Managing Millennials in Procurement

Ask Joanna

The CPO's Corner


Question from Arthur:

I am managing a team of millennials, and I don’t think we’re connecting very well. Any advice?

Joanna's Answer:

A few years ago, millennials were the junior employees, the interns, the ones right out of school. They were the ones that had a lot to learn.

Fast forward to 2017, and according to Pew Research millennials represent more than a third of the workforce, expected to hit 50% by 2020. So it’s time to come to terms with the fact that the workforce is inherently different than it was when you first entered management ranks . The old rules don’t apply. Which means that if you’re managing a team of millennials – and you want your team to succeed – you need to empower them in ways that your bosses never thought of when you were making your way up the ranks.

Remember those negotiating courses that you took when you were starting out in procurement? They told you to adapt your style, cadence, the words you use to make the other party feel comfortable. People are more receptive when the individual with whom they are communicating “speak the same language”. I think the same rules apply in answering this question.

I’d start by looking at how the millennials on your team communicate. They’re using their phones, using apps. That’s what they’ve grown up using, and that’s what they’re comfortable with. A few people, from a young digital strategist to the CEO of a technology startup, told me that their teams expect them to use messenger tools like Slack or WhatsApp when they want real time, quick communication – and relegate emails to only those situations where there needs to be a “paper” trail.

Beyond communication tools, millennials have grown up using software that is intuitive. No six hour training classes to figure out how to run an RFP. Some of today’s new tools are intuitive and inexpensive – maybe priced right to be able to finally knock out that dinosaur legacy P2P system you’ve been using. Brett Colbert, CPO at MDC Partners, told me that he looks for gamers when he’s filling roles that requires technology expertise – the skills that you gain playing video games translate well when the project at hand is technology-oriented.

It’s also about the intangibles. Because the millennials were shaped by different world events than you were, they tend to view things differently. So if you are trying to disrupt the status quo in your company, the millennials are great innovators, won’t hesitate to offer suggestions, and they’ll be coming from a different perspective than you will. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to consider some reverse mentoring. Everyone – no matter how many years they’ve been in the workplace –appreciates the opportunity to be heard and to influence results. Listening to the millennials on your team – and empowering them to change the things they see aren’t working – is going to get everyone to a better place.

About Joanna


Joanna Martinez is a global procurement / supply chain leader and the founder of Supply Chain Advisors LLC. She is a frequent lecturer and blogger on procurement topics and also provides coaching, strategy development, training, and cost reduction opportunity assessment. Her clients range from Fortune 100 companies to technology startups.

As either regional or global CPO, Joanna has led transformation initiatives for companies in many different sectors: among them Johnson & Johnson (consumer products), Diageo (beverage), AllianceBernstein LP (financial services) and Cushman & Wakefield (real estate services, property management). She has also held client-facing roles, effectively giving her the opportunity to “sit on both sides of the table”.