Playing the procurement game: Are you in?

Ask Matt Perfect for an analogy to describe the relationship between procurement professionals and the recruitment and staffing industry and he’s quick to avoid a Game of Thrones scenario.

Even chess, he suggests, is too adversarial.

“We’re all on the same team,” Matt says, acknowledging that while the relationship between procurement and recruitment and staffing is something of a game, it’s one where there aren’t any winners or losers if it’s played correctly.

Fresh from an enthralling panel discussion at the World Employment Conference on the Gold Coast, Matt describes himself as a “recovering procurement professional” after more than a decade working as both a management consultant and practitioner with corporates including BHP, National Australia Bank and Toll Group.

The founder of Impact Spender, these days he works as an independent consultant, coach and facilitator helping improve the relationships between people in procurement and the recruiters who work with them.

His beliefs are fairly simple for such a complicated scenario - when commercial relationships work well, they more profitable for both sides.

With the rise of professional procurement in both the public and private sector, responding to tenders has become a necessary part of doing business for the recruitment and staffing industry.

The reality is that responding well is an expensive and time-consuming process with no guarantee of a favourable outcome, Matt says.

Even “success” will often mean agreeing to terms and fees that leave you questioning whether the business is worth it.

Particularly for smaller businesses, “playing the procurement game” is risky.

“As a recruitment professional, you need to be able to identity who the players are and what sort of game you are playing,” Matt says.

“It’s about strategy in many ways. Everyone needs to have an understanding what the other players’ intentions are and what they are trying to achieve.

“I’m loathe to use the phrase ‘win-win’, as it’s a bit tired in business, but success is getting the best outcome for all players in the procurement and recruitment game.”

It might be a game where everyone is working towards a common goal but Matt says it’s complicated by the number of players.

While members of both recruitment and procurement “teams” are answerable to their clients, there are many other players in the game.

“For example, there can be perception amongst recruiters dealing with a procurement professional that they are decisions-makers, when the reality is that they are managing a project on behalf of a customer and are consulting with a range of people including HR, legal, line managers or hiring managers,” he says.

“The key, as a recruitment professional, is being able to identity who the players are and what sort of game you are playing.

“Then you have to consider whether you should be playing the game at all.”

While recruiters are focused on growing their business and winning more work, the procurement professionals are often seen as the “gatekeepers”, focused on ensuring their organisation is getting value for money.

There’s no reason both can’t achieve their goals but it’s hard to get that message through, Matt says.

“In reality, there are a lot of similarities between recruiters and procurement professionals when you look at the nuts and bolts of what they do.

“Both are responsible for interpreting and articulating the needs of their customer, whether internal or external, and sourcing from the market, qualified and capable talent to meet those needs at the best possible value for money.

“The work is very similar and the processes are very similar. So it’s quite amusing that they often see themselves as being so different.

“They often find themselves across the table from each other in a very competitive transactional relationship when what I believe they need to do is walk a few miles in each other’s shoes and understand the overlap in their roles, rather than just the differences.

“It’s ironic that they present themselves so differently when their goals are so closely aligned but recruiters tend to see procurement professionals as some black box of process and compliance and procurement professionals don’t do themselves a lot of favours by often projecting that image in the way they go about their professional processes.

“Recruitment professionals, for their part, have to make sure they play within the rules of the game that procurement professionals have set out.

“Don’t put yourself out of the game by going around their processes.

“The reality is that both are in the people business and finding that common ground where we can do our best work is the key to everyone succeeding.”

The solution, Matt says, lies in education and a willingness to learn from both sides.

“Education is required on both sides, to help stop the spread of misinformation and myths that perpetuate feelings of mistrust and prevent the greater cooperation both sides desire,” he says.

“While there is a clear need for external stakeholders, including the procurement, human resource and legal professions, to better understand the industry, for most their only interaction will be through dealings with recruiters.

“Therefore, by educating the industry - in particular smaller operators - and equipping them with the skills such as training and knowledge to educate their customers and prospects, the RCSA can influence better outcomes for the industry as a whole.”

Even then, he concedes everyone won’t always see eye-to-eye.

“We may never agree on the appropriate sharing of risk in a contract or see eye-to-eye on an appropriate profit margin for doing business,” Matt says.

“Where we can find common ground is around the total value proposition for the service.

“A good procurement professional should be seeking to understand that more deeply and a good recruitment professional should be seeking to demonstrate that more clearly.

“If they keep that as the focus of discussion, that’s where success lies for both sides.”

Procurement will be the focus of three workshops Matt will host for members of the recruitment and staffing industry with the RCSA next May.

The half-day workshops, at locations still be determined, will be three-tiered.

The first, “Playing the procurement game”, will introduce participants to the people and processes of procurement.

The second, “Winning tender writing”, will cover the basics of successful tender writing while the third, “Powerful partnerships”, will be an advanced course in purpose and profits.

Matt said some people might like to take part in only one workshop while others might do two or even all three.

“The main thing they need to be clear on is whether they want to be playing the game at all,” he says.

“If they do, then they need to work out which game they are playing because growing your business can be contingent on choosing the right game.

“In reality, you only want to spend time in a game you have a chance of winning and one you actually want to win.

“The worst possible outcome is winning, then discovering you’ve been in the wrong game.”

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