Procurement is changing and its practitioners have to change with it. Source One's team has been saying as much for some time now.

They make this argument once again in their latest whitepaper: Procurement in 2019. Offering reflections and predictions, the document explores the function's talent concerns from several angles. While Procurement's influence continues to grow, many organizations find themselves facing a wall. They've earned executive buy-in, they've started to drive strategic initiatives, but their teams are still lacking when it to comes to critical skill sets.

Just how wide is Procurement's skills gap? With only 49% of CPOs expressing confidence in their teams, last year's Deloitte CPO Survey suggests it's really more of a gulf.

Procurement in 2019 calls on organizations to bring experts in Data Science and Cyber Security into the fold. These are not, however, the only skills they advocate for. Source One's spend management team also makes an impassioned argument in favor of so-called 'soft skills.' "There's nothing soft," they write, about the impact these uniquely human skills will have on business outcomes.

What Are Soft Skills? 

Soft skills are the qualities that enable a person to interact, collaborate, and lead effectively. While it's become increasingly fashionable to sing their praises (LinkedIn's Workplace Learning Report found that developing them was the top priority in 2018), soft skills still carry a stigma of sorts.

It's right there in the name. Maybe it's the English major in me, but the term seems to suggest that these skills are somehow less essential, less impactful than others. One might assume they can't be tied to a 'hard ROI' or 'hard dollar savings.'

Look no further than another recent LinkedIn publication. On the first day of the new year, the professional social network shared their list of the year's most in-demand skills. At first, I was frustrated to see that the blog breaks these important skills into hard and soft groups. Unnecessary silos are anathema to successful business operations. They shouldn't stand between Procurement and other business units and they certainly shouldn't figure into how Procurement discusses talent development.

If the list's structure frustrated me, its content went several steps further. While it includes 25 'hard skills' from Cloud Computing to Corporate Communications, it identifies only five sought after soft skills. Maybe I'm reading into things again, but the implication seems to be that Creativity, Collaboration, and Adaptability are only 20% as important as other, 'harder' skills. 

Why Do We Need Them? 

To perform effectively, a Procurement professional must act as a relationship manager, a negotiator, a leader, and a trusted strategic partner.  It's these areas where the hard value of soft skills becomes especially evident. No amount of analytical or technological know-how can make someone better at handling difficult conversations or persevering through a protracted initiative. 

In an increasingly unpredictable world, two of the soft skills LinkedIn identifies stand out as particularly indispensable: Creativity and Adaptability. Think back on 2018. Like the preceding years, it was a characterized by unexpected new regulations, extreme weather, and global political unrest. These disruptive forces have become the new normal for Supply Chain Managers, and they've compelled organizations to act fast with creative solutions. Far from low-value, Creativity and Adaptability could ultimately decide which businesses thrive, or even survive, in the coming years.

Though they're arguably condescending in their treatment of soft skills, LinkedIn successfully identifies one of the reasons they've become so important. With AI adoption on the rise, they suggest, organizations need to develop those skills that computers cannot replace.

Conversations around AI and automation tend toward the fatalistic. Professionals in just about every industry find themselves wondering not if, but when they'll find themselves replaced. Developing skills that a machine can't replicate could prove an excellent defense. The process will also prepare employees to transition into new roles as we move into an increasingly automated future. 

Download Procurement in 2019 today to learn more about the growing value of soft skills and other ongoing Supply Chain trends. 
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