I recently had an inquiry from a procurement leader at a client’s organization.  She was tasked with standardizing the titles of procurement team members from two organizations that were merging into one.

So, what’s better:  Buyer I/Buyer II/Buyer III or Purchasing Agent/Senior Purchasing Agent?

If there’s one thing that is true about our profession, is that we have very few standard naming conventions. We tend to use different words to refer to the exact same thing.  Think purchasing/procurement/supply management.  Or sourcing/competitive bidding/tendering.  Or suppliers/vendors/contractors.  Or…well, you get the idea.

If I were to direct this procurement leader to five different people to share their opinions on what titles to give her staff, she’d likely get five different suggestions and none of them would be authoritative or any better than the other!

For example, personally, I would choose “Procurement Specialist” and “Senior Procurement Specialist” for a department with two levels, and “Junior Procurement Specialist,” “Procurement Specialist,” and “Senior Procurement Specialist” for a department with three levels. That’s because I see “procurement” being increasingly used vs. “purchasing” in departments that have renamed themselves in the past 10 years. I don’t have statistical data to back that up, only an observation.

Someone else may totally disagree.  Ten years from now, the word “procurement” may be out of fashion.

My opinion is also slightly influenced by an article “Buyers need not apply” that I read just yesterday in which the author, Jon Hansen of Procurement Insights, writes “new solutions render the low-level buyer position dispensable.”  People that share Mr. Hansen’s views may begin to associate the word “buyer” with 2007-era procurement.

So, basically, I’d say that whatever titles you give your team is simply a matter of personal preference. I did offer this procurement leader the advice to survey members of both groups and ask them if they had a preference on what to be called. Titles can affect morale and morale can affect performance. People don’t like change, especially change that feels imposed on them for something as personal as one’s job title.

In the ‘90’s when I worked in US Airways’ purchasing department, there was a bit of an uproar when a new leadership (VP and Directors) came in and wanted to change some things. We had three levels under the purchasing manager level: “Purchasing Associate,” “Purchasing Representative,” and “Purchasing Executive.” The new leadership wanted to change these to “Junior Buyer,” “Buyer,” and “Senior Buyer.” I clearly remember a big, all-hands meeting where a Purchasing Representative stood up and said to the new Director who was giving the presentation on the changes, “I think the new titles make us sound less professional. ‘Buyer’ is a title that someone working at a liquor store would have.”

I don’t think the titles were the cause of resentment so much. I think it was more the fact that the leadership imposed the new titles without seeking the input (or getting the buy-in) of the rank-and-file.

So, if you, too, are considering changing the titles of your procurement staff, I caution you not to make that same mistake that I witnessed close to 20 years ago.

Get buy-in.

And remember that there is no perfect set of titles in our profession that doesn’t restrain business decisions by arbitrary standards.

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