According to study conducted over three decades buyers warrant little consideration in terms of value to the organization

Posted on February 8, 2011


One possible explanation for finding more manager positions is that firms do not perceive the buyer position as important enough to advertise in the WSJ. Jackson’s(17) findings of narrow buyer job scope support the observation that most firms perceive the buyer role as a low level position. Results in Table 3 suggest that perceptions of the importance of the buyer role, measured by the percentage of ads for these positions in the WSJ, have not changed during the last three decades.

from A longitudinal study of purchasing positions: 1960-1989 by  John Pooley and Steven C. Dunn, Journal of Business Logistics 1994

As I begin in earnest to review the above referenced study conducted by John Pooley and Steven C. Dunn there are repeatedly several key points that seem to jump off the pages.

Citing the abundance of data relative to how the role of purchasing has changed over the years, the study’s author’s felt that while beneficial, the limiting of research to forecasting future trends did not actually deliver insight into how the purchasing profession itself had changed.

In other words, the majority of studies spanning the previous decades focused on evolutionary areas such as in the 1960s,when Westing, Fine, and Zenz called for the application of the materials management concept to purchasing.  The authors then went on to highlight the 1970s, in which England and Leenders focused on the increasing importance of computer information systems in purchasing, as well as recognizing the importance of strategic purchasing.  Finally, the 1980s saw a noticeable increase in terms of the emphasis that was placed on quality, international sourcing, negotiation, and cost understanding for purchasing professionals.  But once again, these changes did not speak directly to how purchasing as a profession, responded to these core value changes.

Without getting into too much detail as to how they compiled their data to reach what can only be described as a shocking and probably controversial yet not really surprising conclusion, the report’s authors used what they referred to as an archival content analysis of job recruitment advertisements from the Wall Street Journal.

Content analysis they would write, provides an objective, systematic, and tenable methodology to study this topic, and that application of statistical analysis to archived content data provides a framework to test hypotheses about change over time.

While acknowledging the fact that there are relatively few applications of content analysis in the management literature, the authors stressed that the methodology upon which they relied to gather the data for this study has a rich history in many other areas of the social sciences.

Leaving the potential debate surrounding the veracity of the methodology used to reach the conclusions for another day, the fact that the results indicated that a buyer in the traditional sense is perceived to have little if any organizational value, is not a view that is limited to this study.

Back in August of 2007, I wrote an article titled “Procurement’s expanding role and the executive of the future,” in which I reported the findings from a CPO Agenda Roundtable discussion involving senior procurement personnel from organizations such as Nestlé, Danone, British Airways and Merrill Lynch.

The panel discussion centered around the question “are there any limits to procurement’s role?” to which the participants provided some interesting insights into the prevailing (and emerging) attitudes towards procurement from an executive suite perspective.

Overall it was an incredibly pertinent exchange of ideas and experiences, making the article a worthwhile read even 4 years later.  However, and in relation to today’s post, one statement that seemed to sum up the general sentiments was the recognition that while there is going to be a continuing need for what was referred to as “low-level” buyers, “one strategic business thinker with the right skills and capabilities is worth 10 or 12 of your normal, run-of-the-mill purchasing people.”

Think about that for just moment as you reflect on your career in purchasing.  Then ask yourself if you have been equipped with the necessary skill sets to be a strategic contributor or just a run-of-the-mill disposable resource for your present organization.

As we discovered during my April 23rd, 2009 interview (Unemployed Excellence – Why Lean, Six Sigma Have Left Some People Out in the Cold), with Lean Six Sigma expert author Forrest Breyfolgle  III, those who attained the prerequisite industry designations were  ultimately the first to be let go when the economy went south.

In the context of the Pooley and Dunn study, as well as the CPO Agenda Roundtable discussion, taking a personal inventory of your training and expertise would seem to be both prudent and timely.

What should also be included as an important part of this exercise is whether the accredited courses you are taking through your association and, the corresponding designation, cuts the proverbial mustard in the real world.  It is better to know the answer to this all important question sooner rather than later.

In this regard, I would direct you to our two part series Is The Traditional Association Model Dead?, where our own guest panel of experts tackled some of the tough question implied by the program’s title, including the ongoing viability of the curriculums being offered by industry associations at the time.  Here is the link to Part 1 (which aired on April 9th, 2009), and Part 2 (which aired on May 21st, 2009).

In the meantime, and seeing this was after all Super Bowl weekend, here is the famous “When I Grow Up” commercial that seems to be the appropriate conclusion for today’s post . . . and PS remember not to shoot the messenger!