Careers

5 Steps to Break Free from a Stalled Procurement Career

Written by Philip Ideson

Be honest.  Has your procurement career stalled?  If you have experienced nothing but a consistent upward career trajectory, congratulations!  From my experience, you are on the path least traveled.  

Here is how procurement careers typically develop:

Procurement Career Trajectory

The good news is that if your career has stalled, you CAN do something about it!

(I can think to at least two times that I have felt my career has stalled so do not think it is the end of the world if you find yourself in this position – you can get through it!)

What does a stalled career look like? When I think back in my own career, the primary signal is always that I have not been enjoying my job (for a number of reasons).  It would then became difficult to self motivate and that quickly turns into a spiral of negativity, from which it is difficult to recover.

A stalled career is not necessarily personal.  Different experiences, characteristics, skills and approaches may be highly valued by some organizations and managers, and not by others.  It could just be that you find yourself working for the wrong company, in the wrong industry, or with a manager that you just do not gel.

However, it is also easy to blame others for a stalled career.  Be honest.  Are you using issues with the company or your boss as an excuse to justify your own actions or shortcomings? Has your attitude contributed to the situation? Are you too risk averse, and always take the safe option? Do you fear change, or operate in a bubble?  All these are reasons why you could be contributing to your own position.  

In my role as Host of the Art of Procurement podcast I have asked a number of CPO’s and Executives what advice they give to those whom they mentor, and also what actions they take themselves, when faced with a stalled career (I have learned that this can happen at any level!).

Based on these conversations and my own experiences, I have identified 5 steps that are key to regaining momentum and breaking free from a stalled procurement career:

 

  1. Undertake a self assessment

What are the root causes of your stalled career? Is it your company? Are you in the wrong job for your skills and ambitions? Do you have a damaged personal brand? Do you have unrealistic expectations?

It could be that it is “all part of the plan”.  For example, I knowingly have taken roles that I knew were a step back, and that I didn’t particularly enjoy.  This eventually led to that spiral where I knew I was never going to progress in this company.  However, I had to remember the reasons I took the position in the first place – it wasn’t because I felt I would enjoy a long term career at the company, but because I wanted a specific piece of experience to round out my resume that wasn’t a possibility at my previous employer.  And that experience would provide the springboard to future career growth.

It is important to be honest with yourself to determine why you are in the position that you are.  Only then can you begin to build a strategy to regain that lost momentum.

 

2. Change your mindset – you are a business of 1

The relationship between employer and employee has changed for good, and I feel that, in the US at least, job security is only as strong as your relationship with your immediate management team.

A way to get back on the upward career trajectory is to change the way you think about your employer.  Adjust from thinking of it as a employee/employer relationship, to one that is a buyer/seller relationship.

 

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Why? I strongly believe that in our careers, we are all a 1-person business.  Your employer has to find value in what it is that you do – an ROI – that is greater than the alternatives should they choose to invest your salary elsewhere.  This likely means generating value that is over and above what is written in your job description.

In the context of Procurement, I recently asked two CPO’s, independently, what they look for when identifying high performers who they believe have the ability to rise quickly to the top.  Both stated that those who are most successful have shifted their thinking to act as a business person rather than a procurement person.  

What does that mean?  

One of the CPO’s elaborated that it is to help your stakeholders achieve and exceed their goals, rather than focusing on using the stakeholders to enable you to achieve your goals.  You will find it far easier to build meaningful relationships – the foundation of procurement success – if you think like a service provider fighting to win their next deal rather than as an employee waiting for the next pay check!

 

3. Undertake independent self-development

Development is key to career growth, and applying new strategies, tactics, tools and approaches can kick start your procurement career.  

Importantly, you no longer need to wait for your employer to provide training, or for them to invest in expensive professional development courses. It has never been easier – or as cheap – to learn from the experiences of others as it is today, thanks to the rise of social networks, podcasts (shameless plug: learn on the go by listening to the Art of Procurement!) and online self-guided training platforms.

By applying this learning, you will position yourself both as someone serious about their career, and as a thought leader always willing to be innovative.  If this isn’t appreciated by your current employer, you can be sure it will be by your next one!

(Elaine Porteous provides an overview of free and low cost sources of learning for supply chain professionals over on the Argentus blog)

 

4. Develop your personal brand

I have always been a passionate advocate of building a personal brand, both internally within my organization, and externally within the procurement ecosystem.

But what is a personal brand?  In Be Your Own Brand, David McNally and Karl Speak write that “a personal brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you”

As a practitioner, there were certain techniques that I would use to “brand” my work, so that my leadership team could instantly recognize and differentiate my work from others.  One example would be the presentations and reports that I wrote would all have the same look and feel (such as imagery, font sizes and the consistent use of certain phrases).

Externally, within the procurement ecosystem, social media and self-publishing platforms now provide a voice for any procurement professional to demonstrate their perspectives, capabilities, experiences and willingness to help and teach others.  Take advantage of these platforms to become a leading voice – this will increase your network and sphere of influence exponentially.

(check out The Complete Guide to Building Your Personal Brand by Neil Patel and Aaron Agius of QuickSprout)

 

5. Seek a new challenge

The most effective way to learn is to do.  Be proactive in seeking new challenges within your organization – be it on a project basis, or even new jobs that may push you out of your comfort zone (there is no quicker way to learn than to feel like you are a fish out of water!).

For better or worse, it may be that you are past the point of no return and there in no real alternative but to seek a new job.

 

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The decision to quit your current employer is deeply personal and contextual, and it is a lot harder to pull the trigger for some than others.  Quitting is rarely easy, and is often the result of a long period of frustration and contemplation about the future.  However, every job has its shelf life and so the time will come when the only way to get your career back on track is to find a new employer.

When it comes to making them move, I have always sought positions with two things in mind.  First, don’t take the safe option.  I’ve always learned more, and been successful in getting the forward momentum back in my career by taking challenges that require a steep learning curve.

Second, do not be averse to a sideways move, or even to taking a step back in terms of organizational level.  However, if you do, do everything you possibly can to ensure that you and your style will be a strong cultural fit for your new employer.

I have experienced that career progression has a strong element of momentum.  I believe that, over the medium term, you are much more likely to be in a position you enjoy, at the level you expect to be, by taking that initial sideways or backwards move.  There is a lot to be said for working  with a leadership team that believes in you and it willing to invest in your career rather than stay in an unfulfilling role with limited prospects.

(for more, check out: The Wisdom of the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Career Plan by Ken Blanchard).
Are you ready to make the move and find a new procurement job?  If so, I recently published a report called the 21 Tips to Secure Your Dream Procurement Job.  It provides insights that I learned from interviewing procurement executive recruiters and covers the entire job search process.  Don’t start your job search without it!

About the author

Philip Ideson

Philip Ideson is passionate about the role that procurement professionals and leaders can plan in creating competitive advantage for their organizations in ways that go beyond the traditional value proposition.

Philip founded Art of Procurement as a way for the procurement community to learn from each other, increasing the impact they have on their organizations. In 2017, he co-founded Palambridge, a virtual platform of procurement experts, technology, and intelligence. Palambridge provides a broad range of flexible procurement solutions, available on-demand.

Prior to Art of Procurement and Palambridge, Philip enjoyed a career that spanned the procurement value chain, working across three continents for organizations such as Accenture, Procurian, Ally Financial, Pfizer and Ford Motor Company.