Executive Briefings

Filling the Supply Chain Talent Gap

Analyst Insight: The supply chain discipline has evolved quickly over the past two decades. What once was a straightforward technical profession has now become a complex business leadership role. Recent data shows that finding the right people keeps getting harder. Supply chain leaders need tools to develop and retain talent that can not only plan, source, make and deliver, but also drive change, react to markets and innovate. – Kevin O'Marah, Chief Content Officer, SCM World

Filling the Supply Chain Talent Gap

SCM World has studied the question of supply chain talent with an eye to providing senior leaders guidance on how to develop a winning team.  Core technical training in disciplines like logistics management, purchasing and manufacturing operations are generally well taught in universities and through professional training from associations like APICS and the CSCMP.  These foundational skills, however, are often not enough when supply chain practitioners find themselves involved cross-functionally with commercial or product development people in sales and operations planning meetings or stage gate reviews for new products.

Extensive survey data shows, in fact, that classic supply chain skills are in some cases less important than general business leadership skills.  It is interesting for instance, that 74 percent say change management is an essential skill, which is higher than the 71 percent who say the same of sourcing.  Also notable is the majority share that identifies new product introduction (51 percent), customer service (58 percent), performance management (54 percent) and technology enablement (53 percent) as essential skills.

The takeaway for senior supply chain leaders is that team building, skill development and most critically, retention, require executive attention as well as dedicated human resources expertise.  Some of the supply chain organizations who have had the most success building and maintaining teams with such diverse skills include those for whom a C-level sponsor is coupled with a dedicated organizational design specialist from the HR department to assure clear skill mapping, gap identification and remediation plans.  Cisco Systems, Unilever and General Mills all execute this design well.

In terms of managing the career lifecycle research also points to a specific point of common failure.  Mid-career consistently presents the greatest challenge to leadership teams.  In part this may be caused by retention issues where experienced supply chain practitioners are lured away by competitors or other alternatives.  This problem is certainly most severe in high-growth arenas like China or fast-changing industries like retail and high-tech.

Also problematic at mid-career point is how to hone non-technical skills of busy, successful people.  Association training tends to miss the commercial and leadership skills that are so important while dedicated development programs are time consuming and expensive.  Some, like Clorox and Under Armour have had success with virtual academy programs that combine business school tactics with supply chain case studies to accelerate learning with a mix of virtual and experiential activities. 

The Outlook

Increasing comfort with social networking, virtual meetings and crowd-sourced thinking provides a unique moment of convergence between the need for broader supply chain skills and the means to get there.  Talent is a problem in supply chain, but companies that blend business and technical skills, and that support the effort both functionally and with HR leadership are showing a way forward.

SCM World has studied the question of supply chain talent with an eye to providing senior leaders guidance on how to develop a winning team.  Core technical training in disciplines like logistics management, purchasing and manufacturing operations are generally well taught in universities and through professional training from associations like APICS and the CSCMP.  These foundational skills, however, are often not enough when supply chain practitioners find themselves involved cross-functionally with commercial or product development people in sales and operations planning meetings or stage gate reviews for new products.

Extensive survey data shows, in fact, that classic supply chain skills are in some cases less important than general business leadership skills.  It is interesting for instance, that 74 percent say change management is an essential skill, which is higher than the 71 percent who say the same of sourcing.  Also notable is the majority share that identifies new product introduction (51 percent), customer service (58 percent), performance management (54 percent) and technology enablement (53 percent) as essential skills.

The takeaway for senior supply chain leaders is that team building, skill development and most critically, retention, require executive attention as well as dedicated human resources expertise.  Some of the supply chain organizations who have had the most success building and maintaining teams with such diverse skills include those for whom a C-level sponsor is coupled with a dedicated organizational design specialist from the HR department to assure clear skill mapping, gap identification and remediation plans.  Cisco Systems, Unilever and General Mills all execute this design well.

In terms of managing the career lifecycle research also points to a specific point of common failure.  Mid-career consistently presents the greatest challenge to leadership teams.  In part this may be caused by retention issues where experienced supply chain practitioners are lured away by competitors or other alternatives.  This problem is certainly most severe in high-growth arenas like China or fast-changing industries like retail and high-tech.

Also problematic at mid-career point is how to hone non-technical skills of busy, successful people.  Association training tends to miss the commercial and leadership skills that are so important while dedicated development programs are time consuming and expensive.  Some, like Clorox and Under Armour have had success with virtual academy programs that combine business school tactics with supply chain case studies to accelerate learning with a mix of virtual and experiential activities. 

The Outlook

Increasing comfort with social networking, virtual meetings and crowd-sourced thinking provides a unique moment of convergence between the need for broader supply chain skills and the means to get there.  Talent is a problem in supply chain, but companies that blend business and technical skills, and that support the effort both functionally and with HR leadership are showing a way forward.

Filling the Supply Chain Talent Gap