Next generation purchasing: what can we expect?

Did you sometimes not understand your parents when you were young? And did they shake their heads at you? For certain, this happened more than once, right? On a small scale, it shows how different the generations think, what their expectations are, what they want, and much more. Different generations also rub up against each other in purchasing. And that can cause conflicts or become a great asset. | fizkes

Manager and executive positions in purchasing are often still held by the baby boomer generation. They are usually workaholics and uphold the credo, "I live to work." For them, wearing business attire is part of the job, and their management style is usually top-down with a clear hierarchy. One by one, however, the baby boomers are gradually going into retirement and Generation X is taking their place. They similarly continue to strongly advocate the "work to live" philosophy and have high expectations for both themselves and their employees. This sometimes clashes with Generation Y's views, who want to combine work and life and value a good work-life balance. As if that weren't enough fuel for conflict, we also have Generation Z coming on to the scene. This generation sees work only as a part of life and no longer attaches the same importance to it as previous generations did. The latter two generations represent the future of procurement, so it is important to know their strengths and weaknesses. Everyone on the team needs to make it their mission to be open and to use their different skills for the benefit of all.

Progress and the human touch

As a member of Generation X, I considered myself very progressive back then with my Palm 100­, no comparison to today's devices easily operated by the new generations. In particular, zoomers who are now coming into the world of business from their academic studies are familiar with new technologies and handle them intuitively. This is without a doubt a great strength. A number of success factors are required to ensure that these skills can be used optimally so that purchasing is in the best possible position for the future. One aspect is the human touch, which is becoming increasingly important in today's digital world, both within the team and in relationships with suppliers.

Agility, digitization, and the subject of home office and remote working are also becoming increasingly important and are important success factors characterizing purchasing in the future. These issues should be approached across all generations, which also has to do with responsibility. After all, it does take effort to deal with and implement agile methods, for example.

Discipline and self-responsibility are required for this, and even if not every one is going to like it, I have a critical view of some of these points among the new generations. They want to take on responsibility, but when it comes to the consequences, they do tend to change their minds. They themselves are called upon to reflect and develop in this respect. Managers of the older generations can set a good example here and take on a mentoring role. This also helps get young people inspired about purchasing.

Well-trained and with the will to make a difference

Although purchasing unfortunately does not necessarily rank at the top of the list of desired professions, there are many young people who are enthusiastic about it. Personally, it fills me with great joy to witness younger colleagues who really want to make a difference with new ideas and a great skills base. They are keen to put what they have learned in theory into practice and it is amazing how much they have already learned. In most cases, they have spent one or more semesters abroad and are excellently trained in intercultural skills.

But it doesn't always have to be a university degree. There are also excellent people with training in the commercial field or as technicians, who are very well suited for purchasing. And I am particularly appealing to the managers: encourage and challenge individuals like these, give them the necessary freedom for creative ideas, utilize their strong competencies, and walk the path to the purchasing of the future together.

What do the new generation buyers want?

The way we work will change significantly, especially due to Generation Z and subsequently the Alpha Generation. The fact is that young, well-educated people today have a wide range of jobs to choose from rather than having to be grateful to have found a job at all as they did in the past. It shows that employers, too, will have to change fundamentally if they want to attract skilled workers. The new generations will have other expectations and a different way of working. They no longer want to work from 9 to 5, but anytime and from anywhere. Their focus is also no longer on input, but on output and results. And instead of the classic career ladder, they prefer to create their own path. The way information is handled is also changing. Hoarding knowledge to create a particularly high value is being replaced by sharing information. Know-how is being made accessible to everyone and then developed further. Purchasing should have all of this on its radar if it wants to attract skilled workers because a basket of fruit or a soccer table will no longer attract anyone.

Better results with the generation tandem

With respect to generations, I have had an interesting experience with a client. I was working in a project team with a Generation Y colleague We already looked very different from each other from the way we dressed and our interests were not necessarily the same either. However, we became an unbeatable team because we were both open with each other in communicating our strengths and weaknesses. So, I would ask him every now and then if he could explain certain things in the system to me, because he was quick there and technically up to date. He in turn would approach me when it came to major negotiations where he was a bit unsure. And he would ask me to go through things again with him, as I have a lot of experience in this area. With our generation tandem, we were a real success team. For this reason, I can only recommend that the members of every purchasing department approach each other with an open mind, learn from each other, and utilize the strengths of the other generations. This not only contributes to the company's own development, but also to the success of purchasing as a whole, since it is currently facing enough challenges as it is - even without generational conflicts.

How do you deal with the younger generations in your purchasing department and what do you see as the opportunities and challenges here? I am interested in learning about your experiences and look forward to an exchange with you: if you like, on LinkedIn or in a personal meeting.

For more on this and other issues for sustainable purchasing strategies, listen to my podcast.