CIPS SM Procurement Awards – Should Judges Be Allowed To Enter?

Having written positively about the CIPS SM Awards last week, we had a couple of interesting comments, one to the website and one via a phone call from an old friend.

Have you noticed how many of the judges’ own organisations won awards”, the friend asked me.

Well no, I hadn’t, that potential conflict had not occurred to me and I guess if you had asked me I assumed that the judges in any given year would agree not to enter their own firms. But no, that clearly is not the case.

So judge Dennis Kenny, top HR and procurement leader at Jaguar Land Rover, saw the firm win best SRM programme and the overall award. Gavin Foxall of UK SBS saw that organisation win best people development initiative, and Heathrow won best corporate responsibility with Peter Hughes on the panel.

We checked whether the short-lists told us more, and clearly (and positively) not all the judges’ firms who enter win. The City of London Corporation and Babcock were both shortlisted and provided judges -  but did not win.

Now the Awards website says this.  “All judges sign a confidentiality agreement with us, as well as declaring any conflicts of interest regarding the entries. Those judges who have declared a conflict of interest do not score those submissions and leave the room during discussions on the judging days”.

I have huge respect for some of the judges I know personally, who I would absolutely trust to be unbiased. But there are two issues.

Firstly, just how does it look? A third of the team awards went to organisations that provided judges, which the cynical might suggest seems a little more than random selection might predict.

And secondly, even if the judges “leave the room” for the debate, it is hard not to have unconscious bias if someone you are working with, part of the team as it were, is also putting themselves forward as an entry. One also assumes that when it came to selecting the overall winner, the panel really was quite depleted!

We suspect other procurement awards have similar issues, although we have not done the investigation. But we’d suggest that CIPS, as the world's pre-eminent procurement organisation, has to be seen as absolutely clean here. We believe that judges should agree not to enter their own organisations for their year (or two) on the panel. It can’t be that difficult to find people on that basis, surely.

One other point – the old issue of “can procurement be said to have succeeded if the wider organisation has failed”? We ask that because two days after the awards, Interserve, winner of the best international project, saw their share price fall by 50% after a further profits warning. (Sounds like a fascinating winning project actually based on the title – “International Supply Chain Reconfiguration - South Atlantic”).

The company has lost 80% of its value over the last 12 months - here is the share price chart courtesy of Hargreaves Lansdown.


Now actually we do believe that procurement can perform well even in a difficult wider situation. In some ways, driving great procurement while the business is struggling is even more praise-worthy. But it is also clear that good procurement in itself is not always enough to define or drive wider overall corporate performance.

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Voices (7)

  1. No such thing as a shortlist:

    one way to get money for the event is to have a very long shortlist so that more firms come along. In some categories there were over 10 (!) firms shortlisted. In other only 2. It felt to me that if you entered at all you had had a strong chance of being shortlisted simply as haymarket know you will probably take a table.

  2. Allan Robertson:

    For any award the qualifying criteria and judging requirements should be clear at the start as should be the measures by which the criteria are to be measured and awarded. I was assuming that the criteria for judging is clear and published. In my opinion the judges must be completely impartial and their own organisation should not submit entries whilst they are a judge

  3. bitter and twisted:

    Awards are bullshit, who cares ?

  4. The Guitar Man:

    I was on the judging panel a number of times as panellist and chair and always voluntarily stopped my organisation from entering.

    1. Peter Smith:

      To be honest, that was my assumption about how it worked. I was shocked when someone pointed out to me what was happening.

    2. Final Furlong:

      Well said. This the procurement profession FFS. Conflict of interest is a black and white issue, not grey.

  5. Brooooce Sprinsgtone:

    Use experienced, independent consultants as judges. That’ll sort it.

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