SIG University Certified Sourcing Professional (CSP) program graduate Candace Masuda, outlines how soft skills evolve procurement professionals into successful stakeholder managers.
As procurement professionals, we are required to wear many hats. We are consultants, analysts, problem solvers and project managers. All these qualities are necessary but not as crucial as having internal personal/soft skills. Interpersonal skills are the key to success in leading teams, negotiating and maintaining great relationships with our internal and external customers.
Several years ago, I was fortunate to attend a management training class. Something really resonated with me in that class about leadership and styles. There was a survey that reached out to several Fortune 500 companies. The goal of the study was to determine the most favored management style amongst their employees.
What Makes a Leader
Employees were asked to think of their favorite manager, past or present. What were the skills this person exhibited which made them great to work with? The survey results were interesting. The typical characteristics were technical, analytical and on-the-job experience. However, though these skills were at the top of the list, they were not the most significant. The most valuable skill was the manager that had strong people skills. The employees worked harder, enjoyed their job and were highly motivated.
When I thought about my own experience, I could totally relate. In my professional career, my best manager not only cared about me as a person but also respected, acknowledged and supported me. He would make it a point to walk around the office daily and make time to chat with each person. Our team worked hard, and our morale was very high. I apply this philosophy now while working with my coworkers, internal and external customers.
Working with my internal stakeholders is one of the greatest parts of my job. It is a gratifying experience to assist my users in proceeding or providing guidance on a situation. I spend time getting to know them on a personal basis and build a relationship. My users share very confidential information with me frequently. I have been fortunate to be notified about major announcements before it’s been communicated publicly. This knowledge has helped me understand what is taking place within the business units as a whole and within my organization.
Skills to Succeed in Sourcing
Strong interpersonal skills are beneficial during the RFP process. Buyers are essentially the Project Managers in keeping the team on track, a mediator, analyst and a shoulder to cry on when required. In project kick-off meetings, I open with comments and provide my background and my open approach. I feel this enables each team member to feel engaged, respected, included, and heard. The team will be successful as we try to attain the common goal of awarding the best supplier for the project.
Another part of the role I enjoy is working with suppliers. I go into each negotiation with a win-win approach. This method allows both parties to develop mutual respect and builds trust. We can work as a team towards an outcome to obtain desired results with open communication. My goal is to have both parties walk away feeling good.
Using an iron fist in negotiations typically does not go well. It causes animosity and resentment on both sides of the table. People put up imaginary walls, and it also tends to drag matters out longer and tend to escalate. Escalation will always result in getting other decision-makers involved when it can be handled at a lower level, which wastes much unneeded time and resources.
Buyer & Supplier Relationship
As a Buyer, I represent my organization, and it is essential to keep my company’s reputation at the highest standards with our vendors. My suppliers have expressed their frustrations working with our competitors and how the Buyers can be difficult to work with. There is no flexibility, and the negotiations are one-sided.
Some vendors have even gone so far as to sever the relationship and walk away. I have always taken a different methodology with the collaborative approach. I have sometimes asked for feedback when kaizen processes and requesting their opinions on project requirements as they were the subject matter experts in their field. Due to those strong relationships, they are always open to provide honest feedback knowing I will be receptive to their comments. We view our suppliers as business partners and not contractors/vendors.
I want to stress that every day is not all butterflies and rainbows. There are times when I get frustrated and need to be tough and stand my ground on situations. In these times, I take a deep breath and keep my mind on the overall goal for my stakeholders and company.
Building strong relationships and trust has been my key to be a successful Buyer. I would encourage my fellow Procurement professionals to consider taking this approach whenever possible. It has been my experience to ask with sugar than with salt!
The Certified Sourcing Professional (CSP) Program is a 10-week course that focuses on the hard and soft skills of sourcing, including strategic sourcing and outsourcing methodologies, as well as best practices in negotiations.
Candace Masuda is a a Buyer at American Honda Motor Co., Inc. She has been a Procurement Professional in the automotive industry for almost 20 years. Her experience has been in 2 types of indirect procurement roles. She began her career as an Accessory Development Buyer, then transitioned over to Corporate Purchasing.