Five Factors for Scoring Advanced Procurement Performers

By: Paul Emanuelli

This article describes a 100-point scoring system covering five critical factors for identifying, recruiting, and developing top-tier procurement professionals. It explains why years of experience should be limited to 20 points maximum, how you should score core competence out of 40 points divided equally between front-end tendering knowledge and back-end contracting skills, and why writing, presentation, and negotiation skills define the final 40 points that separate advanced performers from the rest of the industry.

A.  Moving Beyond Years of Experience

Any successful coach will tell you that you don’t build a highly performing team based exclusively on a seniority system. Length of experience is important, but it isn’t everything. In fact, bad experience is worse than no experience. While endurance and survival within the highly demanding field of public procurement should count for something, it should not be a determining factor when identifying or developing advanced performers. With all things being equal (and being mindful of the “bad experience is worse than no experience” rule) individuals should typically be credited with two points per year of public sector experience up to a maximum of 20 points. After ten years those points should max out since factors other than time served should have clearly demonstrated themselves to help identify advanced performers. Individuals with only private sector procurement experience should be credited with only one point per year up to a maximum of ten points, since the lack of public sector experience means that there will be significant additional development required for that individual to function in the more complex world of public procurement.

B.  Scoring Core Competence

Core competence should be scored out of 40 points divided equally between tendering knowledge and contracting skills. An equal distribution between these categories underscores the need for a balanced approach to procurement, where equal value is given to mastering the process details leading up to contract award and to crafting clear contract terms to govern the post-award phase of the procurement cycle.

B.1  Tendering Experience

The 20 points for front-end tendering experience should go to a proven background using different tendering formats. Three of those points should be allocated to basic experience in using simple tendering processes, such as Request for Quotation formats; three points should go to experience in using Request for Supplier Prequalification processes and establishing Framework Agreements; and another four points should go to experience using construction tendering and fixed-bid “Contract A” process contract formats. The remaining ten points should be allocated to experience in using Negotiated RFP formats, with at least five of those ten points going to experience using advanced multi-staged Negotiated RFP formats.

B.2  Contracting Experience

When scoring the 20 points that go to back-end contracting experience, assessing the scope and depth of experience is essential. While the range of required contracting experience may vary depending on the needs of the specific organization, most large institutions typically require experience with general contracting, construction contracting, and technology contracting. These three areas also serve as reference points for adapting contracting procedures in other specialized areas.

When scoring for contracting experience, only five points should go to experience with basic goods and services, including general consulting services, and basic construction, using standardized design-bid-build stipulated sum contracts.

The remaining 15 points should typically be divided equally between: (i) advanced construction projects, including construction management, design-build, and integrated project delivery formats; (ii) complex technology projects calling on industry-specific knowledge of business process mapping, business continuity, confidentiality and privacy, intellectual property rights, and limitation of liability issues; and (iii) other specialized areas, ranging from specialized commodities to revenue generating concession arrangements to emergency response contracts to architectural, banking, insurance, benefits, and advertising contracts.

C.  Scoring Advanced Factors

Once years of experience and core competencies are considered, strong skills in writing, presenting, and negotiating are the most probative factors for separating advanced performers from the rank-and-file of the procurement industry. The 40 remaining points should be allocated to these factors, with the first 20 points scoring an individual’s portfolio of publications and presentations and the final 20 points scoring the individual’s negotiating experience.

C.1  Writing and Presenting

Creating a portfolio of procurement articles and presentations should be compulsory basic training for developing and maintaining the writing and speaking skills needed to survive in the trenches of the procurement industry. Individuals should score one point per publication written in the last five years, for a total of up to ten points, and one point per presentation over the past five years, for a total of up to another ten points.

These factors deserve this weighting since preparing and presenting concise articles and guides on recurring procurement issues help clarify an individual’s thinking on critical topics and help identify knowledge gaps to better prepare advanced performers for the next time an issue arises. Furthermore, clients are more likely to follow advice on key issues in the form of proactively prepared and presented written recommendations than they are to take haphazard advice delivered in response to a procurement crisis after bad decisions have already been made. Finally, preparing and delivering presentations help overcome the fear of public speaking, which is critical to learning how to clearly communicate under pressure. Presentations are good practice for standing in front of senior decision-makers to give timely advice during a procurement crisis or for calmly standing up to contractors during difficult negotiations.

While many institutions encourage internal newsletters and internal briefing sessions aimed at enhancing organizational awareness of procurement issues, there is also no shortage of industry publications and conferences looking for general interest content to share with other members of the profession. Whether developed for an internal or external audience, a portfolio of publications and presentations demonstrates a solid commitment to advancing in the profession and serves as a good indicator for identifying advanced performers who are committed to growing their craft.

C.2  Negotiations

From debriefings and bid disputes or contract awards and contract disputes, negotiation skills are the final factor that define advanced performers within the public procurement cycle. Heightened transparency obligations have put a clear focus on the need to negotiate our way through debriefing processes and bid-dispute settlements. At the same time, the proliferation of negotiated RFP formats has put a premium on procurement advisors who can support and lead project teams in closing the deal in complex commercial transactions. Finally, the increased expectation placed on obtaining value-for-money has amplified the need to bolster negotiation skills, address contract administration issues, and resolve payment and performance disputes. The demand for skilled negotiators will only intensify in the future. Public sector organizations should be adding to their bench strength on this front as quickly as possible. For scoring negotiation experience, up to ten points should be allocated to experience as an active member of the negotiation team in a complex project within the last five years. The final ten points should be allocated to experience in leading a negotiation team in those same situations over the last five years.

Future Considerations

After covering basic experience and core competencies, it’s the dedication to writing, speaking, and developing negotiation skills that helps identify those who are committed to honing their craft and delivering advanced levels of service within the procurement profession. Advanced performers understand the importance of continuous improvement and the refining of essential survival skills that inform the evolving profession of public procurement. It’s these skills and drive that need to be encouraged and developed over time and should be rewarded in institutional hiring and promotion decisions.