56% of professionals report problems recruiting, found the CIPS/Hays salary guide  ©123RF
56% of professionals report problems recruiting, found the CIPS/Hays salary guide ©123RF

Procurement talent: how to find it, develop it, keep it

8 June 2018

Employers are struggling to find procurement talent. So take this expert advice on how you can stay one step ahead when building your team

According to the latest CIPS/Hays Salary Guide and Insights report, 60% of managers reading this will be looking to hire in the next 12 months. But given the survey also found 56% of procurement hiring professionals are finding it hard to attract talent, it isn’t likely to be easy. With 30% of professionals looking to change employers in the next year, you have a perfect storm of reasons why talent is top of the agenda. 

“Every procurement professional I meet is having issues securing talent; there’s big churn in the market,” agrees Mandy Chippendale, chartered CIPS Fellow. “Employers are fighting for the same people.” Let SM help you win the war for talent by taking you through each stage of the employee lifecycle...

Stage one: attraction 

Can the best people find you?

In a competitive market, how you sell yourself counts. “Put some thought into your value position as an employer,” advises David Collings, professor of HR management at Dublin City University Business School. “Reflect on what you stand for and what it means to work for you.” Using employees as advocates of your organisation and department can be powerful, he adds. 

Sam Johnson, who runs SM Jobs, agrees employer brand is vital. “Telling your story as an employer of choice creates buy in from the start,” she says. “Why would a candidate choose you?” 

Having a well known brand can help, but what if you’re B2B? Richard Denney, operations and purchasing director EMEA of marketing services firm Communisis, says when it comes to “luring people who haven’t heard of you”, the first interaction they have with the firm, via HR or recruitment usually, “is the moment of truth”. 

“You have to make sure that’s an interaction that does what you want and hooks the candidate,” he says. “Make sure the people [having that conversation] are well briefed.”  Spending time with the person doing your recruitment will pay off, stresses Scott Dance, procurement engagement director at Hays: “I need to be able to see and feel what you’re doing, otherwise it’s hard to sell.”

Dance also advises thinking about what makes your job spec unique: “I see so many generic ones.” This is something Chris Emberton, procurement director at law firm Clifford Chance, invests time in. “I think about what the person I want to hire would be looking for,” he says. “If you’re a function that’s raising the profile of procurement and investing in innovation, push that.” 

Consider whether your scope is too narrow. Does your next category manager need to have worked in that category before? Is it really essential they come from the same industry as you? “Category expertise can be taught, but the softer qualities associated with higher performance are harder to teach,” says Denney. 

Rachel Lee, supply chain solutions director at CBRE, looks to attract people from other functions, particularly client facing ones, and those within the business doing internships. In the last couple of years, five interns have spent time with the team and two are now in full-time roles. “They didn’t originally want to join procurement, but because we showed them how exciting supply chain is, they wanted to stay,” she says. 

Stage two: recruitment

Find someone who fits

“It’s hard to recruit because there’s so much we don’t know about candidates. We tend to simplify and go for skills and experience, but one of the most important things is cultural fit,” says Collings. 

Lee agrees: “We always interview with culture in mind and ask behavioural questions linked to culture. I’ve made the mistake in the past of hiring people on technical skills. They don’t fit in, which makes it harder for everyone.” Collings advises working with HR to identify appropriate tools and techniques to help you with interviewing for cultural fit. 

Denney says that while he used to use CV-based recruitment, now he “almost [doesn’t] care about what it says on the CV”. He uses phone screening more regularly, interacting with people verbally at early stages. “I use that to get the person, rather than what they’ve done,” he says. 

Emberton also uses phone calls as a first screen, spending 30 minutes with every applicant. “It’s finding out who they are and selling Clifford Chance to them, to see if there’s that fit,” he says. “It is time consuming, but if you don’t find the time to invest in the process you might miss someone or put someone off.” 

When it comes to how long an interview process should be, Denney is an advocate of “one and done” (including making sure all appropriate stakeholders are available to meet on that day), while Emberton opts for a longer process. He also sets an “impossible” blind case study, hoping for candidates to say it cannot be done and that they would challenge the stakeholder. “It’s surprising how many people don’t, which makes it a good common sense screen.”  

Whatever the process, it needs to be slick, recruitment experts agree. “If it takes candidates longer than 15 minutes to apply for your job, then you’ve probably lost them to another company,” says Johnson from SM Jobs. “Think about the candidate journey,” adds Dance. “Do a schedule for your process and stick to it.” 

Stage three: onboarding

Prepare well and keep them busy

Congratulations, you’ve found the perfect hire. Now how do you make sure they hit the ground running? 

“We’ve all heard horror stories of on-boarding, where the receptionist isn’t expecting them,” says Collings. While the relevant processes, such as making sure all equipment is ready for your new hire, need to be in place, he advises also investing time and energy into “helping people socialise into the company”. “It’s often those one-to-ones that help people understand the company norms,” he adds.

At CBRE, Lee uses a structured induction process. “In the first two or three weeks, I don’t want any time where they are sat with nothing to do,” she says. To avoid thumb twiddling, new procurement hires are buddied up with other staff members as well as suppliers. “We do a lot of ‘day in the life’ activities,” Lee explains. “A day in the life of an engineer on site or a senior manager. It gets them to see the areas of the business in the first few weeks. We also assign [new hires] to suppliers, which helps them gain more insight.” 

Emberton’s procurement team has created a new starter pack for hires to help them learn the ropes, and he invests in team offsite away days. “We ask people to do a slide telling us about themselves, in their own style, so a bit about their personal lives and career histories,” he says.

Stage four: development

The road ahead

The CIPS/Hays salary guide found progression opportunities were cited by 62% of professionals as an important factor when looking for a job, so offering development pathways to existing staff is critical. ‘Growing your own’ can also help overcome hiring difficulties. “Develop your own people rather than hiring the same sort of people,” says Chippendale, who runs training provider The Procurement Academy.

If you work within a flatter hierarchy, you might need to consider creating more layers to help people feel like they are progressing. Patrick Dunne, who recently joined Sainsbury’s as CPO, has been doing this. It’s particularly important for younger ‘millennial’ employees to feel like they are progressing, he has noticed. 

“The modern generation of buyers is more focused on career development than salary,” he says. “Managing millennials is a challenge because their expectations of success [are different]. Talented people come in then leave because they can’t go up the ladder. I’ve had to restructure so there are more layers and job titles to show progression.” He adds development means “pushing people out of their comfort zones” and giving them responsibility faster.

Lee finds on-the-job training most effective. “Expose them to things they haven’t done before,” she suggests. “Buddy them up with people with different skills.” She also does job rotations where possible, to allow people to work in different parts of the business.

While in times of cost reduction, the training budget might be one of the first things to go, Chippendale warns this is “a false economy”. Given Deloitte’s 2018 Global CPO Survey found 51% of CPOs believe their current teams do not have sufficient skills to deliver on their procurement strategy, she’s right. Dance points out that many development opportunities don’t have to involve a great deal of investment. Internal mentoring schemes, for example, major on the resource of time and expertise rather than cash. 

Stage five: retention

Hold on tight

Development and retention are inextricably linked. As Chippendale says: “If you develop and look after your people, they are less likely to leave.” And given finding new employees is such a challenge, retaining the best is critical. 

“While attracting people is about trying to get them to form an emotional connection, retaining them is about maintaining that emotional connection,” says Denney. And besides offering appropriate career development, there are a number of other tools available to encourage people to stay, as well as things that might push them to leave.

Managers are important here. We’ve all heard that old – but true – adage: People leave managers, not organisations. “One of the biggest challenges in organisations is that they don’t invest enough in developing managers,” says Collings. “You need to be equipping managers to have development conversations.” Denney agrees: “Managers are so important. They have to transfer the energy and the passion. They have a vital job around retention.” 

Dunne adds: “Money alone is not the answer. People want fair remuneration but the younger generation needs more feedback, which puts pressure on managers.” Managers must have strong people skills, not just technical ones. 

Having the right level of work/life balance and flexibility can also be a powerful retention aid. According to the CIPS/Hays salary survey, 35% of people cited keeping their work/life balance as the main reason for staying with their current employer, the top ranked reason. “It’s about providing a work experience that both meets the needs of the organisation and provides individuals with autonomy and flexibility,” says Collings.

However, don’t forget organisations need a certain level of churn, or else risk becoming staid. Dunne looks for “a happy medium of 10%”, but works hard to retain the people he thinks can progress quickly.

Stage six: separation

Farewell, but not goodbye

All good things must come to an end, and at some point you’re likely to lose someone you wish would stay. How you handle that is becoming increasingly important, says Collings, who has been carrying out research on ‘boomerang hires’ (people who return to an organisation). 

“When someone leaves, it’s not always a negative,” he explains. “Often people leave to work for ‘cooperators’, so companies in your supply chain or your customers. There’s lots of value in maintaining good relationships, ensuring departure is as positive as possible and keeping in touch with alumni networks. Then people remain advocates, they could become customers and even come back as rehires. That’s a big shift. It used to be ‘if you leave, you’re never coming back’, but research shows rehires tend to be very effective as they know the organisation and have picked up experience elsewhere.” 

“Procurement is such a small world, it’s really important to keep good relationships,” agrees Emberton. “You have to keep in touch as the right role for them might become available in two years’ time. I would rather someone went to a good company where their development continued.”

Emberton takes a mature and open approach to helping people move on when the time is right. “We can’t magic opportunities up, so if someone is ready for the next step and it’s not here, I can help recommend them to someone or move them elsewhere in the firm. We need to talk about this honestly.” This way of thinking also means that if the right opportunity were to come up at a later date, that person would be more inclined to move back, but not feeling like it’s a backward step. 

Lee has a similar philosophy, pointing out that roles and organisations may outgrow people, particularly if procurement functions are undergoing transformation. “A job might have got too big for someone,” she reflects. “If so, it’s important they leave not feeling like a failure, but that they are going to go and develop somewhere else.”  

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