This Halloween beware the scary, old-world CPO

TaniaSeary_100.jpgWith Halloween just past, it is time to consider whether your boss is scarier than your average ghoul or if your career is in the grip of a scary, old-world Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) and thus doomed to wither…

Tania Seary, Founding Chairman of three companies specialising in the development of the procurement profession – The Faculty, The Source and Procurious – takes a look.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
– Lewis Carroll, 1871

Jabberwock_150.jpgYou will know a scary, old-world CPO when you see one.

I had almost forgotten about them until I found myself in a meeting with one recently. Somehow, in recent times, I have managed to escape the horror of hearing such old-world, closed network thinking like:
“I don’t want my team on social media, someone may poach them.”
“We’re too busy working to be looking at what’s happening in the rest of the world.”
“We know our business best.”
“What if my team spends all day on social media?”

To the team at Procurious, these comments are like blasphemy. We are on a mission to change the face of procurement as well as give the images associated with the profession a makeover. We want to replace the old brown cardigan-clad stereotype with fresh images of procurement as the smartest guys in the room.

My meeting with this archetypal nemesis reminded me of all of the reasons why we founded Procurious. It gave me increased motivation to continue our mission and gave rise to an overwhelming urge to protect all the amazing rising stars in procurement from the soul-crushing dictatorship of a scary, old-world CPO.

The old-world CPO
Let’s face it, if your personal characteristics and actions portray an image that you are living in the past, the chances are good that you are.

People do not leave companies, they leave bosses. As such, we want to reward great bosses, those that lead by example, that keep their teams energised, that invest in individuals’ careers and continuously push procurement to excel.

So, what are the tell-tale signs of a scary, old-world CPO? The next time you go for an interview, or look at your current boss, don’t fall for the flashy suit, big title or even the big brand name that they represent.

If the person opposite you falls into one of these categories, the chances are that your career development will come to a screeching halt under such a draconian regime.

The (Digitally) Invisible Man…or Woman
Check whether this CPO has any sort of online presence. Tell-tale signs of invisibility include profiles with no photos or inappropriate photos, scant or no information, and no visible mentions in Google searches.

There may have been a freak internet-cleansing event, wiping out all references to this person, but the reality is that they probably haven’t spoken at any events, written anything interesting, taken the time or gone to the effort to understand social media, or understand the fact that you will be researching them online.

Also, beware those CPOs who have fewer than 500 connections in their network. Some CPOs do make a case for quality vs. quantity. But, if you are working in a large company, have a large team and work with an extensive supply base, shouldn’t 500 quality connections be expected?

You (and the majority of your peers) want to work for someone who is an influencer. You want a leader with a wide range of connections that they can introduce you to and broaden your horizons. Working with someone with a limited network can be a road to nowhere for your career prospects.

Robinson Crusoe – the Loner
This CPO really is an island.

They don’t believe in networking, collaborating or outside knowledge flow; they believe that information is for their own personal advantage to build their own power base. The Robinson Crusoe profile can physically manifest itself as an executive sitting in a corner by themselves with their back to their team.

This information block exists not only within their psyche, but extends to the procurement team itself. This old-world CPO has particularly old-world views and creates a knowledge hierarchy where they take all the great (and politically advantageous) ideas as their own.

Another problem with this approach is that it encourages working in a closed network as part of the norm. These scary, old-world CPOs end up staying in the same profession, peer group, company or industry, invariably associating with people they already know. This peer group continues to reinforce their outdated approach to management thus their thinking is never challenged.

The new-world CPO is collaborative, a true influencer and shares their knowledge freely and widely.

My view is that a CPO’s main job is to not only drive change and innovation (and make a couple of deals on the side), but to give their team the opportunity to access tools and discuss ideas with other professionals, thought leaders and experts from around the globe.

Yet, I still see CPOs encouraging teams to work in isolation, unaware that there is a whole universe of knowledge out there to help them grow and excel in their jobs.

The Devil Wears Prada – the Career Crusher
Their desk calendar reads 2016, but their attitude towards employees is stuck in the 1950s.

Yes, your boss should have an overall plan for how their team is delivering against the overall business strategy. But they should also have a plan for you – both for what you need to deliver and how you need to develop in the future.

They should be committed to diversity and promoting young talent, and should ensure that their team reflects this commitment and is generating opportunities for the next generation of talent.

The best CPOs are obsessed with finding the best people and helping them develop. They send their people out to be trained in the skills they need, expose them to new opportunities and build peer networks that will develop leadership skills.

The worst CPOs keep their category managers locked away from the rest of the world in fear that their people will be poached. A great CPO does not need to worry about this. They know that they have developed a great employee value proposition that keeps their team engaged and retained.

Reverse mentoring
Let’s not be too hard on these talented Heads of Procurement. They cannot all be cut from the same cloth.

Why not get on the front foot and try and initiate some reverse mentoring. With a few polite and well-placed pointers, I am sure you could help turn your scary, old-world CPO into a procurement rockstar.

Sharing your skills and knowledge could help your CPO become increasingly tech savvy and an advocate for technology (including social media) for procurement.


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