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How Multidimensional Is the Purchasing Job?
This article examines the issue of how multidimensional the buying job actually is. The results of a study of firms in five industries is reported and discussed in light of the need for job enrichment. The findings indicate that the buying job is less diversified than might have been assumed - and that it is entirely possible that this may have a detrimental impact on overall buyer performance.
The purchasing job is becoming increasingly complex, with greater demands continually placed on the line buyer. Purchasing managers press for quicker processing of purchase orders and demand that buyers do a better job of obtaining the best value possible, engineering managers want strict compliance with specs, and production managers demand that the material required be available precisely when needed. At the same time, the buying job is complicated by an increasing rate of change in most technologies.
HOW CONFLICTING DEMANDS AFFECT BUYERS
One result of these conflicting demands is that buyers are forced to focus on "essential" activities to keep up with everyday demands, and as a result, the buying job loses some of the multidimensional quality that makes it attractive.
Hackman and Oldham, in researching the factors that lead to greater motivation, performance, and satisfaction, found that these outcomes were largely affected by the design of the job. They proposed the model depicted in Figure 1. The model suggests that skill variety, task identity, and task significance, as well as autonomy and feedback, are the major factors determining work outcomes. In a similar vein, other researchers have suggested that at least part of the requirement to increase productivity in purchasing involves setting objectives that require innovativeness, change, and the effort to go beyond the very basic tasks that are part of the job. Concentrating on the basic tasks simply to "survive" in a job would seemingly be counterproductive. In their studies, these authors observed that, from a preferential point of view, buyers tended to place more emphasis on fulfillment of higher order needs than lower order needs. These higher order needs involve such things as job enrichment and task variety.
Buyers often are placed in a position of having to make decisions about complex issues with limited information. It has been suggested that because of this aspect of the job, buyers experience an elevated level of role stress. Typically, workers have the ability to adapt to increased levels of stress and often are able to maintain performance with extra effort. There are, however, long-term prices to be paid for this adaptation and increased workload. Selye examined the effects of long-term stress and suggested that when one faces a stressful situation, there is an automatic physiological reaction to protect against the stress. This reaction involves the release of hormones that affect the internal organs, especially the heart. Stress certainly reduces motivation and, over the long term, can affect the physical well-being of buyers.
Another effect of the multiplicity of demands on buyers is the reaction brought about by their attempt to cope with these demands. They typically try to simplify the work demands. One researcher suggests that one of the reasons buyers tend to be source-loyal is to simplify their work. Although source loyalty has certainly benefits associated with it, the downside is that buyers may ignore other potentially valuable sources of supply. This, of course, may mean that buyers are not maximizing utility when making some purchasing decisions.
The View of Management
It is likely that one of the prevailing reasons for the demands on purchasing departments is the view held by top management. Purchasing is one of those staff areas that often is not noticed until something goes wrong; unfortunately, this situation can lead to a lack of appreciation of the everyday operation of the department. Ammer found, for instance, that general management and purchasing management differed noticeably in their …