Public enemy

13 October 2010
Experienced procurement professional Paul Vincent follows up four job ads to see if the public sector would like the benefit of his private sector experience Unless you happen to live on Mars you will know that UK PLC needs to do some intelligent trimming of its public expenditure. This presents two great opportunities for the purchasing community. One is the chance to stride fearlessly around the negotiating battleground. The other is to show how a creative procurement mindset can deliver transformational change across an end-to-end cost base. Now I enjoy a good old-fashioned tear-up with a supplier as much as anybody, but I believe real procurement value stems from developing innovative ways to reduce the cost of how something is consumed within an organisation as well as bought. This is why the public sector challenge sounds like a fantastic opportunity for procurement professionals to make a massive and positive difference. It is also an ideal time for buyers who have overcome similar challenges within the private sector to make their skills and experience available to their public sector peers. In this context you might have thought, as I did, that the public sector recruitment strategy would be increasingly focused on accessing procurement professionals who know the score, can hit the ground running, can manage strong stakeholders and, most importantly, are happy to challenge the status quo. So to test my theory I have recently followed up some job ads for public sector procurement roles. The ads all sound similar... people are wanted to “lead, manage and drive change”, “develop effective internal relationships”, “have excellent communication skills” and can “deliver an innovative sourcing approach”. These skills are exactly the ones which buyers in the private sector have in abundance. 
Cue typical conversation with a recruitment company. “Hi, my name is Paul Vincent and I saw your ad for a procurement professional in the public sector. I think my skills and experience would be well suited to the position as described and I would be delighted to be considered for the role.” “Thanks Mr Vincent – can I just ask you one thing before we go any further – have you worked in the public sector before?” “Well no, but I have led, managed and driven lots of transformational change, I am very adept at managing internal stakeholder relationships, I am a strong communicator and I have been successful in driving innovation throughout the procurement process.” “Sorry, Mr Vincent, but they only want to talk to people who have public sector experience.” Four times I tested this. Four times I got the same response. “I know it sounds ridiculous, Mr Vincent. Yes, I realise you may have all the capabilities they are asking for in the job ad. We keep telling them they need to consider private sector professionals but they just don’t want to consider anyone unless they have worked in the public sector before.” I won’t test this further. Four times may be a small sample but I don’t have the patience for any more of these conversations. But if my small experiment is typical of the prevailing mindset then it can mean only one thing – as far as public sector procurement is concerned we are living in a twilight world where the only people who can deliver the different things required are the people who have always done them... Paul Vincent is the managing director of professional services procurement consultancy Insight Sourcing Solutions. Before establishing the company in 2009, he spent 24 years at BT Group. He has 13 years’ buying and global category management experience for a range of direct and indirect spend areas. He is also deputy chair of the Institute of Business Consulting’s consultancy purchasing group.
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