Talent Management is one of the most critical responsibilities for managers and leaders in government procurement. The staff of a government entity, or its’ “talent”, is its most precious resource, and one which cannot be taken for granted. As the past two years have demonstrated, the quality of our human resources determines our success or failure. Perhaps more than at any other time in history, leadership in public service is at a crossroads on how best to manage talent in consideration of substantial changes in the workforce, while continuing to provide critical support to its communities. Public procurement has maneuvered through numerous talent management dynamics, including the impacts from the Silver Tsunami, the COVID-19 pandemic and now the “Great Resignation”.
In his article “Who Is Driving the Great Resignation” published in the Harvard Business Review (September 15, 2021), Ian Cook explored the basis of the over 4 million Americans who quit their jobs in 2021, the on-going high number of resignations in 2021 and the “record breaking 10.9 million open jobs” impacting public and private sectors alike. Two key reasons cited for the massive resignations, as discovered through Cook’s research and analysis, are applicable to government procurement’s talent management challenges:
- Mid-career employees are in high demand (these individuals possess greater degrees of knowledge and experience, carry lower risk in employment, but also possess greater leverage in pursuing other employment opportunities)
- Many employees have reached their “breaking point” after more than a year of extreme workloads, budget and hiring freezes, and numerous other stresses at work and home.
As public procurement officials analyze their workforce needs and adapt to the changing work environment, leaders must consider how they will adjust their traditional approach and views on talent management. Most have recognized the shifts experienced in the past two years are likely going to remain in the future. Traditional approaches will no longer serve the needs of the entity or of the procurement operation. So, how will procurement leadership effectively manage their talent needs for the procurement function not only to best meet the needs of their clients (internal and external), but also to focus on a more strategic approach to procurement. At the forefront of their priorities, procurement leaders must determine the best course of action for defining staffing levels, defining the level of service to clients, and designing both within the construct of the new work environment, new priorities, new challenges, and new expectations.
With the dramatic shifts in the public sector workforce, procurement leaders have an opportunity to carefully consider creative, and potentially more effective, alternative solutions to accomplishing the work of the function. Procurement needs to approach their talent management needs of the future with eyes wide open. What are the best ways to recruit, on-board, develop, evaluate, and retain talent? What have been the traditional limitations and roadblocks? Are there opportunities to remove (or at a minimum, reassess) those limitations and roadblocks to be more competitive in recruiting talent, more effective in developing talent and more successful in retaining talent?
As an example, many in public procurement have experienced numerous benefits of a remote workforce, having learned how to facilitate remote work, distance learning, online customer service and staff engagement through various tools. Some entities have debated the benefits of a hybrid work environment solution, leveraging split schedules between home and in-office presence. While some entities have determined it best for their entity to have all staff in the office and have returned to work full-time. Regardless of which model entities decide to implement based upon their entity’s needs, all entities are likely experiencing the challenges of fewer staff resources, changing staff from retirements and resignations, increased workloads, and increased demands. These challenges in turn create other impacts: limited staff on-boarding support, less time (or no time) for staff training, longer lead times to meet client needs and changing priorities.
Not unlike private sector business owners, many government entities have shared challenges in hiring new talent, due to lack of qualified applicants and/or the inability to secure support to fill vacancies. As procurement leaders work toward solutions for these challenges, it is incumbent upon them to give serious consideration to what the procurement workforce should look like over the next 3-5 years. Now is the time to envision what our future organizational structures, future talent and future roles should look like in the future state of government procurement. Many procurement entities have spent decades following a fairly standard model for managing talent in government: Pull a job description (which is likely outdated), advertise (with minimal, if any, outreach), interview (with the standard questions), select (based upon old roles and responsibilities) and (hopefully) train the new employee. For existing staff, the formula may include, at best, a few opportunities for training, a lack of staff engagement, limited (or no) feedback on performance, and an absence of meaningful connection between leadership and staff. Before pursuing your next recruitment and prior to losing the next staff member, consider an opportunity to dream big with your team about how you can remove old assumptions, discontinue ineffective habits, and eliminate potential barriers that keep procurement from a more optimal approach to talent management challenges.
Find opportunities to discuss some of the following questions with your management team and procurement staff, as well as your key stakeholders. Reevaluate your strategic plan (or perhaps create a strategic plan) that provides a focus on intentional talent management. Coordinate with your Human Resource partners to consider changes in the talent management industry that may support procurement in its efforts.
- Consider the organizational structure of your entity and your procurement function. Is the current structure as responsive to your clients as it should be? Does Procurement have the appropriate level of authority and oversight in the entity? As you think about hiring, developing, and retaining talent within procurement, do you have a plan for hiring the right people, in the right roles and positions? Are you continuing to apply an outdated model to secure talent that is no longer responsive to today’s needs and challenges?
- Do your job descriptions support the type of talent you know you need in the future for the changes that procurement and the procurement role are experiencing now and will experience in the future? Does the talent you have today and hire today have the capacity to move you into that future vision? Do you have the right individuals to transform your procurement operation?
- Are you hiring the right skill sets? Similar to the requirements of the position as defined in a job description, do you understand the competencies that will be needed for the future of the procurement function?
- Is your current staff focused on the right roles and responsibilities? When is the last time you analyzed each position’s responsibilities, as well as the general responsibilities of Procurement? Do they reflect the strategic direction of your entity and Procurement? Have you considered what you should not be doing (divesting tasks) and/or what others may do more effectively to free up Procurement staff to focus on those strategic priorities and roles?
- What is the appropriate number of staff positions needed for your procurement function? And what are the best way to fill those talent needs? Do other options exist for filling those needs (whether permanent or interim)? Can external sources (third party solution providers) support your entity in filling some of those needs?
- Are you investing in your current talent to keep their knowledge and skills current and relevant? How do you invest in your talent to retain them in the future? Is your current talent challenged by the work, invested in the success of the entity and excited about future opportunities? How easy do you make it for talent to decide to leave?
Consider these action items:
- Analyze your organizational structure for effectiveness, proper levels of control and degree of responsiveness to the entity’s needs.
- Identify the most critical roles for procurement, where procurement provides the greatest value and return on investment to the entity.
- Within each role, identify the critical responsibilities and how best should they be executed. As you consider the strategic role of public procurement, and the most pressing responsibilities for public procurement, consider responsibilities that could (or should) be addressed through other sources or solutions (such as outsourcing for staff augmentation).
- Update job descriptions to reflect the most current and most relevant skills and roles for the procurement professional of the future.
- Analyze and refine the talent management structure and plan in place to effectively recruit, hire, train and retain procurement talent.
The procurement profession has numerous positions of varying complexities and competencies. Determining the responsibilities and qualifications of what your entity requires will depend upon your culture and your environment. It will be framed by budgetary constraints and possibly shifts in the labor market that are beyond your control. The impacts are often unavoidable. So, with unanticipated impacts, your entity must consider new approaches and new solutions to managing the talent needed to support the entity’s needs and Procurement’s desired future state.
For entities who are prepared with a best practices organizational structure, effective policies, and well-trained staff, the challenges we are experiencing are far more manageable than for those entities caught ill-prepared and ill-equipped to adjust and adapt. Leverage your procurement community and your procurement resources to assist you in your endeavor. There are many entities and procurement resources available to support you as you consider new ways to manage your procurement talent needs. Dream big about your future and then implement a plan for how you are going to turn that dream into reality.
NIGP Consulting, recognizing the shifts in the talent market and the changing needs of our professional colleagues, is available to support the profession in these types of analyses. Whether conducting an organizational and staff assessment, redefining job descriptions, assisting in developing a strategic plan or augmenting staff in times of need and/or transition, NIGP Consulting is a resource for the public procurement professional community. Marcheta Gillespie is President of NIGP Code & Consulting. NIGP Consulting provides expert procurement consulting services and solutions to help transform public procurement into a value-added, strategic service provider in government. For further information on the NIGP Consulting Program, please visit the NIGP website or contact Marcheta at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com