Teaching an old dog new tricks or the challenges of adopting a new mindset by Jon Hansen

Posted on February 3, 2015


“One last point – I would contend that some of the change in “new” procurement professionals are not just recent college graduates. The change in approach includes those of us who are new to the profession – like me on a 2nd career (and well-out of college days!!! ) . We don’t hold to the old ways of staying quiet and just responding, but come to the table ready to offer new tools for staff to use, and a clear mission that we stay transparent, accountable, and support the larger mission & plans of the organization.” – Reader response to The Face of Procurement’s Generation Next post

In my January 23rd post regarding procurement’s Generation Next as I called them, I talked about the up and coming generation of procurement professionals.  The Top 30 Under 30 set referenced in the ThomasNet – ISM program who, as described by Dr. Robert Handfield, are on the opposite side of the unbridgeable chasm between how things were done are are going to be done.

But is this Generation Next defined by age alone?  Can you join the “club” so to speak if you are as one reader stated “well out of college days.”  In essence can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Based on the responses I have received to the January 23rd post, there are a number of experienced people who have chosen the profession as a second career. People who had not previously been in purchasing or procurement as we call it today.  This would appear to be a clear indication that age is not “the” determining factor regarding which side of the generational chasm one finds themselves.  It is more a state of mind.  In this context, I guess the old saying that you are as young as you feel is true.

“I myself did not start out in purchasing and I can appreciate proven professionals like yourself coming into the profession with new eyes and ideas. That is where best practices come from. I agree things are changing and it is not the recent graduates that are doing this. It is people like you and myself and many other talented professionals.” – Reader Response on LinkedIn

However, this raises another interesting question . . . if age is not a factor, then why can’t the old purchasing pros make the transition?

Is the suggested inability due to either aptitude or desire per the Handfield observation, indigenous to only those who have been in the industry for some time?

If this is the case, could the assertions of the senior executives who participated in that fateful 2007 CPO Agenda Roundtable be true?  Are the people who are most capable of running a purchasing department the ones who don’t have a purchasing background?

In a recent interview, Kate Vitasek suggested that the industry will never fully realize and attain its proper ranking within the organizational hierarchy until “all of the dinosaurs have died off.”  I do not have to tell you who these dinosaurs are but, Vitasek’s sharp albeit accurate comments speak to an underlying problem that has for many years plagued the profession.  The oversimplification of what we have traditionally done.

Today’s procurement world is faster, complex and global.  Few of the old pros are equipped to handle this frenetic pace of shifting variables.  In short, we are well beyond the best price, cost avoidance focus of the bygone era.

Think of it in the context of professional hockey – or any sport for that matter.

While a Wayne Gretzy or Gordie Howe could be stars if they were young players today, the majority of yesterday’s hockey players would not be able to make the transition to what is a far more complex, faster game.  The reasons are fairly obvious in that training, equipment and even the strategy of the game itself has progressed to the point of being radically different from that with which they were familiar.

complex world3

So more than just simply teaching an old dog new tricks, what is happening now in the procurement world is a reflection of a natural evolutionary process.  This means that we will see the majority[1] of purchasing people fade into a sunset of irrelevance, left behind by a changing world they can no longer comprehend – whether by skill sets or choice (or a little of both).

[1] In referencing a recent study, IACCM’s Tim Cummins indicated that 47% of all purchasing professionals today will become redundant over the next few years.


Posted in: Commentary