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null Why the needs of your primary stakeholders should always take centre stage


Primary stakeholders value insights more than the process

Our new whitepaper, “Becoming a Human Capital Catalyst”, provides an insider’s guide to maximising the value of a managed service programme through seven different lenses. In the chapter on Stakeholder Engagement, we explain why the needs of your primary stakeholders (the Hiring/Engagement managers) should always take centre stage.

This does not mean that the needs of secondary stakeholders (Procurement/Talent Acquisition) are unimportant. But for an MSP to deliver long term operational and competitive value within an organisation they cannot be given greater precedence than the needs of the people who are hiring or engaging the resources.

There is no such thing as a standard operating manual when it comes to MSP stakeholder management. It would be lovely if there was – but in the real world, no two primary stakeholders will ever think, feel and believe the same thing about the same set of circumstances at the same time. Therefore, situational learning is the only way you are going to get better at engaging with the different stakeholders you will encounter.

I have experienced the primary stakeholder landscape from multiple directions during my career and this has provided invaluable situational learning. I have been a procurement lead, a hiring manager of large and small teams, an operational client and budget-holder for an array of people-based SOW projects and I have sold and delivered third-party consulting services.

Given these diverse experiences, it would be quite easy for me to turn this blog into a top tips list. However, like most things in life, the experience is often best demonstrated through personal stories. So, I thought I would focus this blog around two of my own stories that, whilst they both occurred more than 10 years ago now, are still perfect illustrations of why the needs of primary stakeholders must be front and centre of any successful MSP programme.

Same work, different context

My first story concerns a customer service director that I was working alongside. His function was experiencing a marked increase in customer complaints and they were not responding anywhere near quickly or strongly enough. They needed to urgently diagnose root causes and then implement a corrective action plan. They were seeking an external Project Manager to work alongside them during the key phases of activity - data collection, analysis, recommendations, action planning and finally implementation support.

Hiring policy dictated that this PM would need to be sourced via the MSP and the director was given a range of qualified applicants, all of whom were available in the day rate range that had been benchmarked by the MSP and agreed with the internal procurement team. However, the director was adamant that they wanted to go outside the MSP and use a PM who had been recommended by a colleague at a day rate which was nearly 25% higher than the benchmark. Procurement/TA and the managed service were all completely baffled as to why the director was happy to pay so much more than they needed to for what appeared to be the same level of expertise.

Do you have any idea why?

Mum’s the word

Rather bizarrely the second story revolves around my mother. Now I love my mum to bits, but she does have three (sometimes very) challenging characteristics. The first is that she can often procrastinate. The second is that she can be quite risk averse. The third is that ever since I first started work in the late 1980’s she has never been able to explain what I do.

In 2009 I started running my own procurement consultancy firm. True to form despite my mother being very impressed that her son had started his own business she had no idea how to describe what it did. Around that same time, she first started talking about how she was intending to get her main bathroom re-fitted – she just had to decide what she wanted it to look like.

Many months later I was visiting and she casually mentioned that a plumber was going to be starting work the following week. I was genuinely shocked to hear this news and even more so when she proceeded to tell me of the steps that she had gone through.

She had written down her ideas for the bathroom. She had spoken to her friends and got their recommendations for a good local plumber. She had looked these firms up on the internet and found a couple of others too. Each firm had come around and listened to her requirements. Some had failed her initial criteria; like politeness, likeability and patience.  Those that survived were invited to give her a quote for the work. After considering her options she had decided which one she preferred, she finalised the terms and timescales with them and they were now about to start.

I was mightily impressed and wanted to tell her so. However, I also saw the ideal opportunity to finally help her understand what I did for a living. I said “Mum, that is brilliant I am so proud of you. Now you may not realise this, but you have basically gone through a structured buying process. And this is what I do at work. I help companies to buy different types of business services.”

I looked at her triumphantly thinking that at long last a penny was about to drop in her mind.  Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out like that. She just glanced at me slightly disapprovingly and said “Don’t be silly, Paul, no-one is going to pay you to do that. Why would someone need that kind of help… isn’t it obvious what they need to do?”.

So much for a penny dropping.

Driving home afterwards I remember replaying the situation in my mind and having the dawning realisation that a penny had indeed dropped. It had just dropped on me, not her.

Did you spot it?

Primary stakeholders decide emotionally and justify rationally

Do you have any idea why that customer service director was prepared to pay so much more for a Project Manager who on paper had the same level of expertise as someone else? Well, the answer was that this primary stakeholder had been in the job for five years. The increase in customer complaints had happened during their tenure – so they were understandably worried that this project could leave them personally exposed.

However, the recommended PM had led projects of a similar sensitivity before and they knew how to manage the politics of the situation. Technically they wouldn’t be doing anything different from the other applicants – but their political skills were much more likely to insulate the director from potential embarrassment. The director, therefore, felt that a higher day rate for this particular PM was well worth the money.

Contrast this with a situation where the customer service director was new in post. In that circumstance, he would have had no concerns about exposing any incompetence or complacency by his predecessor and so the PM’s technical skills alone would be enough to support the customer complaints work – and for whatever was the benchmarked day rate.

Primary stakeholders value insights more than the process

The experience with my mother was a light bulb moment at the time. It made me realise that because primary stakeholders make hiring decisions in their personal lives they automatically assume that they know everything they need to know about the core elements of the process. Identify the expertise required, define what you want them to do, identify potential candidates, choose your favourite and then agree with the terms of hire/engagement.

My mother did not feel she needed any help with the hiring process and she certainly doesn’t allow anyone to tell her how she should be spending her own money. But, given her risk averse nature, I do know her eyes would have lit up if I knew of a low-cost insurance option that would pay for any future work in the bathroom once the plumber had finished. Simply put I would have informed her decision making, and this is what primary stakeholders appreciate the most.

The common denominator

The over-arching point behind both these stories is that primary stakeholders need to feel enabled not controlled, and the road to enablement within an MSP programme is paved with insights not process rigour. Primary stakeholders will never feel positively about a rule based straightjacket and unfortunately, way too many MSP programmes are designed to be just that. These programmes are doomed to fail before they even start.

I hope you found these two stories thought provoking and if you have similar stories of your own I would love to hear them.

Once again if you would like to read our new whitepaper, “Becoming a Human Capital Catalyst”, click here.


Paul Vincent
Global Head of Services Procurement, Hays Talent Solutions

Paul joined Hays Talent Solutions in May 2019 and is globally responsible for the definition, marketing and delivery of our Procurement, Statement of Work and Supplier Enablement related services.

He has been working on the supply side of the workforce solutions industry since 2015 and before that spent 6 years running his own consultancy practice helping a variety of different organisations to buy and sell business services more effectively. Prior to establishing Insight Sourcing Solutions, he spent 24 years working for BT Group plc where he held a series of senior level procurement, commercial and change management roles.

Paul is a member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply and Black Belt trained in Lean Six Sigma. During his career, he has built up a large and relatively unusual blend of expertise in the areas of Procurement Excellence, Talent Management and Sales & Marketing Effectiveness. This accumulated know-how, underpinned by the practical insights gained from leading a variety of transformational change initiatives over the years, has proved to be hugely beneficial to the organisations he has worked with. Paul regularly contributes to industry publications and is a seasoned keynote speaker.