I have worked in Procurement for twenty years now (a scary thought). During that time, I have had the immense pleasure of watching a number of trailblazing procurement professionals ascend through the ranks of their companies to take the coveted position of CPO (Chief Procurement Officer).
If your professional goal is to become a CPO, there are some very simple tips I can share for how to successfully climb the career ladder leading to the ivory towers of procurement.
- Build your trophy cabinet
“Make sure you have successes you can point to,” is one of the best pieces of career advice I have ever received. You need to be able to clearly and convincingly explain projects that you have personally been accountable for and how they have delivered value. Your successfully completed projects with defined benefits are your career trophies.
Put another way – to get promoted, you first need to excel in the job you have today. Ok, this seems rather elementary, but I hear from CPOs around the world that many category managers today are so focussed on where they want to be tomorrow, that they aren’t delivering on the job they are meant to be doing today!
I cannot emphasise how important the basics of professionalism are for making positive impressions on those who will promote you. Do your homework before every meeting, be on time, have an agenda, be well presented, be composed, write and distribute notes following the meeting and, most importantly, do what you said you would do and notify everyone that you have done what you said.
I can’t stress these last two points enough.
Doing what you say you will do and confirming that you have done it may be the two biggest contributors to people getting promoted. Leaders like to have people working for them who actually get things done. Leaders also need to know that the job has been completed. It’s not enough just to do what you said you would do. You need to make sure everyone knows you’ve done it, so they can get it off their to-do-list and put a mental tick beside your name as someone who delivers.
- Don’t burn your bridges… EVER
No matter how old or experienced you are, if you are ambitious, you will find yourself getting frustrated. This will come in many forms. You’ll get frustrated with the lack of progress on projects; you’ll get agitated with certain decisions and actions, and you most likely get frustrated with the people who work below you, beside you and above you. It’s understandable.
In these stressful situations it is often difficult to contain yourself and maintain harmonious, productive relationships with those around you.
But it is critically important that you do.
As I shared in my blog How to Quit your Job with Style, everyone you work with, whether they are inside or outside you organisation, are invaluable long-term supporters of you and your career. As you progress up the ladder (or across your portfolio career!), you will be amazed how every person you have worked with plays a role in helping “buoy” your promotion. You need as many people as you can to endorse your capability and to recommend you for promotion. Getting ahead is hard enough – you certainly don’t need any detractors.
With this is mind, it’s clear that an invaluable skill for future leaders to develop is patience. Great leaders have an uncanny ability to pick the right time to hold back and when to push. As America’s founding father, Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that can have patience can have what he will.”
- Be squeaky clean – a beacon of integrity
When The Faculty developed its X Factor assessment for future CPOs, it became obvious that a key differentiator for our profession was its role in clarifying the ethical “true north” for our organisations. Procurement’s competitive advantage is that it can provide rock solid guidance on the most ethical commercial processes and decisions our businesses are involved in. Few other functions can boast these credentials.
As sustainable sourcing and the ethical responsibility of our businesses continues to draw an increased (and warranted!) interest, future procurement leaders must have an unblemished track record in conducting business and leading teams with the greatest integrity.
One of my favourite sayings is, “Know you’re right, rather than hope you’re not wrong”. With this mantra in mind, I would suggest you and your team complete the CIPS Ethical Procurement and Supply Course. Completing this e-learning program will help identify areas of ethical and social risk and will suggest how to best respond to these situations. It just might save you from a crisis.
- Raise your voice, raise your profile
If you want to be promoted you first need to be noticed. As we all know, this is easier said than done. To be viewed as a leader today, you need to be seen as an influencer… someone with something to say… someone with a unique and informed opinion.
Future leaders need to constantly nurture and nourish their personal brand. In order to succeed, you need to position yourself for success. Often, this will mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Holding knowledge sharing events in your office, speaking and conferences and actively maintaining your social media presence are all great ways to get noticed and position yourself as a thought leader. It may appear difficult at first, but its vital training for your development as a leader.
The most challenging element of raising your profile is finding your audience and in this endeavour, social media is your friend. The online procurement community is enormous, active and hungry for information. By connecting into this community, you amplify your opportunities to learn and to teach.
There are procurement groups on LinkedIn with over 300,000 members. Twitter is awash with market information that can enable procurement professionals to do their jobs better and Procurious, the social media network we established to connect procurement peers across the globe and facilitate knowledge sharing.
The social media world is waiting to hear your story; it’s your job to get out there and tell it.
- Build a reputation for developing others
One of the most important attributes HR will be looking for in a CPO (or any leader) is their ability to develop people and build a high-performance team. No matter how junior you are in an organisation, there are always opportunities for you to demonstrate that you are focussed on others’ professional development. You can mentor someone looking to get into procurement, you can share your ways of working openly with your peers, you can suggest bringing in some training or speakers to talk to the team on a topic of mutual interest, you could even be a “millennial mentor” for one of your bosses. There are a myriad of opportunities to demonstrate that you understand the power of people continually learning and developing.
- Work for blue-chip companies
Firstly, let’s remember that the CPO role itself only exists in larger companies. Secondly, larger companies prefer to hire people who have already worked at other large companies.
Why? Because it’s safer.
Great companies (on the whole) invest in developing their people, they have great values systems that, by osmosis, influence the performance and behaviour of their people. This means that you become both a technical and ethical “output” of the companies you work for. This may seem a bit weird, or scary, but it’s true; “The company you keep defines your character and your character defines your success.”