Retaining Procurement Talent – Lessons From Spurs

Regular readers know that anything can set us off with a thought or idea about procurement that seems worth discussing. In this case – and please don’t disappear if you are not a sporty person, this isn’t really about football - it was a recent TV interview after a soccer match.

The interviewer asked how Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) would manage to keep their best players, who might be targeted by other leading clubs. Bear in mind Spurs are the second best team in England this year, and must have as good a chance as any of winning trophies next year, so it seemed a little odd there was so much discussions about potential leavers. Players would not exactly be leaving simply to “join a better club”, unless perhaps it was Real Madrid or Barcelona knocking on the door. But it is an issue even for Spurs.

So, our read across to procurement came as we considered the same issue for procurement leaders and functions. Whether you have a strong, high-performing function or are in a less impressive situation, everyone faces the issue of how to hang on to their star players. It might be interesting also to consider which organisations are the Real or Barca of our world – who would it be really hard to say “no” to? But let’s focus today on what Spurs, or indeed any procurement function, can do to keep its best people.

There are four key factors that we can think of immediately.

  1. Financial benefits – there is no doubt the best teams do throw a lot of money at their top performers as a motivator. Certainly Spurs are likely to up the salaries of a number of players. The same issues apply in procurement, even if the amounts are a lot lower! Whatever the situation in terms of other factors, as we will discuss, almost everybody has a point at which they will say, “I love my job but I can’t ignore another 50K a year” or whatever the trigger might be. Money isn’t everything, but if your star IT Category Manager is on £50K and the market will pay her £100K, she is probably going to go.
  1. Inspirational leadership – in the case of Spurs, the interview discussed how important it is that the manager Mauricio Pochettino stays at the club. He is seen as an inspirational manager, although he is not a high-profile media person. But he is highly respected and maybe even loved by many of the players, it seems. So, in procurement terms, if you have that sort of person or team at the top of the procurement function, it will undoubtedly help to attract and keep people. And the opposite applies. A weak, incompetent leader or one who does not treat staff with fairness and respect will see turnover rates rise pretty quickly.
  1. The ability to learn and develop – this links to the last point in the case of Spurs, as a number of players have commented about how much they have improved playing under Pochettino. If they see their own performance improving, that is satisfying and of course increases both their chances of winning trophies and their own market value. Again, there is a direct read-across to procurement. If people feel they are becoming a better IT category manager day by day, month by month, they are much less likely to go.
  1. Winning and recognition – yes, in football the chance to win trophies and awards is a big motivator. But everyone wants to be part of something bigger and successful, including procurement staff. It doesn’t have to be external CIPS SM or Procurement Leaders awards; it could even be internally-generated recognition or targets. But for people to be able to say “I was part of the procurement team that achieved this…” is another motivator. Individual recognition is another aspect, as everyone wants to feel valued. Indeed, Spurs’ biggest risk is probably losing a couple of excellent players who don’t always get into the first team and are somewhat unhappy about that.

One final point. The issue is greater for Spurs right now as they are building a new stadium so have the upset of moving, playing at Wembley next season until their new place is ready. So note that in periods of change, it is probably more important than ever to retain talent – yet it also tends to be more challenging, as change makes many of us feel uneasy.

First Voice

  1. Paul Ireland:

    An interesting article combining two things that occupy a large proportion of my time and thoughts – assessing and developing procurement skills/talent and football.

    I agree with all your points, but would contend that another element is ‘the scope and ability to perform effectively’. While this is linked to ‘the ability to learn and develop’, from my experience of assessing 1,000s of procurement professionals, it impacts significantly on staff morale and retention.

    In football, this would be based on the ability to use your specific skills within the tactics/formation adopted. I will not be alone in being frustrated at the apparent lack of skills of certain players (I do support Aston Villa), but it is imperative that the skills that the players do possess are utilised fully within the formation/tactics. Which formation and tactics are best is itself a separate and lengthy topic for discussion amongst football supporters – I have had to endure colleague’s rants about Van Gaal and Wenger in recent seasons.

    In procurement terms, individuals should be proactive in their learning and development and seek to understand what best practice is, and when and how to implement it in their companies. In an attempt to perform to the absolute best of their ability using this knowledge they will be frustrated if they are prevented from doing so due to a lack of resources, or they are unable to work effectively due to poor processes, systems and tools. However, while leading to poor outcomes, some may be happy by an absence of these if it provides short-cuts and ‘gives them an easy ride’.

    I would also certainly by interested to see your thoughts on who are the Real Madrid and Barcelona of organisations for procurement professionals!

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