Hire for Behaviour, Train for Skill – Efficio’s Panel Debate on The Human Factor in Leadership

The measure of a successful event is in great part the fact it grew in attendee numbers from the previous year. This was the case with Efficio’s annual debate at their London HQ last Wednesday evening, which doubled its numbers. The topic this year was ‘The Human Factor: Strategic Procurement and the Leaders of Tomorrow,’ with a diverse panel to respond to the questions of Efficio’s own compere extraordinaire (and their Sales and Marketing Director) Simon Lipscomb, as well as a good amount of time for audience questions.

Following a glass of fizz and a canape or two, the evening kicked off with an interpretation of the global research produced by Efficio and Cranfield School of Management by Efficio’s Simon Whatson.

The results of a survey of 500 organisations pan-continent and pan-industry affirmed what most (procurement) organisations subscribe to, that too strict a focus on technology could be prohibitive. And in shining a light on the workforce of tomorrow, the survey results highlight that procurement will be at the centre of business change with the support of technology which has significantly lowered barriers to entry for many companies and markets.

A rallying call for consideration was central to the output of the report: that Procurement needs a new operating model which is people-centric. Putting the person at the centre and making that person more effective with technology, expertise, insight and curated content that is organised - in effect, enabling more of an investor mind set is imperative for success.

“Making our teams more effective will require different skillsets,” Whatson voiced. “We will need highly developed soft skills and courage to challenge conventional thinking to solve problems.” In more than a hint, Whatson alluded to a procurement function which is going to become much more project-based, a stance picked up throughout the following debate.

Since technology will be a critical enabler, it is perhaps a surprising statistic that 69% of those surveyed felt that one of the barriers to realising the benefits of digitalisation was the lack of tech vendor support in implementing solutions.

Procurement’s role in sustainability and CSR was the second most attractive factor for those surveyed (behind renumeration) in choosing procurement as a profession. However, the absence of training plans was another frustration, alongside procurement’s ‘image problem.’ A 5-point plan was shared from the report which advised how to reposition and elevate the procurement function through embracing the Human Factor which flowed through the ensuing panel debate.

The debate

Welcome to the hotseats: Tim Coles of Thames Water Utilities, Patrick Dunne of Sainsburys, Lucy Harding of Odgers Berndtson, Karen Moorhouse of City of London Corporation, Howard Sloane of Essar Oil and Juliet Sotnick of Babcock International in the glare of the 120-strong audience and Simon Lipscomb with his questions. It was good to have the perspectives of industry chiefs as well as recruitment consultants (Odgers Berndtson).

Comfortable to court opinion, Patrick Dunne was direct in his response to procurement’s contribution to professional development: “You’ll learn more in 2 years in Procurement than you will in 7 years with other departments. Procurement touches everything!” Going further on the subject of skillsets, Dunne had the nod of a collective audience when he stated: “You [Efficio ‘Human Factor’ Report] call them soft skills: I call them ‘critical skills!” The difference in tomorrow’s workforce will be those ‘people, relationship’ skills which enable partnering, re-engineering, innovation.

There was a collective call for procurement to be embedded in education from secondary education and beyond; a further agreement that Procurement is moving to a general management role. A further rally call came from Howard Sloane, Chief People Officer with Essar Oil who gave his HR perspective: “A HR function that is spending 60% to 70% if its time on talent management is winning, everything else in HR is a cost.”

So continued the Human Factor debate in Procurement, that nurturing talent pays dividends, that graduate schemes though positive, led to a 90% leak in talent once trained, thus reducing the business ROI, through to how to advertise for procurement talent, not mentioning procurement at all, but a ‘problem solver.’

It was an unsurprising revelation on being asked that Lucy Harding (recruitment) confirmed that the biggest talking point in recruiting a senior procurement role continues to be cost savings and in replacing a CPO, the exec team/CFO rationale comes down to ‘not believing the numbers.’

Heavier hearts were spared by Karen Moorhouse, CIPS Young Procurement Professional of the year last year (and well merited from what we saw in terms of thoughtful, articulate interaction during the debate), who reminded us that she had no savings target associated with her role as a Commercial Contract Manager in earning her award via rigorous interviews. Her award was based on her role in innovation, partnership and project management, including enhanced CSR end goals in the negotiated contract outcomes. Her contributions during the debate earned her many conversations post panel.

All in all, Efficio put on yet another very good, well attended event. Though the survey or panel debate didn’t unearth any mass revelation in terms of what we likely assume is the landscape in procurement personnel, it provided a basis on which to consider the make-up of our own procurement teams, what peer organisations are experiencing and considerations for future procurement team profiles. “Hire for behaviour, train for skill,” a resounding sound byte we could get behind. There was a definite camp believing that procurement teams will no longer exist as a function in the future; that everyone is a buyer and procurement will be embedded across the organisation; an affirming sense that procurement will be at the centre of business change given its unique position in an organisation. Procurement directly impacts sales, production, finance and as such earns its strategic partnership to the business, if only all organisations would appreciate the vital role of procurement the way Sainsburys, Babcock, Essar Oil and others have done, and elevate us from the back office.

And if you would like to see the results of the research you can access it here.

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