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What makes some procurement organisations hotbeds of talent?

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What makes some procurement organisations hotbeds of talent?
Expert Opinion
March 20, 2017

What is it about some procurement organisations that makes them stand out from the rest? Jon Howell, Operations Performance Director at Ayming, posed this question to Paul Alexander, EMEA Director of Procurement at BP.

I’ve always found it particularly interesting how there are a certain number of organisations out there that are renowned, and will always be renowned, for being hotbeds of talent.

They’re the places that are not only spearheading, but helping shape the future direction of the latest processes and systems, constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and setting the trends for other businesses to follow.

What’s more interesting, is the fact that when you speak to certain high achievers, more often than not, they typically tend to hail from these very organisations. Over the years, it’s places such as the Jaguar Land Rovers, British Airways, Royal Mails and Rolls Royces of the world that have had a strong reputation for procurement, with many people within their teams going on to forge significant careers in this area.

A reputation for procurement?

It’s something that I’ve experienced on numerous occasions and something that has always made me wonder – what is it about these organisations that makes them so good and how do they develop teams that are so exceptional that they stand out head and shoulders above the crowd?

It was something I put to a good contact of mine – Paul Alexander, who’s currently a Director of Procurement for EMEA at BP and was previously Director of Procurement at British Airways. Paul revealed that, from his experience and reading, there’s a combination of both push and pull factors at play, which typically look like this:

The pull factors:

1. Magnetism – the pure magnetism of highly successful organisations, such as BP and GSK, means that good people are naturally attracted to them in the first place. Having a strong leadership development philosophy and generally being an inspirational and fun place to work is also a related key pull factor – Google and Amazon are prime examples of this.

2. Organisational character – being known for listening to staff is important, as is recognising people’s achievements. For instance, at BP, an indicator of success is the number of promotions that are made internally to bigger roles and seeing team members move on to bigger and better positions elsewhere within the organisation, outside of procurement. From my own personal experience, British Airways was very much like this, with many talented team members going on to hold interesting and senior roles elsewhere within the organisation. Roger Davies, a former colleague of mine, is a really good example of this – he moved out of procurement in British Airways to a General Manager role and subsequently became Director of Procurement at Marks and Spencer, which is his current role.

3. Mindset – inevitably, half of what organisations try to do from a ‘new ideas’ perspective will fail and half of what they do (or thereabouts) will pay off, it’s the very nature of business. Having the right mindset is pivotal to being able to effectively deal with the highs and the lows, as well as being open to trying new things, taking risks (where necessary) and not being afraid to fail on an individual or organisation-wide scale, as long as they’re prepared to learn and succeed next time around. Organisations that don’t blame failure, and reward success, tend to attract people with more of a creative and innovative mindset.

The push factors:

1. Employees – who organisations choose to work for them undoubtedly plays a fundamental role in nurturing and achieving organisational success. Hire persuasive, articulate and charming people, who are good listeners, and you have the right credentials for leaders who are more likely to succeed in the future.

2. Reporting line – organisationally, finance can often use procurement as a control function, with many successful procurement organisations therefore reporting in through operations or elsewhere. From a practical perspective, being part of finance may result in ‘good’ team members becoming bored of working within a highly controlled and compliant environment and not feeling as ‘close to the action’ as they would if the reporting line was different.

3. Development – according to Zenger and Folkmann, who penned the best-selling book, ‘The Extraordinary Leader’, people often learn by doing things they’ve never done before. Attention to development and having a manager who drives leadership is cited as being the most important aspect of leadership.

So, in answer to the heading of this article, ‘What makes some procurement organisations hotbeds of talent?’ or ‘Why do some organisations have such a good reputation for procurement?’ – it’s a combination of push and pull factors, not just sheer luck or inherited good fortune. In the words of my contact, Paul, “Leading a team is like being a dad – love your people and nurture them and understand what they value.” In fact, BP have just defined their employee value proposition, which reflects what the team tell them they most value and interestingly enough, includes charisma and energy.


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