Is GBS Good for Sourcing Leaders?

By October 19, 2013January 3rd, 2022Archive

By Deborah Kops

There seems to be a sea change in the market for senior global services talent as a category. Just a year or so ago, talent deeply competent in sourcing—design, selection, transition and governance—was very  hard to find, and pricey to boot. But today the sourcing folk looking for the next big gig are now on the bench for months, perhaps as organizations grow their own talent, perhaps because procurement leaders are now jumping into the fray, grabbing sourcing from the business or IT, or just perhaps because of the current run to GBS.

In a blog last month, I wrote about GBS’s focus on operations and posited that its leaders will come from operations rather than shared services or sourcing. Looking around, and talking to the search consultants that are seeing an uptick in their GBS practices, it’s now increasingly obvious that the ability to operate a service, rather than design; embed in the business, rather than just do a deal; and  engage with stakeholders, rather than hold an outsourcing provider’s feet to fire is the golden ticket. In effect, as I see it,  proficiency in the “act” of sourcing is no longer adequate.

Where does that leave those global sourcing leaders that have done a yeoman’s job moving their organizations to third party business services provisioning? Do they still have viable careers in light of the emphasis on operations which tips the scale to our experienced shared services brethren? And if being passed over for juicy GBS jobs was not enough, there’s a career threat from another source—the chief procurement officer.

Increasingly, the lines between procurement and global sourcing are becoming blurred. Smart procurement leaders look at the sourcing talent embedded in IT or the business, and go for a land grab in the pursuit of capability, scale and a bit more corporate power. After all, buying pencils, laptops or travel pales against the complexity… and excitement…of sourcing outsourcing services. When you think about it rationally, outsourcing is about procurement, albeit a more sophisticated category of spend. If the CPO is not licking his chops about the prospect of incorporating outsourcing as a category into procurement, the C-suite is viewing sourcing leaders as a more accomplished breed of procurement professionals, attempting to elevate them to chief procurement officer status.

Eliminated from consideration for the top leadership of many global business services jobs because of a lack of an operating track record. Position coveted by chief procurement officers for the power and relative prestige of the category. What’s a global sourcing leader to do?

If you can’t beat ‘em, join them

Global sourcing leaders have a real opportunity to transform procurement-as-we-know it… if they have the appetite to heed the clarion call to take on the CPO job. As organizations increasingly move to contingent workforces (yes, outsourcing is a form of a contingent workforce), outsourcing as a category will dominate categories of spend. Being able to apply well-honed skills in sourcing strategy, transformation, and an intimate sense of how the business consumes will benefit not only the bottom line, but also the businesses procurement serves.

However, many of the sourcing leaders I speak to have a visceral aversion to CPO posts, seeing it as a daily slog of e-auctions, contract and management processes. They also view the opportunity as a career setback given the relative status of CPOs in the eyes of the business–lack of respect at a minimum but more likely repulsion. Armed the skills that only a senior sourcing role will develop, what better way to make change?  

Start operating

It’s hard to take a lateral move into a shared services role, especially in light of the fact that sourcing jobs have been seen as the more glamorous in the realm of global business transformation. But when the best jobs are going to those who paid their dues in seemingly dull operating roles, perhaps it’s time to find out what distinctive capabilities shared services leaders have picked up, and craft a career path that incorporates both sourcing and operating acumen. It’s important to keep in mind that GBS career paths are still evolving; sourcing leaders, if they are willing to manage their careers for the long term, have an opportunity to craft exciting opportunities for themselves


Consulting is not for everyone (and most consultants are born, not made), but there’s still a demand for savvy sourcing leaders willing to apply their skills within a consulting environment. After all, what is a sourcing leader but a consultant with one client? Once the sourcing leader comes to grips with fact that sourcing advisory generally means the inside of a hotel room 4 nights a week, and a business development target, it may open up a whole new world of career possibilities.

Go with the flow

Ok, the CPO wants sourcing in its corral, and experienced shared services leadership seem to be on headhunters’ speed dials these days. But sourcing prowess is not “buying” and is not to be fobbed off lightly; it takes deep capability to successfully transform a business model through outsourcing. And so few do it well. If your organization values high-performing sourcing professionals, and wants to take global workforce planning to the next level, perhaps there’s a way to navigate a career by taking skills to the next level—and forging a different career path into a GBS leadership role.

Is GBS good for sourcing leaders? I’d suggest that right now, few sourcing leaders without operating experience will make it to the GBS leadership shortlist. After all, sourcing is only one part of a model that is increasingly manipulating the trifecta of make, buy and transform in situ, and other skills seem to be more highly prized. But stay tuned…

Join the discussion 2 Comments