Patrick Van Hull
The supply chain team of the future will look very different from the one we’re familiar with today. In some cases, the team will need radically different skills and capabilities. Many of these skills fall outside the traditional realms of functional supply chain expertise.
It almost goes without saying that people are one of a supply chain organisation’s biggest assets. Although investment in talent is a top priority today for many supply chain leaders, this hasn’t always been the case.
Rewind just a couple of years ago. A 2016 Gartner survey of 261 supply chain leaders revealed that talent development was a top investment priority for only 28 per cent of respondents, a mere 12th on the list of other competing investment buckets.
Supply chain has been, and always will be, an ongoing balancing act of competing priorities. Can supply chain leaders really afford to continue to devalue talent in favour of the functions they serve? In the many conversations Gartner has had with the supply chain community over recent months, the answer is increasingly a resounding “No!”
A number of external factors have contributed to this urgent realignment and prioritisation of expertise and capability development. First is the growing complexity of business and the level of agility required to meet increasing customer demands, which requires increasing excellence in execution.
Then there’s the elevated role of supply chain within the wider organisation as a creator of value, rather than just a service function or cost centre. This demands a broader understanding of the business through all levels of the supply chain.
Acting as the ‘glue’ between multiple parts of the business — as well as with customers, suppliers and other external partners — requires a shift in skills beyond pure functional supply chain expertise to less tangible social skills around communication and influence. This draws on analytically minded, problem-solving skills to make more effective business decisions, as well as keeping assembly lines running and delivery promises to customers.
Finally, the explosion of new technologies enabling the automation of previously manual activities and the augmentation of other human-led capabilities, have given rise to a new of era of digitalisation requiring new levels of skills and new ways of working.
Once harnessed, digital technologies provide opportunities to deliver innovation in both product and process for the benefit of the customer. They’re also putting pressure on organisations to develop new capabilities and lead the existing workforce through a period of uncertainty.
Now’s the time
These demand drivers for talent realignment and prioritisation are being met with pressures from the supply side of the equation. Supply chain leaders are challenged to develop their existing talent to align with the changes in competency profile. Where gaps on their benches are identified, they must bring in the expertise required.
The speed of change within the business, coupled with the explosion in the need for expertise in digital technologies, is met with the reality that those skills take time to develop and aren’t always readily available from the marketplace. At the same time, a strong competitive market for supply chain talent prevails.
Now’s the time for supply chain leaders to lead the charge on talent strategy and execution by developing winning talent strategies and innovative battle plans. Companies already taking the lead on this are developing strategies that embrace the entire supply chain organisation, from hourly associate to the most senior level executive.
The goal is to build an agile team equipped to face the challenges of tomorrow, starting today. The good news is that Australia has a relative abundance of supply at all hiring levels, indicating a healthy talent pool countered by a tightening of suitable employment opportunities.
Agility is the new watchword for talent
Building out organisations requires a balance of planning for long-term requirements and change management processes, at the same time responding to more short-term needs, such as emerging digital technologies.
A one-size-fits-all approach to strategic workforce planning will no longer work. Develop a talent roadmap for the future.
“Develop connections, both formal and informal, between different parts of your organisation to enable broader exposure to the business and facilitate collaboration across functional teams.”
With a clear business strategy in place, harness this to develop career pathways and roadmaps for existing employees who may need to alter their skill sets with your support to meet the future needs of the business.
Take care to minimise any change-related anxiety that may lead to decreased levels of motivation and workforce effectiveness or even loss of key talent. Where appropriate, consider working with outside providers to fill in capabilities in key areas — blockchain is a good example.
Don’t compete with the ‘cool’ brands – build your own
Competition for talented supply chain professionals is on the rise, with high-profile brands like Amazon, Google and Apple with ‘cool’ value propositions posing a real threat to other companies offering more traditional career pathways. Moving forward, companies will be compelled to sell themselves more overtly as ‘destination employers’ to attract top talent their way.
Create a unique talent brand that establishes clear on-boarding and development paths for new employees, as well as programs to develop existing employees at all levels. Building expertise internally will likely be much more cost-effective than buying new skills.
Take a global view of the talent market landscape
Talent has become an increasingly critical component of overall supply network planning. Take into account the differences in the talent supply market across geographies, when considering where to position teams that require colocation. Could global centres of excellence be located in markets with a richer seam of qualified supply chain talent?
Equally, be prepared to embrace a flexible approach to remotely based employees where supplies of local talent are in short supply.
Develop strong internal ‘glue’ to keep your supply chain organisation integrated and robust
The connections developed between people in your organisation create a glue that holds the parts together. Develop connections, both formal and informal, between different parts of your organisation to enable broader exposure to the business and facilitate collaboration across functional teams.
Likewise, building connections between different levels of the organisation through initiatives such as mentoring, can connect less experienced people with those more tenured and facilitate successful knowledge transfer in both directions.
Similarly, although diversity initiatives may run the risk of neglect during challenging times, they can prove a useful tool for both filling talent gaps and enabling a more inclusive and cohesive workforce.
Patrick Van Hull is a research vice president at Gartner. He provides insights into the key challenges and trends affecting global supply chains, across industries. For more information, visit www.gartner.com/supplychain.