The IBM CPO Study – A Recruiters Perspective

The latest Chief Procurement Officer Study by IBM Global Business Services is another excellent piece of research which covers some critical topics.  As specialist recruiters to the procurement profession one subject stands out and that is the need to attract the best available talent into your team or as IBM put it “Above all, top performers know the value of great people.”

At the start of the study the authors highlight “three key points of differentiation that separate high-performing procurement organisations from the pack.”  They are Capability, Influence and Innovation and in our opinion excellence in these areas comes from the quality of your people throughout the function.

At edburydaley we have always strongly believed that a key attribute for any functional leader is the ability to attract top talent.  Indeed many of our best clients ask us to source candidates who will be strong enough to push the hiring manager, and help create a culture of striving for excellence in key areas.

There are of course obvious benefits to this in terms of succession planning, and from our perspective it gives us licence to pursue the best available people in the market for opportunities in leading procurement functions with strong leadership.

The data shows that the CPO’s that IBM define as “Top Performers” place considerably greater emphasis on recruiting, retaining and developing talent than the sample average and this is magnified when compared with those defined as “Emerging Performers.”  For example 83% of top performers consider developing talent to be a strength compared to 38% of emerging performers.  Furthermore 81% of top performers believe recruitment is an investment priority compared to 35% of emerging performers.

The report mentions one CPO who “initiated a recruiting program that focuses on attracting top graduates from the most elite institutions in the world. As process standardisation, procurement automation and corporate compliance increased, this CPO found that higher-order skills were needed from his staff to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding business.”

The report goes on to say that in this case “top talent has become an essential ingredient of procurement success at this company, and the intense focus on talent among procurement top performers suggests that this trend may well continue.”

Whilst we agree that the trend for identifying and competing for the best available talent will continue, we would argue that formal programmes for procurement to attract the best graduates straight from leading Universities remain very rare. In fact the CPO mentioned is one of a relatively small group who have taken it upon themselves to formally invest in this area.

Iain Stewart, founding Director of 105 Consulting, works with some of world’s leading CPO’s on learning and development programmes for their highest achievers and he believes that “a huge opportunity exists for companies who are serious about recruiting and retaining the very best  talent to precisely define the competencies and behaviours needed from both high-performing individuals and teams.   This then enables them to baseline their existing people and new recruits, and relentlessly invest in developing these people to a level of full competence.”

Iain adds that “in parallel they should be developing, perfecting, and rolling-out world-class processes and systems for these people to apply if they are to truly achieve results comparable with the highest performing functions.  This includes excellence in key competencies and behaviours like stakeholder engagement, deep knowledge of supply markets, and the high-quality collection, analysis and use of data.”

“The ideal scenario is to create a virtuous circle whereby companies who follow this menu and install good recruitment, reward, retention and progression programmes stand an above-average chance of both delivering outstanding results and  attracting and retaining outstanding people.”

Of course one concern is that by recruiting outstanding people early in their careers and equipping them with a broad tool kit of procurement skills, there is a strong likelihood that those people will be targeted by head hunters working on behalf of organisations seeking to attract the best available talent themselves.  This only emphasises the need to develop an effective retention strategy and generate a strong sense of loyalty in high achievers, which is a point emphasised in IBM’s research.

At edburydaley we believe that an effective specialist recruiter should know exactly where the best emerging talent is being developed, and we frequently use that knowledge to the benefit of our clients when sourcing potential candidates.  We consistently target the leading procurement functions and track the career progression of their best people as part of our ongoing talent identification initiative.

In addition to the typical recruitment services of Contingency, Executive Search and Interim Management, we offer a formal Talent Mapping service and have also developed an effective range of techniques that can be used to build a Talent Pipeline.

The full report including the data is available here: IBM Chief Procurement Officer Study

Andrew Daley is a Director of a niche executive recruitment consultancy specialising in Procurement, SRM, Consultancy and Spend Management.  He is also the author of the Quarterly Procurement Market Update and The edburydaley Indirect Spend Index.


If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this article Andrew can be contacted on 0161 300 7978 or via