Earlier this month, the Ardent Partners analyst team took the short flight out to Indianapolis to attend the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) 101st annual conference. For the second year in a row, we had the pleasure of meeting with ISM’s CEO, Tom Derry, to discuss all things ISM. The conversation covered the growth of the ISM Conference and the changing demographics of its attendees. It also covered progressive ISM programs, like the 30-under-30 Recognition program and the Richter Scholarship, plus new learning solutions, like eISM and the Mastery Model, that are all intended to help grow the organization, particularly among the millennial generation. We also gained some insight into the ISM Manufacturing Index, a global economic metric that resonates far and wide, but remains shrouded in mystery. We covered enough ground with Tom to span multiple articles. Today’s article is the second installment of a multi-part series.

Reaching Millennials with Technology

Two major themes for ISM this year were eISM and its continued partnership with ThomasNet for the 30-under-30 Recognition program. The two were made for each other. eISM is an online learning program that provides members and non-members, alike, with three different tracks for online learning: 15-minute “Just-in-Time” instructional videos, 3-to-5 week guided-learning courses, and tailored, self-paced learning programs for the experienced procurement professional. As Tom noted, all three of these modules are available online and are, at least in part, designed to reach a wider user base, especially millennials.

“Someone once described the millennials as ‘digital natives,’” said Tom. And yes, they grew up with the technology and typically learn it very fast. As a result, they increasingly interact online and have an expectation that industry organizations like ISM are going to provide them with online tools. eISM is part of that. But they also are looking for other things, like procurement organizational models, maturity models, job descriptions, and so on. As a result, Tom believes that it is reasonable for a professional body like ISM to have a working library of all of these resources that can make their jobs easier, “just like the Mastery Model.” It has to be universal in design, but configurable to the organization. According to Tom, ISM plans to unveil more of these digital resources in the future. “We have a very deliberate cadence for product development that’s focused on digital product.”

When asked what else ISM is doing to bring millennials into the network, Tom noted a number of different initiatives – from hiring a point person to engage with them all year, to sponsoring the Richter Scholarship, to inviting last year’s 30-under-30 finalists back and connecting with this year’s cohort. As Tom noted, the conference and the organization are more relevant to millennials now. “It doesn’t feel so ‘staunchy’,” he said. Moreover, the under-30 crowd is building a professional network at the conference that they can leverage throughout their careers. In fact, on Day 3 of the event, ISM sponsored a reception for the 30-under-30 finalists who got to meet and network with CPOs. For young professionals, getting access to C-level leaders can be difficult and this is a great way to connect and build relationships.

But “it’s not just about relationships,” Tom said, bringing the point full circle. “Now we’ve got products that are relevant, like eISM. The Mastery Model is also a part of that,” because millennials want to confer with their managers and map their careers. Thus, ISM has integrated the CPSM, eISM, and the Mastery Model as part of a “holistic vision” of what young professionals need to know to get ahead. “Some of it is the hard procurement skills, some of it is the critical skills like business acumen that are absolutely necessary to get ahead,” said Tom. But he wants to take it further and has some ideas on how to do that. This time next year, Tom hopes to have made revolutionary progress on what has thus far been evolutionary change in bringing millennials into the organization.

Final Thoughts

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to retire and opens up more vacancies within global procurement and supply management departments, the Millennial generation is being looked upon to fill the gaps and step up. ISM is more than happy to help them find their way, particularly as the organization is looking for new ways to remain relevant and increase membership rosters around the world. For now, ISM remains an influential international supply management organization. In the next series installment, we will explore just how much influence ISM has with its economic metrics, and what the organization is doing to engage and serve the CPO and other c-level supply management leaders. Stay tuned!

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