an ever-changing global economy where the products and services we buy and sell are evolving.  Who would have thought that companies can now advertise in digital media and social networks like Facebook 10 years ago?   It’s never more fulfilling working with your colleagues on brand new ideas and challenges which is very much what a management consultant would do on a daily basis.

Therefore whenever I am asked what kind of career future there is for a strategic procurement professional (note that I have added “strategic” to mark the difference), I usually paint the following possible scenarios:

1. Climb the corporate ladder.  Easiest and most natural thing to do is to excel and position yourself in your bosses’ jobs.  Make sure you acquire broader domain knowledge by rotating yourself across different teams before you can become leadership material.

2. Go into the businesses.  Only if you have built up your credibility within the procurement arena and you have been regarded as a trusted partner by your internal customers.  Check the internal job posting site for roles that could leverage your existing skills and expertise.  If there is a role that needs constant dealings with external business partners, or daily management of outsourced providers, you could be a good fit.  Although it may be a bit risky for the businesses, it is still probably better to pick someone who have been with the company for a while who understands the company culture and already liked by the teammates.  This is not easy of course, but being considered or shortlisted is already a huge honor to the procurement team.  If you feel that you are already in a respected company that you can see yourself staying for a much longer time of your career life, don’t rule this possibility out.  Start knowing more people and build a network not only professionally but socially.

3. Be a consultant.  Academic background and soft skills are vital.  The assets of a consultant is his brain, and his problem solving skills.  You need to be very independent.  You may not have anyone report into you meaning you need to roll up your sleeves to lead a project from start to finish.  You need extremely high EQ.  You need to work extremely long hours and may hardly see your wife and kids.  Sorry I don’t mean to scare you off, but those who make fun of consultants should re-assess what they have to work with in the first place.

There are spend management or corporate turnaround consultancies which smart aggressive strategic procurement professionals could consider.  It is a very rewarding experience.

4. Sales.  In my previous post I mentioned that all of us are very good salesmen or we won’t be successful in negotiating or securing that last production quota.  Companies like to know how procurement think so that they can adjust their selling strategies ahead of time.  I have seen time and time again where procurement professionals joined the sales force because of the wealth of experience they carry.  You just have to figure out what kind of companies you want to get into.

5. Public Sector.  Well, this is not exactly a different category, but with increasing scrutiny over how our government is spending and the pressure from public policy watch dogs, this is an area worth investigating.  Not everyone has the stomach for opportunities like this.  Nevertheless, the screening criteria is fierce.

Obviously there are other possibilities out there.  If you know of any, do share!

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While there is no one perfect sure-fire secret to conducting trainings, I have always been holding on to two main principles in my heart.  Namely, make it fun, and be as humble as I can be.

How many times have you attended training seminars and got totally annoyed by how boring or pretentious the speakers are?  Again, in Part One of this series, I am speaking about grown educated audiences and not school children.  We all have our opinions, and we all have different expectations why we are there.  Some want to learn, some want to challenge, so are curious, and so are just forced by their bosses to be there.  The last thing I can do is to bore the hell out of these people and be condescending.  After all, I have no grounds at all since usually my audience is way more experienced than I am in their lines of work.  Who am I to speak and for them to be chained to a classroom for 3 straight days?

Some readers shared with me their answers to the few scenarios I put forth in Part One, and I really appreciate your feedback.  Here I am going to share mine.

1. Dozing Off

You don’t need me to tell you that this is a really bad sign.  Something is seriously wrong, so I better take it as a cue to adjust my pace.  In many cases this is not really linked to the class but with the individual’s sleep-deprived work and social life.   Yet, don’t fool yourself.  If my class is captivating enough, I would wish that even the dead would jump up for joy.  I better do something quick, or it will be very infectious.   Usually, I will start asking questions.  Once the folks around the poor soul start to speak and I can successfully stir up a headed debate, they may hear all this commotion and realize they are missing out.  I then ask for his/her opinions.  Hearing one’s voice is the best way of coming out from any dream – hopefully.

2. Seemingly bored and kicking himself thinking why he was forced to come in the first place

This is not easy.  There is no way to really turn someone around if they are already fixated of the outcome of the training.  Again, I don’t mind having a few stubborn people around but they cannot be in the way of other more eager students.  The best way is for me to identify who they are BEFORE I even begin the training.  I can then deploy tactics to split them up and mingle them with other participating students so as to make the discussions more heated.  Most trainers ask their students to tell everyone what their expectations are of the training course, one by one, and have the key points drawn up on boards across the classroom.   This works.  I can tell whether they actually mean it, and I can usually assess their levels of experience by that exercise, so use it wisely.

3. Extremely argumentative and outspoken which is interrupting the progress of the class

They are the necessary evil.  I love them since they bring opinions and viewpoints which make the class so much more fun and exciting.  Everybody laughs and claps and boos and roll their eyes.  When I see people rolling up their sleeves and sometimes even walk around in the room, I sense energy, passion and frankly a side which they seldom present themselves in day-to-day office routines.   However, note the second part of this scenario.  If one or two are overshadowing the others and hindering the progress of the content of my class, I need to do something quick or I will lose everyone.  When people see me as weak and that I fail to contain the situation, I would have lost my credibility and the whole training. 

Tactic?  Easy – I just apologize and tell them the way it is.  “We need to move on”.  “I want to hear more differing views”.  “I feel that some students are not getting enough air time.”  “If we have time at the end of the training we can come back to these interesting topics”.  It’s always more respectful for adults to hear the true reasons rather than ignoring them.  Show them my job is not easy and that we have so much to cover in so little time.  They will usually be sympathetic and won’t be that hard on you.

4. Stone faced and authoritarian, maybe even feeling insulted from listening to a younger trainer

You will be lucky to have them in the class.  Seriously.  It can actually help you take a bit of the pressure off.  Why?  Although he seems serious and cynical, there may be questions from the floor that sometimes you just have no clues what the answers are.  If you can sense that there are a few senior members in the class, try forwarding the questions to them.  Of course, do not embarrass them.  If they see that I am respecting them and actually keen on hearing their advice and feedback, they feel dignified and will be a lot more engaged in the rest of the class.  I try this again and again even in answers I already know in order to give recognition and status to the ones who are so in need of it.

5. Fiddling with his blackberry or laptop the whole way through; and 6. Receiving and making calls as pleased

Every trainer starts off with house rules at the beginning of the training.  No phone calls, no computers or blackberries.  If you have to do it, do it out of everyone’s sight by leaving the classroom.  The fact that you can afford to miss the class does not give you the warrant of interrupting others who cannot.

I however cannot yell at them like some 4 year olds.  If I see people still doing that, I will continue speaking while slowly walking behind them as if nothing has happened.  Everyone’s eyes will follow me and naturally onto the naughty soul in front of me.  They will usually get the cue and stop.  If not, I will pull them aside quietly during break times and break the news to them.  Mobile calls however, need to be taken care of right away by me pointing them to the direction to the exiting door.

Sorry.  I need to protect the rights of the rest of the class, and I am paid to do just that.

There you have it.   Until next time, I need to doze off for a few minutes from all that typing. Whew.

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Negotiation skills in my opinion are nothing too technical.  Sales people today are already well prepared for intensive bargaining by the buyers and sometimes even the users themselves.  I refuse to believe that we achieve fantastic results because of our expert negotiation skills, unless we are talking about business partnership deals where there are lots of variables to trade mutually.  The latter takes strategic planning, homework and role-playing.

More often than not,  the users or stakeholders do not even know what they want in the first place.  They are confused over why they need what they are buying.  In turn they end up buying things expensively, and sometimes even buying things they don’t need.  It sounds silly, but also ironic that it appears the more “educated” people make more of these mistakes – just because they think these trivial matters are just not worth their valuable time.  Well, that’s why I am paid to help them.  I often spend a considerable amount of time interviewing my users and find out what is the current stage and where they want to go from there.  They will usually have some strong ideas about what they want to buy or may have received proposals already from suppliers.  I help them pin down to what are the necessities and what are the bonuses.  I try to put a limit to customized  requirements in hope to broaden the supply base from a few niche players to a more commoditized market.  This may not be practical at times and I may actually approach it the other way round and look for players that provide me with solutions rather than cookie cutter off-the-shelf products.  This takes experience and I of course need the help and expertise from the users as well.

If you keep asking questions like a 5th grader, you are already half way toward success.

 Pinning down what we want and identifying our true needs is quite a significant milestone.  Sales people love ambiguity because they can pad hidden costs and allowances into their product offering.  I want transparency, accountability and fairness.  With these simple principles, it does not take a genius to drive pricing down.

Some of my colleagues use good old traditional “threat” as their negotiation tactics.  I respect everyone’s individual negotiation styles, but it’s just not my cup of tea.   Today’s suppliers can be larger and more powerful than my employers.  We may actually need to depend on them though we are paying the bill.  When I pick people in my field of strategic procurement, I always go for talents who have expert communication and problem solving skills.  Critical thinking is a must.  The low hanging fruits are long gone, and we are presented with new unprecedented and complex problems.  I need  people who are fast learners, innovative and eloquent.  I used to be told that people who possess these qualities will put procurement jobs as their last resort.  True.  Good people are in demand everywhere.  However, just because such qualities are so rare, they can become truly niche players in the field, and the opportunities are endless.  To raise the bar and professionalism of strategic procurement is partly the objective of me starting this blog.

Cheers!

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