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An Ambitious Training Program


John Yuva
John Yuva is a senior writer for Inside Supply Management®.

June 2007, Inside Supply Management® Vol. 18, No. 6, page 30

With its step-change program, new university recruits entering BP's Refining & Marketing procurement organization are able to achieve 24 months of experience in one year.

BP's procurement organization developed the Rapid Sourcing Team, a program to develop and train new university recruits into the organization in support of long-term succession planning. The program provided university recruits exposure to BP's organization and highly-focused development of procurement capabilities and general business acumen.

The program's objectives were to:

  • Develop university recruits and current staff.
  • Improve the sourcing process.
  • Drive adoption of e-sourcing tools.
  • Address low-value spend categories that are traditionally overlooked.

As a result of this program, BP has earned a 2007 R. Gene Richter Award for Leadership and Innovation in Supply Management in the People category. This is the second year BP has received the award in this category. Last year, BP was recognized at the inaugural R. Gene Richter Awards Banquet for the company's personnel development of its procurement organization. The 2007 award recognizes BP's continued innovation and commitment to the development of its people through the Rapid Sourcing Team.

Drivers Of The Concept

As one of the world's largest energy companies, BP's spend categories include a range of commodities from simple bottled water to complex, engineered equipment. Bill Knittle, global procurement director at the Procurement Centre of Expertise, says the objectives of the Rapid Sourcing Team are influenced by a number of drivers:

  1. There was the necessity to integrate new university recruits into the organization and allow them to contribute meaningfully while developing their capabilities. Staffing the Rapid Sourcing Team centrally provided them exposure to a broad range of spend categories covering the breadth of BP's business.

  2. To make the sourcing process within BP more efficient, the company implemented a standardized sourcing process as well as an e-sourcing toolkit. Using the enthusiasm and initiative of Rapid Sourcing Team members, they helped promote and demonstrate the value of the system to gain its adoption.

  3. There was a need to address the low-value (the traditional "tail") spend. By having the Rapid Sourcing Team focus its efforts on that spend area, it allowed the commodity managers to concentrate on strategic sourcing objectives.

The success of the Rapid Sourcing Team can be attributed to several factors, some of which were pleasant surprises for the initiative's leaders.

Critical Success Factors

When BP launched the Rapid Sourcing Team in 2005, it began with three people — two recent university graduates and a current employee with one year of experience. Patrick Franks, Rapid Sourcing Team lead at the Procurement Centre of Expertise for BP, says that, "While that posed a challenge initially, what transpired ultimately became important factors in the team's success."

The challengers' level of enthusiasm for learning new things, as well as their lack of intimidation with new technology, had an equal effect on the experienced buyers who interacted with the Rapid Sourcing Team. Knittle says the relatively young ages of the team members created a less intimidating environment for the experienced buyers, which gave those people the willingness to learn new skill sets and embrace the new e-sourcing tool. "We were surprised by how quickly the team was able to accomplish its goals with our experienced buyers and complete as many projects as they did," he says.

With the management support of the BP team leaders, the challengers overcame the intimidation factor and took ownership of the initiative. Knittle explains that with the space to grow and learn, the team felt comfortable taking risks. "This was our biggest surprise," he says. "The team understood it could take risks, knowing that if mistakes occurred, it would be supported, learn from the mistakes and move on."

Franks adds that initially the team leaders spent considerable time working alongside the challengers to prepare them to venture out on their own. Once they did so, the team leaders became somewhat of a safety net. "Our role on the team was to be there to mentor them, provide guidance and support, while they applied what they learned in a safe environment," says Franks.

As a result of that relationship, and confidence-building with the senior procurement staff, the realization occurred that the team was there to drive new behaviors and support them in their work. This proved invaluable as the team members rotated out of their assignments into their respective business units within BP. "All three team members were given meaningful tasks and much more authority than normal rotations in the past, due to the credibility that was built with the procurement organization," says Knittle.

Impressive Results For BP

Through the efforts of BP's Rapid Sourcing Team, between 2005 and 2006, it contributed to more than $550 million in spend taken to market via the e-sourcing tool. Franks says while the team began the initiative supporting simple, straight-forward commodity purchases, within several months it was supporting complex capital spend-type projects (including disaster recovery and risk mitigation related to Hurricane Katrina in 2005). "The benefits go beyond just financial, however, and include the accelerated training and development of the university recruits, as well as the acceleration in their confidence and understanding of BP sourcing processes and skill sets," he says.

The ability to instill a maturity level and technical knowledge level that is 12 to 24 months ahead of other graduates with like experience shows the tremendous value of the program. Knittle says companies need to allow new graduates a chance to grow much more the first few years with the company than they've been accustomed to in the past. "Companies that bring in new graduates with supply chain degrees cannot underestimate what these graduates are capable of doing given the right boundaries and support structure in front of them."

A Winner's Snapshot: BP p.l.c.

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