Human Resources hoist Procurement with our own petard?

I had no idea what a 'petard' was until 5 minutes ago, when I thought I had better check if I was going to use it in a post title.  So...  it was a small bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications.  (I assumed it was something like a rope or gallows - you learn something every day!)

Anyway, to the point.  Procurement has for years fought to get involved in Human Resources (HR) contracts in areas such as recruitment, contingent labour, or payroll services.  In most organisations where procurement has reasonable general reputation and traction, procurement is now established in such categories.  But has HR extracted their own toll in revenge?  Are they exerting their own power in a manner that works against ultimate procurement effectiveness?

I met one of the most experienced people in procurement recruitment for a coffee recently.  She commented that increasingly, she was putting forward people that she knew would be good for the job and organisation concerned - but they were rejected.  And this wasn't sour grapes; sometimes these were pretty hard-to-fill specialist procurement roles.  She was left frustrated, but it wasn't the procurement 'client' (that the candidate would work for) who was making the decision.  It was HR, or perhaps the vendor neutral third party provider of recruitment or contingent labour services.

And often my friend was also told by HR,  'you can't speak to the line manager - if you do, we'll exclude you from future work'.  Sounds familiar?  HR managing 'compliance', or acting as a 'gatekeeper'.  Similar perhaps to procurement saying the same to line managers in terms of not talking to suppliers during contracting processes....

We discussed four potential reasons why this might be happening.

  • The people doing the sift were junior, and just didn't understand their own organisation (whether they were employees or contractors themselves).
  • They were working to a tick box of capability / experience rather than exercising judgement, and good candidates just missed out on one of the boxes.
  • HR were driven by diversity targets on the people to put forward and recruit; so on some occasions, good people didn't make it through.
  • In cases where they were vendor neutral agents, they nevertheless had their own 'favourites' in the supply chain.

Whatever the cause, the procurement function was losing out by not even getting the chance to consider good candidates.

When I was a CPO, I considered recruiting the right people one of the 2 or 3 most important things I had to do - at all levels, not just direct reports.  I interviewed every new recruit into procurement at NatWest personally.  Luckily, I never faced this situation - if I had, I like to think I would have insisted on seeing all cvs ( or at least a sample of rejected cvs to check what was going on) rather than 'outsourcing' this critical work to HR or an external firm.  In my opinion, 'talent management' is far too important for any leader, including those in procurement, to cede control over recruitment to anyone else.

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