Lucy Harding of Odgers at the Procurious Event – Are Millennials Different?

One of the highlights of the recent Procurious Big Ideas event was both hearing a formal presentation from Lucy Harding, who heads up the Global Procurement and Supply Chain Practice at head-hunters Odgers Berndston, and having the chance of a few private words with her too.

It seems no time ago that she and Sarah Lim, two intelligent, knowledgeable and lively young women who had worked in procurement before moving into recruitment, made the Purcon table at CIPS dinners the place to be. Unbelievably, that was in the 1990s, and both of them have gone on to great things – Harding at Odgers and Lim now at Korn Ferry.

In her session at the event, Harding started with a controversial remark. Sure, she said, the “Millennials” generation that everyone is talking about are socially conscious and looking for meaning in their careers and lives. But, having looked at all the available serious research, she is not convinced there are more than marginal differences with this generation compared to how all of us were at that stage of our lives.

Well said – most of us when we were in our twenties had some sort of social conscience and hoped we might do more for society and the world than just make a living. Indeed, if you look at the student generation before me, people demonstrated for all sorts of causes, and many went to prison for their beliefs. Read the story of the Garden House riot, for instance.

As Harding said, many of the older generation also still have those views. But that doesn’t mean Millennials are “the same as us” in all senses – engaging with them is different. They don't want to read – pictures and video are much more normal means of communication (think Instagram, YouTube).  And if we want to turn procurement into an attractive career, technology is the norm and expectations are high. When she carries out staff exit interviews for firms, frustration with poor data and lousy technology is a comment theme as a reason for leaving.

Millennials want to deliver business value and quantifiable benefits (don’t we all), are interested in CSR – but don’t forget that compensation is important to many, saddled as they are with huge student loans in many cases. Money still talks as it always did.

When I had a quick chat with her, I asked Harding if, given her comments about technology, she asked senior candidates for CPO roles and similar about their experience, knowledge and ideas on the topic. Yes, she said, but “I’m thinking we should go more deeply into the subject”.  In fact, she showed me several potential interview questions with a technology angle she had been jotting down during the day! (And yes, I did suggest a few more).

I was very impressed with this. Senior level head-hunters have a public image of perhaps being somewhat arrogant and full of themselves. We don’t pick up the slightest hint of that from Harding, and the fact that despite her status and experience, she was still  actively thinking about how to improve her interview questions and make even better selection decisions struck me as being admirable.

It also suggests that current and aspiring CPOs need to get ready for some technology questions at that next interview. Another good reason – as if you needed one – to read the Spend Matters websites regularly to keep up with the latest in that field!

Here is her "Big Ideas" video if you want to hear from Lucy directly.

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