Almost all of us had a life before public purchasing. Very few, if any, wanted to be public buyers as kids. Think about your first interview for purchasing. What were the interviewers looking for? As a rule of thumb, we interview for personality and attitude with the hope the applicant is trained to do the job. One thing I looked for when interviewing entry level people was the “I/We” answers. More use of “we” showed me a team player attitude. More “I” showed a strong personality. I liked to see a good balance of the two.
I’ve always felt the key components of the ideal purchasing person were: ethics, curiosity, high integrity, honesty, sincerity, intelligence, open-mindedness, loyalty, maturity, responsibility, understanding, firmness, friendliness, and a sense of humor.
Consider your expertise now and the first day you walked into your first purchasing office and sat down. Today you have a complete knowledge of the law, regulations, purchasing arena, and corporate culture. You know your marketplace and the key players. You know the procurement vehicle and process. You have your ability to edit and you can read between the lines. You can talk to your end users in their own terms and verbally describe their needs. You have a general knowledge of what you are buying. You have a working knowledge of process and evaluation, and you have a doctrine of fairness to vendors and your own jurisdiction.
Yet, even now that you are well into your career, do you know what is expected of you at work on a daily basis? Has your supervisor made clear the goals and mission of your organization? Has management provided for the future and how will they sustain their focus? Sit in a quiet place and consider the expectations of your supervisor, your peers, your internal customers, your vendors (yes, them too, because without them you are only half the equation), and the public you serve.
Do you have the right tools (support, budget, training, certification, peer networking) to do your job and do it well? There is a difference between plunking someone in a chair at a workstation and saying “Go forth and buy,” and having an experienced, trained, dependable buyer in your organization. Look around, take inventory, see what you have and what you need. What is reasonable to expect out of your organization in the way of training, opportunities, and advancement? Do you think they value you as an employee or are you just doing a job? If the answer is the latter, perhaps you need to reevaluate your situation and start preparing for a change.
Do you have the opportunity to do what you do better than anyone else in your organization? What is your reputation in your organization? Are you the “go-to” person with the reputation of getting things done that every organization has, or are you another step in a process?
Consider the words of John F. Welch, Jr., former chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., taken from GE’s 1993 Annual Report. In my opinion, it is still the best description of what a company, public or private, mindset should be:
“We want to become a company where people come to work every day in a rush to try something they woke up thinking about the night before. We want them to go home from work wanting to talk about what they did that day, rather than trying to forget about it. We want factories where the whistle blows and everyone wonders where the time went, and someone suddenly wonders aloud why we need a whistle. We want a company where people find a better way of doing things, and where by shaping their own work experience they make their lives better and your company best.”
It is time to take a page from management and look at your own personal vision statement. Start by asking yourself, “What is my vision for myself?” Bert Nanus, author and expert on leadership, defines a vision as realistic, credible, and attractive. Start writing down where you want to be in the future. It doesn’t have to be fancy; you’re not going to put this on a mug and give it to everyone you know. Don’t get caught up in management buzzwords. The vision statement is for your own knowledge and guidance. Make it as simple and plainspoken as you wish. A vision is not where you are now. Think about your professional future and how you want to update your vision. Remember that once you attain your vision, it is no longer the future. It’s now!
Once you have your personal vision statement, break it down into smaller goals that you can meet to attain your overall lifetime vision. Start small. Take that course. Learn that complex subject that has eluded you. Make the effort to become the “go-to” person in your organization whom everyone depends upon. Copy what works for other successful persons around you and adapt it to your own style and character. And don’t give up!
You have friends out there who will help you. You have your chapter, you have your instructors from classes, and you have NIGP to help you in your quest. Use them! Take advantage of what your profession has to offer you in training, in assistance, and in knowledge.
Editor’s Note: Frederick Marks, CPPO, VCO (Virginia Contracting Officer), is a retired purchasing officer who formerly held positions as a Supervising Buyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as Director of Materiel Management for Northern Virginia Community College. His education includes an undergraduate degree in English Literature, and he has written numerous procurement courses. Marks also is a master instructor for the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP). Contact Marks via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.