Author: Jonathan Webb - Categories: Talent
Many of our past studies indicate that category managers are one of the most important roles in procurement.
But do they have the right skills and knowledge?
Our research shows that category managers have demanding jobs – occasionally even more challenging than the role of the CPO.
They are expected to have the technical expertise in relation to their category, acting as an expert for a market as well as executing sourcing strategies.
On top of this, their leadership and managerial skills will be severely tested as they rise to more senior positions. They are at once, a leader and an advisory – an awkward balance to strike.
The traditional complaint about procurement professions relates to their lack of ‘soft skills’. Buyers' expertise resides in procedural efficiency and market intelligence, which rarely is a combination enabling the blossoming of a visionary leader.
Indeed, my colleague Richard Edwards recently pointed out that lack of talent is an increasing problem for companies in all areas of business.
In the PIU, we regularly produce research reports on categories for our subscribing members. As a part of these, we interview category managers and experts for those categories. It has been procurement’s focus on hard fact and market positioning which has made our job easier.
Yet, locating real insight can be challenging. Where is does exist, it is often treated as a competitive advantage, and rarely shared with the broader community.
However, that said, we do find the identification of real expertise – deep knowledge of a category with real insights into the workings of the market. There are many category managers that know the market, but either through over-work (they normally juggle multiple portfolios) or lack of experience (many shift around to entirely new categories).
We feel that the PIU can help out with category managers in reducing time spent researching a category, but the nature of the role pulls these individuals in all direction.
Undoubtedly, category managers can learn the bare minimum and get-by with only a cursory glance at some of the critical indicators. But will these create lasting value for the organisation? It seems doubtful.
Given the focus on stakeholder management and strategy skills, can category managers retain their historic technical expertise? Or will this be lost as their position assumes more managerial competencies?
The history of the function is one of accumulating responsibilities. Buyers are expected to develop more skills and increase their productive value in new areas. But crucially, they must not lose their old skills.
Does procurement still have these skills? Are category managers still regarded as technical experts? In many organisations, they are, but some are in danger of losing these status.
If you are interested in getting involved in our Category Leaders Network, do register your interest here.