Turnover Trouble? 5 Procurement Employee Retention Tips

If you ask other departments, they consider the work of procurement in local government to be strictly transactional. Its job is to do purchasing, and that was it.

But as a procurement leader, you know your work plays a much larger role. 

Procurement leaders help with strategic decision making, fostering innovation, and managing relationships with suppliers and professional service providers, while protecting organizations in the case of audits.

Challenges Facing Procurement

Combined with misconceptions about their roles, procurement leaders face more challenges today than ever before. According to our 2023 State of Local Government survey:

  • 88% of teams have seen population growth in their jurisdiction in the past five years.
  • 75% have seen resident engagement increase in the last year.
  • 66% of teams have not grown in the past 2-3 years.

Put simply, the work keeps growing while staff sizes stay the same.

At the same time, procurement faces mounting pressure from their customers in other departments. In the same survey, 39% of other departments report being somewhat or not at all satisfied with the procurement process.

These pressures, combined with the silver tsunami of people retiring from work in local government, has led to a retention problem for procurement.

Keep reading for five key pieces of advice from procurement leaders for addressing turnover so you can retain talent.

This advice is not specific to procurement. If you’re facing retention issues these tips are meant to be helpful to you, too.

1. Build a Talent Pipeline

When someone quits, you have an urgent problem on your hands with a fixed deadline. You need to find a replacement so work doesn’t stop. But to do that, you need a pool of candidates.

Start building a talent pipeline and you’ll have that pool ready made.

Consider building an internship program as a feeder for your full-time roles, and as a stop gap for supplemental work you might need done.

Craig Rader, Purchasing Agent for Sacramento County, CA, and current CAPPO President, has had eight interns. Four of them have gone on to work for the County.

An internship:

  • Allows you to use partial funding for a role (say you have just enough funds for 25% FTE—you can use it to pay an intern).
  • Creates a pipeline for young people to do the work and prepare for a future full-time role.

How to recruit: 

  • Start at your local community college. Find professors that teach subjects related to the work you do and ask if you can present to their students about your internship. If you work in procurement, start by identifying those who teach things like purchasing certificate programs or contract classes.

“[When it comes to retention] we need to be adaptive and we need to look at other things, look outside the box and not just think of what we traditionally do and how we traditionally do things.”

Craig Rader, NIGP-CPP, CPPB, CPPO, Purchasing Agent, Sacramento County, CA

2. Create a Positive, Connected Work Environment

Is it enjoyable to work in your department?

Here’s an experiment: walk into your office one morning pretending like you’re new. What’s the feeling in the office? 

Is it warm and inviting? Do you feel like people want to be there? 

If it isn’t, don’t worry. There are concrete steps you can take to improve the work environment. A word here that can be useful is culture. Office culture is as real as any, and it’s heavily influenced by leadership.

To create a positive, connected work environment:

  • Model the behavior you want to see. When working internally and when dealing with other departments, model the behavior you’d like to see from your team. Say thank you, show appreciation, and strive to highlight the work of others and your team will do the same.
  • Encourage collaboration. Find new, fresh ways for your team to work together. Prioritize these kinds of activities during relative lulls, knowing that busy periods will come when you’ll only have time to work.
  • Foster connections. Find ways for your team to connect that aren’t strictly work related. Whether it’s team building activities, a group meal, or an office-wide challenge, look for ways to grow connections among colleagues that will help people know—and ultimately rely on, and trust—each other better.
  • Empower your team. Delegate work, and trust those you’ve hired to do it. Give them the support they need and the opportunity to do something a little outside of their comfort.
  • Drive with purpose. While the work itself may not always be exciting, remind your team how important their work is for the community where you live, and that they are performing a service for all of their neighbors. Using a sense of purpose to frame your work can inspire team members to push through difficult times, helping them maintain a broader perspective about the importance of their work to motivate and retain them.

3. Provide Growth Opportunities

People stay at jobs where they can grow.

Budget constraints and the realities of a static work force can limit the possibilities for promotion in local government. But you can still provide professional development that gives people a sense that they are learning and growing, helping them feel that they are moving forward in their career even if they’re not getting promoted.

One way Sylvester Donelson, Jr.—the Director of Procurement for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District in California—does this is by being transparent about the path those in his department can take to advance their careers.

“I tell them, this is your five year path towards certification. This is your pathway towards being purchasing supervisor, purchasing manager, and then of course the Director of Procurement, or moving over into the maintenance area and being a direct superintendent of maintenance and so forth.”

Sylvester Donelson, Jr., Director of Procurement, San Joaquin Regional Transit District, California

Try viewing your role as a coach. Ask your team members: “Where do you want to be in five years? What are you hoping to accomplish? What are your dreams for the future?”

Don’t stop at asking these questions. After they provide input, help those you manage make a plan to work toward the future they want. If you’re invested in the growth of your team, they’ll be invested in the work they do for your department, because they’ll feel valued and supported.

4. Make Technology Maturity Matter

It’s no secret: outdated processes can hurt retention.

Is your office still working with paper and manual data entry? Well, that’s probably not just frustrating for you, but for your team members as well. The way they work can make employees as unhappy as the work itself. 

We live in a digital age. Most people use digital tools every day to make their lives easier, and few people interact with paper any more. So using paper and manual steps at work, knowing that there are easier, more efficient approaches, can be frustrating.

Consider updating your system and going digital to improve both the quality of your work, and the experience of your employees. See how OpenGov Procurement can automate solicitation development and streamline your work, making it not just easier, but less stressful for your team. 

  1. Protect Your Institutional Knowledge

Losing employees means losing knowledge.

You can’t help it. Some amount of institutional knowledge will be lost every time someone leaves. 

But you can plan for it. It’s inevitable, after all. 

Capturing institutional knowledge isn’t just a guard against people quitting. It also protects your entire department so that if someone is suddenly sick or has a family emergency, work can continue despite that person’s absence.

Here are some tips for capturing as much institutional knowledge as possible:

  • Audit your roles. Have those in key roles write down everything they do so there is a clear list of work that role performs. 
  • Create SOPs. After you have a list of functions each role performs, create SOPs for each one, detailing all of the steps required to do it so someone else could be trained for that function.
  • Quarterly check-ins. How we work can change. After completing the above two steps, have people review their roles and SOPs periodically—every quarter, or every year, whatever you prefer—so they can find gaps and create new documentation.
  • Don’t forget soft skills. Lists of functions and SOPs only get you so far. Working well is also about relationships and knowing who to ask for what, and how to ask. When trying to retain institutional knowledge, ask your team to record anything they’ve observed generally about how to work with other departments, or specifically about how to work with individuals.

Take Action Now to Tackle Turnover

This list is just a starting place. But by thinking about retaining institutional knowledge at all you’ll be well ahead of most organizations. 

A lot of the information in this blog post was taken from our webinar “The Two Weeks’ Notice Challenge: How Procurement Leaders Are Addressing Turnover and Transforming Their Teams.” 

Want to learn more about how procurement leaders are retaining talent? Watch the full webinar now.

Last Updated on February 23, 2024 by Jeff Neukom

Categories: Procurement, Thought Leadership

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