Feature: Why The Contingent Workforce is Thriving in Strategic Procurement (+Bonus Infographic!)

September 8, 2015


“The people in the contingent labour force are some of the top 1% performers because they’re the type of people who look for new challenges”- Mark Morrissey.

Welcome to the latest instalment of Argentus’ Supply Chain Executive Interview series, where we speak with leaders from all corners of the Supply Chain discipline about talent issues, hiring trends, and how Supply Chain helps organizations become more strategic and competitive.

This week, we spoke with Mark Morrissey. Mark is a true Strategic Sourcing leader with experience at a number of top Canadian telecommunications, technology and financial services companies. He’s well-versed in executing business transformations, and he’s an expert at showing organizations how to move beyond transactional Procurement to unlock strategic advantages. In addition, Mark provides a unique perspective as someone who’s led Strategic Sourcing efforts as a high-skilled contingent (contract) worker.

It was an engaging and wide-ranging discussion. Mark provided great insights about several topics, including:

  • How companies unlock huge benefits by moving from transactional Procurement to a Strategic Sourcing model
  • Why companies should look to the Contingent workforce (contractors) not just for staff augmentation, but for Strategic / Business Transformation initiatives
  • Changing skill expectations as the Strategic Sourcing function develops and becomes more important to business
  • Mr. Morrissey’s take on the issue of the so-called “Supply Chain talent deficit”

“The type of people that are attracted to the contingent labour force are the people that organizations should be looking to for their leadership and strategic thinking.”

What does the Contingent Staffing talent picture look like for Procurement right now, and how is it evolving?

“What I’m seeing is that many companies are looking at contingent labour (contract staffing) primarily for staff augmentation right now,” says Morrissey. “They’re being a little short sighted because they’re only looking at the transactional or tactical level. When it comes to much more strategic, larger picture individuals, companies are still often hiring those people as full time employees, and then they’re using contingent labour as their business demands go up and down so they have a flexible labour force.”

“[My most recent contingent role] was intended to be very tactical: running RFPs, processing requisitions, etc. I saw an opportunity to educate the client a little bit in a better way to approach their demand management. I took what was intended to be a tactical, process-driven role, and made it strategic by putting a different lens on it and educating the client about an alternative way to manage the vendors. I noticed an opportunity within the client. In the beginning they don’t hold the vendors accountable for the services they provide, so a lot of it was migrating ownership and accountability to the vendors to drive greater value Also, I showed them alternative sourcing opportunities.”

“I think the next evolution is to look at contingent labour on a project basis,” says Morrissey. “To bring in people who have experience in other industries to bring leadership to a problem or a project, and give them ownership over implementing something or solving a problem. Once the solution is implemented, and it goes back to mundane stuff or the day to day, then that contingent labour would step away and it would be left to the existing full time resources to manage it and to grow it over time. I think there’s a lot of real strategic thinkers in the contingent labour pool whom organizations can tap into to solve very specific business problems.”

“Companies need to understand the opportunities in the contingent labour force better. As the contingent labour force grows, you’ll start to see people coming out of the contingent labour force back into senior management ranks. As it grows and becomes a larger part of the workforce, it will receive greater recognition and companies will better recognize the capability of the contingent workforce. It’s more of an evolution than a revolution but it won’t happen overnight.”

 “You can’t be an agile company if your staff are hoping to hold onto the status quo.”

What do Strategic Sourcing individuals working on contract have to offer organizations?

“I think strategic individuals are easily bored,” says Morrissey. “In a full time job, you spend 80% of your time managing the status quo and 20% on something that’s new and exciting. My perception and personal experience is that you take on contingent assignments because it mixes things up. You take an assignment for 6 months to a year, you implement something new, gain new experiences, and then you move on to somewhere else.”

“The people in the contingent labour force are some of your top 1% performers because they’re the type of people who look for new challenges. You go to the contingent labour force to minimize that routine. The type of people that are attracted to the contingent labour force are the people that organizations should be looking to for their leadership and strategic thinking.”

If an organization practices Procurement in only a transactional way, what are they leaving on the table?

“Transactional companies have a very arms-length approach to their vendors,” says Morrissey. “They don’t see them as long term strategic partners to the organization but more of a short-term supplier of immediate needs. Once companies start to think about their core competence and align themselves with external partners to help run their business more efficiently, they recognize that managing those partners will become a lot more strategic to the organization. The people that manage those partners then become much more strategic to the organization.”

“Many companies, especially in the service industry, are not yet recognizing that their Supply Chain or Strategic Sourcing or Vendors can be a strategic differentiator to the organization. Some companies in manufacturing, for example, recognized it a long time ago. In Canada, manufacturing is diminishing but service is the primary industry. Companies in the service industry are only now waking up to the fact that Supply Chain and Vendor Management are a competitive differentiator.”

“A lot of things start in manufacturing and migrate to the service industry. Lean was purely manufacturing. Now hospitals and banks have embraced Lean as a way of being more agile and more responsive. A lot of companies in the service industry will follow suit, and learn from companies like Apple, Cisco and Google. They will benchmark themselves to those companies and recognize that external vendors, how we select those vendors, and how that relationship with those vendors develops can be a huge differentiator in how we go to the market and engage our customers. That just means that they are going to need a lot more strategic thinking people in those positions [Procurement]. And demands on those people are going to be significantly higher. And because the demands are higher, they’re going to hire a lot higher calibre of person. “

At Argentus, we hear a lot about the so-called “Supply Chain talent deficit.” Many in the field are predicting that it will become harder to find talent as the baby boomer generation retires. What’s your take on that?

“I don’t think the gap is based on X number of people retiring and Y number of people filling the gap,” says Morrissey. “I think the gap stems from the fact that, regardless of the amount of Supply Chain professionals, the expectations placed on these individuals are changing. Instead of worrying only about how to get goods from A to B, or only about a global infrastructure, it’s more about the capability of the people. Postsecondary schools and graduate programs need to recognize Supply Chain as a career of the future. They’re not there yet. Some schools in the U.S. and Europe see it as being a future career that’s in demand, but the other part of it is to attract more people who want to do Supply Chain as a career as well.”

“The onus is on professional organizations to promote the career. And recruiting firms like Argentus need to be active in promoting the career so that people say: ‘I want to go in there and I want to do my MBA with a Supply Chain spin as opposed to a finance or marketing spin.’” 

–            –            –

A big thanks to Mark Morrissey for a lively and engaging chat. We really appreciate the perspective on how to align the contingent workforce with strategic Procurement. Check out our infographic below summarizing how organizations can use high-skilled contingent labour for Strategic business transformations. 

Contingent Strategic Procurement Infographic v2





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