Reactive vs. Proactive vs. “Noactive” Procurement Professional Development By Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2

Posted on November 8, 2012


Editor’s Note:  Charles is founder, president and chief procurement officer of Next Level Purchasing, which offers the SPSM (Senior Professional in Supply Management) Certification.

Be sure to check out Charles’ Purchasing Certification Blog.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  How many times have you seen articles or been in training sessions or had performance reviews where the concepts of being proactive and being reactive were dichotomized and the obvious conclusion was drawn:  that being proactive is better than being reactive?

Countless times probably, right?

Me, too.

So, am I going to just bore you with another article touting the benefits of being proactive vs. reactive?

I hope not!

So, what will make this article different?

Two things.

First, it will apply the proactive vs. reactive concept to an area that it’s not usually applied to:  procurement professional development.

Second, it will introduce a third player into the fold:  “noactive.”

We’ll define that new term in just a bit.  But first, let’s talk about how procurement professional development can be proactive or reactive.

Think about the decision to engage yourself in professional development.  Some of you make that decision on your own.  Some of you have that decision made for you – perhaps your boss wants you to learn a new skill or your organization is implementing a training program.

Think about the reason you are getting that professional development.  In many cases, it’s because there is a workplace problem.  Either you realize that you are having trouble with a job challenge and don’t know how to overcome it or your boss or your organization observes that your performance is not where it needs to be and needs to take corrective action in the form of getting you enrolled in some training.

As you might have guessed, I am going to call that a reactive approach to procurement professional development.  It’s an approach that waits for a problem to surface before deciding to take action.

Now, perhaps the reactive approach isn’t the approach that you or your boss or your organization takes in deciding what professional development is right for you.  Maybe there really isn’t anything going on currently to suggest that you have a lack of skills that is preventing you from effectively doing your job today.  Perhaps you want to learn, or your boss or your organization wants you to learn, advanced stuff.  You know, best practices that are beyond what it takes to simply get the job done.  So, you attend training that focuses on cutting-edge techniques, or at least principles that are more sophisticated than those that need to be applied to your role today.

With this type of approach to professional development, the focus is not on righting performance that is unsteady.  Instead, the focus is on always being the best you can be.  And those that participate in this approach to professional development tend to not find themselves in situations characterized by seemingly unsolvable problems as they progress through their careers and advancements in their organizations.

As you might have guessed, I am going to call that a proactive approach to procurement professional development.

We’re all smart people here, so we can easily conclude that proactive professional development is better than reactive professional development.

That’s obvious.
But do you know what’s scary?

The scary thing is that the most common approach to procurement professional development is not a proactive nor a reactive approach.

What is it then?

It’s an approach I call “noactive.”

Noactive?  What does that mean?

To me, “noactive” means simply that there is no professional development activity at all!

I’m not sure why, but many procurement professionals, managers of those procurement professionals, and organizations that employ those procurement professionals think that the only professional development that procurement professionals need is a day or two of on-the-job training at the very beginning of one’s procurement career to cover how to get the system to create a purchase order and everything else can be figured out as you go.  To me, that is ridiculous!

When a procurement professional goes against a well-trained, seasoned sales negotiator to discuss a multi-million dollar deal, do you think that instinct alone will maximize the value that the procurement professional can create in that negotiation?  Do you think that raw intelligence alone will instantly provide a procurement professional the same quantity of value-creating supplier collaboration ideas that carefully-developed training would provide?  Do you think that everyone is born with the knowledge of things like inventory optimization principles, supply quality improvement techniques, and sourcing processes?

Not.  A.  Chance!

Procurement departments that permit a noactive approach to professional development wallow in mediocrity and never reach their potential.  They “don’t know what they don’t know” and, as a result, simply cannot perform to the levels at which more proactive, or even reactive, purchasing departments perform.  They don’t innovate or create competitive advantage for their organizations.  They just get through the day – at best!

So, while the “loser” in most proactive vs. reactive articles is usually “reactive,” this article reaches a different conclusion.

Even a reactive approach to procurement professional development is better than a noactive approach.  At least a reactive approach facilitates improvement, even if a bit later than optimal.

So, which approach do you and your organization take to procurement professional development:  proactive, reactive, or (gasp!) noactive?

I sincerely hope that it’s not the latter!


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