CPO Strategy

Six ways to retain procurement leaders

It’s a familiar story. A new procurement manager has been recruited and everyone is very excited. Their track record is impressive, their ideas visionary, and they bring fresh energy and insight to the business. But after six months they leave.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again, in both private and public sector organisations, big and small. In my experience, there are two common reasons. The first is headroom or lack of it. Ambitious procurement people join because they want to make a positive impact. But as soon as they set foot in the business, they are swamped with low priority tasks, admin requests and problems that everyone has been storing up for the last three months.

Greeted with this barrage of firefighting, the new recruit doesn’t feel like a strategic decision maker from day one. Their ambition to be someone who can influence the direction of the organisation, particularly around digitisation or transformation projects, dissolves amid the onslaught of frontline demands. They are pulled from department to department, dealing with nominal purchasing issues or supply chain failures when what they desperately need is breathing space to take a strategic view and begin to put well considered building blocks in place.

Another reason for low retention of procurement leaders is poor integration. Many organisations still run their procurement teams in isolation, bringing them in at the final stage of a business process to buy goods rather than provide commercial insight at the start. Nowadays, talented professionals expect to have the freedom to drive real value beyond transactional purchasing, they hope to be involved in determining the direction of the business and they want to be part of disruptive innovation work. If they face opposition when challenging outdated perceptions of the procurement function or when they try to garner recognition for the function’s strategic contribution, they might look elsewhere.

There are, however, some key steps that organisations can take to hang on to their senior procurement staff:

Align the individual with the role

Don’t rush into recruitment without thinking carefully about what you want from your new procurement leader or the function you’re trying to build. Purely replacing who you had before or recruiting into exactly the same job spec might not be the answer. The same applies to employing someone based on their detailed OJEU experience and technical procurement knowledge rather than their emotional intelligence or people skills. Clarify the impact you want your procurement manager to achieve, define the skills needed to make this a reality and recruit accordingly.

Put requests on hold

When your new manager starts, protect them from day-to-day demands for a number of months. This might sound like a luxury but it’s actually essential if they are going to acclimatise, review processes and map out a procurement direction that is robust and well-thought-out. It’s up to senior leaders in the business to manage this protection, asking staff to carry on as normal and telling them that the resulting plan will be worth waiting for.

Enable strong relationship-building

Relationships are everything in procurement and new employees must be given support to build their networks, with both internal and external stakeholders. Some employees and suppliers may be resistant to change, and a strong procurement head should anticipate this. They will need time and help with introductions so they can get to know key contacts, listen to their needs and foster trust. Only this type of empathetic, meaningful relationship-building will bring about the culture change that is often needed for effective procurement.

Offer board access

One of the most important relationships a new recruit must develop is with the board. This works two ways, helping them feel valued, affirming that they have a strategic contribution to make to the future of the business and one that directors want to hear – which will, in turn, create job satisfaction. Secondly, it means that the procurement manager can provide a strategic vista direct to the top team, offering up the valuable intelligence they gather from having a fresh view across all parts of the business.

Decode corporate culture

Make sure that time is dedicated to helping a new recruit understand the cultural and social norms of the organisation and the company ethos that drives it. Not only will a thorough induction process help your new procurement leader feel more rooted in the business, but it will allow them to understand any deeply engrained issues and then create a plan that supports the wider vision and values of the organisation.

Create a receptive environment

New recruits, hungry for the next challenge, will often come brimming with ideas, particularly around digitisation. The business must be prepared for this, and it must have enough flex to welcome this curiosity and innovation. Procurement managers might be keen to drive transformation and digitisation in their own function but also to influence the organisation’s overall strategy, and this ambition must be embraced, not rejected.

Having seen so many organisations struggle to retain procurement talent, I’m keen to share my thoughts on how to get it right. Putting these steps in place should stand you in good stead when it comes to recruiting and inducting those procurement managers that you really want to hang on to.

Rob Peck is director of procurement services at Inprova Group

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