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Procurement Talent Management: 2 Approaches To Recruiting

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Recently, there has been a shift in how organizations are recruiting procurement professionals. Today, there are two seemingly opposite approaches to recruiting procurement talent: the traditional approach and the radical approach. Let’s explore.

The Traditional Approach

For years, most procurement leaders tried to fill any open position with a candidate whose background closely matched the position’s description. The perfect candidate was someone who:

  • Had experience in the same industry
  • Had procurement experience
  • Managed the same categories that she would be managing for the hiring company

Advantages of the Traditional Approach

There are many advantages of recruiting with the Traditional Approach. These include:

  • Industry loyalty. An employee’s loyalty to an industry means that, to retain that employee, your organization doesn’t have to be the most attractive employer in the world. Just the industry.
  • Less risk of mistake. The complexity and many nuances of procurement make it a profession ripe for making mistakes. If a candidate has been in procurement for years, that candidate has likely learned how to avoid procurement-driven disasters.
  • Shorter time to independence. Some categories are easy to learn to buy. Others require an intimate knowledge of the details that influence technical acceptability, quality and supplier synergy. Hiring someone who already knows the finer points of a challenging category can reduce the time between hire date and value creation.

Disadvantages of the Traditional Approach

Despite all of the sense that the traditional approach makes, it is not without its downsides. Specifically, these are some of its disadvantages:

  • Lack of breakthrough ideas. If a candidate had the exact same job as the one for which he or she is being hired — especially if he or she replaces a successful predecessor — that procurement role will probably not see a drastically positive transformation.
  • Potential cultural conflict. If a procurement professional is hired for a job similar to his or her last, that individual likely seeks continuity. Though job descriptions can be similar between companies, the cultures may be insanely different. Someone who elected to stay in the same industry, in the same role, and managing the same categories may be averse to change. If the person doesn’t fit the culture, that’s a problem.

The Radical Approach

Though hiring a candidate whose experience matches the available job seems perfectly logical, you now see that there are disadvantages. Thus, a new approach to procurement recruiting has become common. In this approach, three different characteristics define the perfect candidate:

  • A personality that fits the corporate culture
  • Influential charisma
  • Intellectual potential

What makes this approach “radical” is that the hiring managers who use it are not bothered if a candidate lacks experience with managing the category for which they will be responsible, or in the industry, or in procurement at all. These hiring managers feel that procurement practices can be taught to an intelligent person. But a personality that matches the corporate culture is something someone has or doesn’t – it can’t be taught.

Advantages of the Radical Approach

Procurement’s evolution from an order-placing function to one that facilitates synergies between company stakeholders and the supply base has made human relations skills more critical than ever. That is why the radical approach has advantages, such as:

  • Support for procurement involvement. All of the technical knowledge in the world won’t inspire stakeholders and management to change how they involve the procurement staff if they don’t like and trust procurement team members. With employees who inspire stakeholders, the procurement department can earn the cooperation necessary to fully leverage its technical capabilities.
  • Bandwidth to learn. What constitutes a full range of procurement skills is a moving target. Hiring an employee who has lots of intellectual potential ensures that they will be capable of learning all of the nuanced aspects of modern procurement and those that will emerge in post-modern procurement.

Disadvantages of the Radical Approach

Having read the latent disadvantages to the traditional approach to recruitment, it is probably not a shock that the radical approach has downsides as well. These include:

  • High risk of mistakes. As previously intimated, procurement can feel like a jungle full of pitfalls with everything that can go wrong. Ignoring the benefit of solid knowledge of core procurement principles when hiring a candidate can result in that candidate falling headlong into disasters.
  • Chance of not liking procurement. No matter how far the profession has come, procurement still isn’t the sexiest job someone can dream of. Whether a procurement newbie will have enough passion for the profession to stick with it is anything but certain.

The Recruiting Approaches Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

Though the radical approach to recruiting is currently hot, step back for a second. It is important to realize that the criteria for the traditional approach and the radical approach are not mutually exclusive.

Is it possible for a candidate to be both seasoned in procurement and a good cultural fit? Absolutely.

So, the dichotomy that has arisen in the space really isn’t necessary. Perhaps it will prove impossible to find someone who has a perfect procurement track record and will be adored by stakeholders and management.

But shouldn’t that at least be the target?

I say shoot for the stars! If you have to settle for less, choose the candidate with the best combination of characteristics from both approaches – keeping in mind which gaps can be closed through procurement training and which gaps can’t.

Recruiting is only one of three aspects of procurement talent management. To learn more about the training and retention aspects of procurement talent management, download NLPA’s whitepaper “Procurement Talent Management: Recruiting, Training & Retaining A Modern & Awesome Buying Team.” This white paper is available at http://www.NextLevelPurchasing.com/talent.

Voices (2)

  1. Bitter and twisted:

    I call bullshit on “cultural fit”
    I suspect that cultural unfitness is actually one of the following

    i) the employee is a jerk
    ii) the employer has bad “soft” working conditions
    iii) the specific role requires some special talent: and quote possibly not the talent the hirer thinks.

    If a company is failing to retain talented, experienced staff because of “cultural fit” then the culture is wrong.

  2. Bill Kohnen:

    Interesting thoughts. I would say the approach might also vary by category.

    For instance almost every big company these days has an open hiring req for someone to lead their Marketing spend.

    In truth the Marketing space has evolved so fast from traditional to digital that arguably there is no one with the purchasing and content knowledge to fill these roles. The “radical” approach might be right for this and other rapidly changing areas.

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