- What are my organization's top business priorities for sourcing?
- What projects are critical to the success of the sourcing plan?
- Do we have the skills to succeed on these projects?
Honestly assessing the current skill levels across the entire procurement team will identify the gaps. The result will be a prioritized list of skill gaps aligned with your business objectives.
Once talent gaps are identified and prioritized based on their importance relating directly to business objectives, it is a simple matter of balancing your investment in skill development against the risk associated with your key projects. Making this connection is essential for proving return on investment.
Execution — Focus on Peer-to-Peer Learning and Open Communication
After completing the skill assessment and prioritizing the goals for the training program, knowledge transfer can begin. Remember, the plan should be mapped to an overall goal. For the training program to be successful, focus on implementing structured skill-building activities that tie directly to business processes. These programs can vary from simple "lunch and learns" and mentoring programs to blended training and formal certification.
At the same time, create an atmosphere that fosters learning and teamwork. Unstructured learning is as important as planned programs. Employees must feel comfortable asking for help, bouncing ideas off one another and taking on difficult projects. Often, due to the formal nature of their strategy, organizations struggle with training exactly because employees tend to feel intimidated asking questions around their superiors simply because no one wants to look incompetent in front of their boss. That's why it's so important to foster both the structured and non-structured learning paths.
Creating a community that supports peer-to-peer learning acts as an excellent solution to this common problem. For example, to help foster skill development across the client base of my company, BravoSolution, we encourage clients to use the Bravo Education Network, a series of online communities where over 5,000 procurement professionals interact on a daily basis. These communities provide both private rooms restricted to a single organization and rooms open to multiple like organizations. Through these communities, supply chain professionals can share best practices, learning from each other's experiences and passing along generational expertise regularly.
Client feedback on this initiative has been tremendous. A recent community member posted the following in response to the support she received from her fellow community members: "I was able to effectively gather data to help work through a tight timeline and present a market sampling of intel to my executive team. BEN is a great tool— I appreciate the effort from the network of clients who were willing to share their experience!"
The educational communities' benefits, and the overriding need for peer-to-peer learning, can be seen through the recession. Since the economic meltdown, participation in the Bravo Education Network has grown exponentially — by more than 900 percent since its launch date in 2007.
Overall success can be attributed to the community's openness. Allowing employees to communicate and learn in a private, "viral" community lets team members collaborate with their peers around the world safely, in non-public environments that foster open communication.
Ensure that the skills and best practices developed by team members are being maintained. Conduct and document training in a way that ensures all team members routinely practice the skills that are important to their business. After program completion, create a library of best practices and past knowledge from which new team members can learn. Once the process for documentation and community support are in place, teams can quickly assimilate new hires and capture guidance and intellectual property from current team members before they depart.
Skill Assessment and Knowledge Transfer in Action
In one pretty typical scenario in 2009, an energy company found itself with a newly established procurement team, formed after several mergers and acquisitions. The new team — with a new procurement director — found it difficult to work together and challenging to identify what processes they needed for the company to achieve business objectives. To overcome the challenge of unfamiliarity, the team executed BravoSolution's Opportunity Assessment training course. The program assessed the team's skill level and identified the knowledge gaps. After identifying talent gaps and mapping them to procurement objectives, team training in the specific areas can begin. Soon thereafter, the team began working together so effectively that an outsider would assume they have been together for years.
In a separate scenario, a major healthcare network ended 2009 needing to deploy a new analytical software application to its 600 hospital organizations. Never having implemented such a large-scale software change, the organization struggled with how to approach the problem. As a solution, the organization turned to training, educating company leadership in change and deployment management. As a result, the team created a completely new skill development program for the entire network of hospitals. The results have been outstanding; the team entered the second quarter of 2010 confident, armed and ready to execute the deployment.
The Clock's Ticking
Whatever the motivation — the impending talent drain resulting from the departure of Baby Boomers, the need for a more highly skilled team or a desire to better integrate new employees and pass along generational expertise — organizations must create a culture of systemic and institutionalized knowledge transfer containing both structured and non-structured learning.
In a technology-driven age, procurement and sourcing tools will continually become smarter and more abundant. But without a skilled and talented employee base, organizations will struggle to realize these tools' potential.
As the market begins to rebound, teams will grow and budgets will expand. Smart organizations, however, will stay disciplined and focus on documenting, sharing and ingraining that institutional knowhow in the next-generation of leaders. Forward-thinking managers will ensure that team growth does not dilute the average organizational skill level.
What better time than now for procurement departments to begin evaluating their talent and implementing these programs? Whether the results come to fruition as we climb out of the recession, as the Baby Boomers retire, or no matter what comes in the next decade, the return on investment will be realized.
About the Author: John Shaw, a 2010 S&DCE Pro to Know, is the director of educational services at BravoSolution, which supports procurement professionals with tools and services to identify sourcing opportunities, prioritize initiatives, execute projects with tailored solutions, and realize the benefits of their initiatives. More information at www.bravosolution.com.