Operational speed and agility are considered markers of maturity and excellence for leaders in high performing supply chain organisations. However, when it comes to how, where and when supply chain professionals do their jobs, the industry isn’t hitting the mark in allowing and embracing flexible work practices. It’s making careers at manufacturers, distributors and retailers relatively less attractive.
The result is an adverse effect on employee engagement, inclusive and diverse teams, overall career brand and ultimately, supply chain performance. To hire and retain even average performers, leaders must embrace more flexible work practices.
Significant engagement gaps
Gartner recently asked 437 supply chain professionals about their careers and what motivates them. It appears that significant engagement gaps exist between frontline employees and senior leadership. The survey provided some insights into what is causing these gaps.
In addition to a lack of career path visibility, workplace flexibility in many supply chain organisations is missing, especially for individual contributors. Sixty-nine per cent said they are required to be physically on-site every day, whether they are in a cubicle, a plant or a distribution centre.
Why is this the case when many labour-intensive tasks have been automated and manual business processes pulled together onto virtual platforms? The requirement that staff be physically co-located with capital equipment for a full shift, or attached to a 9am-to-5pm paper-intensive process has disappeared for the majority of supply chain roles.
White-collar, virtual jobs can be done by anyone, anytime and anywhere. Examples of proven flexible work arrangements include working from home, flex-time, four-day work weeks and job sharing.
Yet, even in companies that have extended more flexibility to finance, IT or sales, supply chain organisations remain curiously resistant to embracing flexible work arrangements. This is true even as they have become more planning-centric and the physical product component of customer service has decreased over time.
Although both of these trends lead to work that is well-suited to a virtual workforce, the profession’s roots in factories and warehouses live on in leadership mindsets that equate physical presence with performance, with the ability to see a body as evidence of effective control of that body. From the employee perspective, it isn’t a big leap to thinking your manager doesn’t trust you to do your job, which leads to dissatisfaction and its associated negative outcomes.
Supply chain leaders who want to attract and keep great people need to change these mindsets. In fact, supply chain leaders who want to attract and keep any people need to do so.
Desire for work-life balance
After compensation, work-life balance is the top consideration across companies globally for whether a candidate will take a job or not. A recent Gartner survey found that if given a choice between two jobs, nine out of 10 respondents will take the job that offers more flexibility. Almost one-third of respondents said they would have stayed longer in their previous job if more flexibility had been offered.
The good news is that many supply chain leaders have already started an aggressive push into flexible work and results-only performance management. This has been driven by a struggle to hire in a market where high-tech companies and start-ups have already changed the game. A formidable combination of more flexibility and workplace perks like food, amenities and employee support services makes the worksite a more appealing place to spend time.
It’s also been driven by the ability of the supply chain organisation to take on more start-up-like qualities. Aiming for balance, they are retaining mature continuous improvement practices that are predictable and stable, but are also adding a non-linear approach involving experimentation, failing fast and learning through iteration.
Reframing the flexibility mindset
If all industries are undergoing a process of digital remastering, Gartner believes the profile of supply chain professional will continue its upgrade path of the past five years. This will reflect stronger analytical and technology skills, as well as strong communications and influence skills. Start-ups and professional services firms are competing with supply chain organisations to hire this same talent.
We know what will happen when these candidates get to choose between opportunities that offer more and less flexibility: They’ll choose flexibility nine out of ten times. If you haven’t yet reframed your flexibility mindset, we hope this provides a catalyst for a rethink, where flexibility shifts from a benefit once offered only to senior staff and high performers, to a standard starting point for the employee experience.
Start by reinventing the supply chain organisation’s perspective on workplace and schedule flexibility by treating flexibility as a primary rather than secondary consideration in role design and job descriptions. Clearly some roles and scenarios require an on-site presence, but even in these scenarios, schedule flexibility is a top consideration for employees choosing or leaving a job.
Help mid-level and frontline managers overcome ‘presence = productivity’ mindsets by showing them how to manage by objective, and move toward a results-only work environment.
“Encourage staff to take advantage of newer, more flexible work arrangements by having senior leadership model flexibility in how and where they work.”
Re-imagine employee reward and recognition strategies to recognise great work regardless of where and when the work is done.
Finally, take advantage of established flexible work practices of other functional leaders or HR by using their playbooks, policies and performance data to show the broader supply chain organisation how a pilot program might be structured, and what its outcome might look like.
Dana Stiffler is a research vice president at Gartner, focused on supply chain talent strategies, the chief supply chain officer role, as well as individual influence and effectiveness in supply chain leadership. For more information visit www.gartner.com/supplychain.