Like most of us in this soup we call outsourcing and shared services, I learn most when I am having a dialog with others, or as we call it, networking. Recently I had a virtual late night discussion with the incomparable Steven Jo, head of multisourcing and change agent extraordinaire for Silicon Valley Bank. If any of you fancy such a chat, pop me a line.
Deborah: Steven, do you really think sourcing leaders have a chance to bit at the big apple of corporate respectability? After all, when you run the factory floor, you rarely have a chance to be the big kahuna, unless you are the son of Adolphus Busch or Sam Walton. Maybe it’s better to be a hedge fund junkie. They are in great demand.
Steven: Deborah, respectability is a very ephemeral thing. Sourcing leaders typically get the kahuna’s attention when things are broken. Not sure if you are a Star Trek fan, but I’ll go ahead and throw in Trekkie analogy. I sometimes wonder why we mostly see Scotty in moments of crisis. He is never out there basking in the glory, exploring new planets and being seduced by extra-terrestrial darlings… my favorite quote: “I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!” to which Kirk responds “All she’s got isn’t good enough! What else ya got?” And that is when the Enterprise is being sucked into a black hole. That pretty much sums it up for this line of work. But there is an upside to all of this. Sourcing leaders are in demand and can earn a tidy sum, especially in our current economic climate. I have yet to meet an unemployed sourcing leader. You can’t say the same about the big kahunas… many of them are losing their jobs.
Deborah: Steven, do I look like a Star Trek fan? I grew up in the age of the Jetsons—that is about as Trekkie as it gets in the 60’s. You may not be meeting every sourcing leader out there—a number of them are not employed, or in the wrong jobs. I wish every sourcing leader was employed.
But that’s a big ask of Father Christmas. Some sourcing leaders are not well-positioned. They 1), forget they are servants in the eyes of their companies, positioning themselves as corporate saviors; 2) think that the world revolves around continuous improvement, not the bigger picture; or 3) can’t sell themselves. What’s a person to do to achieve full employment?
Steven: Deborah, perhaps I was mistaken about the job security of this profession. Are you saying there are binders of sourcing leaders out there? I agree they are not good at selling themselves. What they do really well is typecast themselves as cost-cutting warriors (forgive me for another Trek-related reference, but I can’t shake the image of William Shatner as the “negotiator” kung fu chopping our airfares). Now you tell me, who would want to invite them to a party? And we all know if you aren’t on that list, you aren’t getting anywhere.
Deborah: yes, Steven, binders of good sourcing and shared services folk. The problem is, as I have written in my epic blog, Spare Talent (not that kind, kiddo), we have talent that is wide, not deep (strategic but not good operators) and deep not wide (deep ops experience but not a strategic bone in their bodies). After all, where does one go after besting the beast of accounts payable? Generally out the door to another gig and not closer to the C-suite.
Steven: Oh, that is such a bleak assessment! I think there are so many untapped opportunities when it comes to the global sourcing market. The beasts of accounts payable are low-hanging fruit, and still abundant. If a sourcing leader can’t climb up the value chain, that leader should get out the door and make room for a different kind of leadership. And you are right, the talent that is needed is one that elevates the value chain… folks who can do deep and wide, who can evoke a vision AND follow-through. These folks aren’t satisfied by merely shifting work from one geography to another. That is table stakes. Boring stuff. But rather, they tap into global trends and comparative advantages to solve complex business problems. They are driven to create, not transfer value. There aren’t many, but there should be. Of the few I’ve met, I’ve seen them command the respect of the head honchos. So we need more. How do we find binders of these folks?
Deborah: Steven, if it wouldn’t sound so crass, I’d say ask Mitt Romney. He said he has some binders stashed away. But seriously, I think the problem is two-fold: many sourcing leaders are still caught within their horizontal, pegged as transformation leaders. Unfortunately, transformation is a nebulous thing. Sort of reminds me of Potter Stewart and pornography. Or they’re tucked under procurement, which is still sort of a corporate knacker’s yard. Few have a reporting relationship that permits them to be really strategic.
Steven: I will reserve my comments on Mitt for at least another day. He already found himself in a binder. If sourcing leaders are getting caught within their horizontal, this is not just a problem of sourcing leadership, but also executive vision. While we can point out flaws that are evident among the sourcing ranks, it is ultimately the chief’s job to leverage all that talent. But let’s face it – regardless of what sourcing gurus would achieve, they will always play second fiddle to the line of business. Maybe the best solution is to see business leaders rotate through strategic sourcing assignments as they climb the corporate ladder. And when they reach the top, they will have a strong appreciation for what a strong sourcing leader can achieve.
Deborah: Amen to that. Call up your org dev guy and put sourcing rotations on the agenda.