Jennifer McGee and Dominique Harris are partners and Tulika Vardhan is a manager in the Leadership, Change and Organization practice of global strategy and management consulting firm, Kearney. All opinions are the authors' own.
Supply chains need people with cross-functional expertise who understand the implications of supply chain decisions across the enterprise. Artificial intelligence has also entered the picture, influencing how work is done within the supply chain while making standard activities more consistent.
All of this is exciting for the promise it holds, but supply chain leaders are far from finding enough experts with deep knowledge of supply chain functions in addition to others who can see across the entire value chain. Here are five actions supply chain leadership can take to find the talent they need:
1. Upskill frontline managers to embrace the end-to-end mindset. Expose managers to other functions through rotational programs, design-to-value discussions and integrated business planning. Rotational programs give them experience in positions in other areas, arming them with knowledge and insights they can bring back to their teams, extending their end-to-end understanding and giving them diverse perspectives for problem-solving.
In the design-to-value supply chain model, managers become part of discussions about product design and deployment. And with integrated business planning, they participate in talks about company-wide plans in addition to those for their own area of practice. This experience gives frontline managers the opportunity to see connections between their role in the supply chain and the broader business picture, while information to smooth transitions between the front line and other areas is traded in both directions.
2. Build technical competence and instill a culture of curiosity. Start by encouraging employees to move away from using only intuition and past results as the foundation for decisions, and instead move toward data-driven thinking. Improve their AI-readiness and skills by training them to generate or interpret the data coming from demand forecasting and other forms of predictive modeling. Urge those workers whose repetitive tasks are now done by AI to apply their experience in more strategic areas and activities to advance business outcomes.
Creating an inspiring culture of curiosity and continuous learning helps identify and prepare both the versatile and deeply knowledgeable staff supply chains need. It encourages people to look up from their job and learn more about what's going on around them. One way to do this is to incorporate continuous learning via case examples instead of process maps in training sessions and learning events. Running through real-life scenarios gets people thinking about what they would do, resulting in learning that is far more relatable and memorable than studying a document or diagram.
3. Rethink the capabilities you are hiring for, going beyond the typical supply chain set. To transform your supply chain, your talent needs to anchor itself in enterprise value, beyond pure functional excellence. Look for three areas of experience in candidates: cross-functional experience — both within and outside the supply chain— intellectual curiosity and an entrepreneurial mindset.
4. Look outside of the traditional supply chain talent pool when hiring. Transferable skills are invaluable. They can be found in candidates who have not traditionally worked in supply chains, such as data scientists and analysts, project managers, accountants, engineers and liberal arts graduates. In general, look for candidates who have a desire to learn new things, including a willingness to enhance their skills, especially with technology.
5. Value those who can lead with influence. As supply chains evolve, collaboration is becoming more important, so interpersonal skills are a must to lead rather than depending on the reporting structure of hierarchy. Supply chains now need people who can make independent decisions and feel comfortable explaining their positions to higher management while they work with colleagues. Search for talent that has successfully driven an initiative across a company, as they likely understand how to make connections and influence multiple stakeholders.
To progress toward more end-to-end supply chains, leaders should start viewing talent profiles as subject to flexibility and evolution as much as the supply chain itself. About 20%of supply chain talent should have a solid ability to think comprehensively and boost collaboration with customer-facing roles. New hires will probably look different from typical hires in the past, given these changing job requirements. Ideally, they’ll come in with a willingness to learn new skills and work closely with people within and beyond the supply chain — all valuable qualities that will shine in this new era.