It’s a difficult question. Top Procurement talent is in short supply, budgets are tight, and between (brain-dead) budget cuts and time constraints, training is that magical activity that you only hear about in fairy and folk tales that begin with the words “Once Upon a Time”.
So just how do you find and bind top Procurement talent in today’s economic landscape? It’s a tough problem, but one that Charles Dominick, Founder of Next Level Purchasing, has addressed in his latest paper on Procurement Talent Management: Recruiting, Training & Retaining a Modern & Awesome Buying Team. (Because the world’s second [or is that third] oldest professions is awesome.)
In this paper, Charles notes that just like there’s more than one way to make a tamale*1, there’s more than one way to go about recruiting Procurement talent, namely, the traditional way and the radical way. Organizations that search for talent the traditional way look for people who
- have experience in the industry,
- have Procurement experience, and
- have experience buying the same categories they will be expected to buy.
There are advantages to this approach in that these people are typically loyal to the industry and want to stay within it (as that is their comfort zone and they like their comfort zone), they can typically hit the ground running, and good matches are likely. However, there are disadvantages to. If you continually replace the Volkswagen Beetle with a newer model, you still just have a Volkswagen Beetle. You don’t have anything radically new, and, as such, are not likely to get the radically new ideas you need to get out of a rut.
But there is another way. Instead of looking for someone who’s good on the traditional paper, look for someone who:
- has the personality that fits the corporate culture,
- has influential charisma, and
- has intellectual potential.
Such a person, as Charles notes, can bring support for increased involvement of Procurement in the enterprise (as they fit, and, more importantly, can schmooze their way into non-traditional, and maybe even scared-cow, categories) and have the bandwidth to learn more advanced skills (and use more advanced processes and platforms to get better results). Plus, as these individuals are out-of-the-box that your team is trapped in, they are likely to bring some new ideas with them. You could find your best and brightest talent this way, or, as Charles point out, you could flop as the hire might not like Procurement or, even worse, while seemingly bright with his high IQ, just can’t adapt to the Procurement way.
There’s no right way, and the doctor would like to suggest that the best approach is often a fusion of the two, where you look for someone who:
- has a high EQ, as they have to fit in,
- has an above average TQ, as they have to use modern tools,
- has at an average+ IQ, as they have to be able to solve problems,
- has an affinity for the corporate culture
which doesn’t have to be perfect as their EQ will let them adapt,
- has experience in a relevant industry
which might not be the company’s industry; for example, if you need an IT buyer, why not hire someone who used to be an IT account manager, is comfortable with the technical terminology, and knows all the tricks and traps providers will throw at you (and how to avoid those expensive change orders), and
- has some operational experience
in Sales, Finance, Engineering or a related area that will allow them to pick up Procurement quickly.
This person, who might be used to a different box, is likely to come with some new ideas, adapt to the organizational culture, learn what they need to know, and have the potential to contribute. Now, there’s still a risk that if they come from Sales account management they won’t like the job, but considering the increased reward that will definitely come from expanding the search box (at a lower risk than the true radical approach), the doctor thinks it would be worth it.
As indicated, the paper also addresses the subjects of training and retention, which are important, but which we’re not going to cover. Even though the section on retention is quite good, as there’s nothing groundbreaking on this topic, we’d rather focus in on the discussion of the traditional vs. the radical approach, as a real understanding of this subject will help you tackle the biggest problem — finding talent in the first place. Training is easy — fight until the budget is re-instated and send your people on courses and/or bring experts in on a regular basis to help keep them current on best practices. (Given the ROI numbers, it should be a no-brainer.*2) And any company that truly wants to retain talent will do the little things that go a long way. But even the best employers don’t always know who to look for. That’s why Procurement Talent Management: Recruiting, Training & Retaining a Modern & Awesome Buying Team is a must-read for any CPO or VP who wants to build the best buying team she can.