Can We Build A Function That Grows Talent?.

Staff developmentTalent and Leadership

Retaining key talent is a top priority for procurement. In this guest post, Cancer Research UK’s head of procurement David Lyon writes about how secondments and closer relationships with key organisations can help to develop and motivate key personnel.


Increasingly, procurement chiefs are talking about how ‘winning the war for talent’ is critical to their future success. But how do you manage to keep your best talent engaged when their aspirations for career development outpace the available moves in your organisation’s structure?


This is equally true for large multinationals and smaller organisations that often have tighter constraints on their ability to move, promote and develop staff. No matter how well intentioned your succession planning, training and development plans, sometimes your people will just need a changeof scenery.

For a CPO, or head of procurement, the time to intervene is before the individual starts thinking about updating their CV. As Tom Seal, head of research atProcurement Leaders, pointed out at the World Procurement Congress (WPC) in London in May, the competition for good staff is forecast to increase in line with the upturn in world economies. Finding ways to attract and retain your key talent is therefore a strategic imperative.

The business case for closer procurement partnerships with charity organisations may hold one of the answers to developing a sustainable and motivated talent pool.

Short-term secondments of between two to six months can improve staff morale as well as give your organisation another levelof flexibility without losing your best talent. Both organisations can also use it as an opportunity to learn and share knowledge, which in the process can create lasting corporate social responsibility benefits. I have found that the best and brightest procurement professionals in the charity sector often look outwards towards commercial companies for development roles.

Equally, well-honed procurement managers from big business who are not dissatisfied with their current roles but who just need some sort of change to maintain their motivation levels are often excited by taking a break in order to recharge their batteries.

In his presentation at the WPC Seal said: “The current generation of procurement ‘millennials’, are increasingly ambitious and want to move to the next level of procurement, but their ambition comes with implications. Progression for these new employees is often perceived to be dependent on waiting for the right project. Rightly or wrongly, the conclusion may be that the only opportunity is outside of the organisation.”

Bidirectional professional placements, focusing on important projects, provide personal stimulus, the chance to manage a significant change and to develop new skills and insights.

For example, the flagship Francis Crick Institute, which is currently being built in central London, is looking to relocate 1,400 scientists into a new world-leading medical research institute. In the wake of the announcement Kirsty Madden, head of procurement at the institute, said: “This is a hugely high-profile project that will be visible around the globe and will provide many opportunities for a procurement professional to work on a significant green field project. Chances to work on such an exciting project don’t come around very often.”

As the procurement function increases its influence over the innovation space, the ability to look for partnership solutions from the external market is increasingly a technique that we use to develop our own teams.


David Lyon is Cancer Research UK’s head of procurement.

For further information about talent swaps or secondments at Cancer Research or at the Crick, please contact David Lyon on

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