Dominique Harris and Jennifer McGee are partners and Tulika Vardhan is a manager in the Leadership, Change and Organization practice at global strategy management consultancy Kearney. All opinions are their own.
Pretty soon — and it's happening already — supply chain leaders will need talent with strong end-to-end knowledge and cross-functional capabilities. That's because supply chains are rapidly transforming to meet their companies' needs for resilience in a tumultuous world. Operations management has become a complex web of interconnected processes and patchwork fixes to keep supply chains working. How efficiently the supply chain works end to end could make or break a company's success.
A disconnected supply chain leaks value
Companies traditionally structure supply chains based on the separate activities of planning, sourcing, manufacturing and distribution. That model works well when building foundational capabilities, but it loses value when trade-offs involving cost, service and resilience are overlooked. This lost value often shows up in the following areas:
Duplicated effort and longer time to market from misaligned priorities between product management and supply chain planning teams
Unfulfilled customer orders or overproduction due to incompatible planning and production schedules
Poor customer outcomes from siloed manufacturing and delivery metrics
Erosion of procurement-driven savings from different cost goals between procurement and manufacturing
These weaknesses stem from not only isolated supply chain functions, but also a lack of people with the ability to spot what's happening and its impact. That's where end-to-end thinking, complemented by cross-functional skills, can make a huge difference.
The invaluable skill of seeing across and into the supply chain
Although expertise in areas such as planning, procurement, manufacturing and logistics is still crucial, the ability to see, think and act end to end supports areas that supply chains are becoming more responsible for, including just-in-case resilience, an optimized network and a cohesive supply-chain business unit strategy
So, while functional leaders continue to add value, they must be supplemented by end-to-end thinkers. We recommend that about 20% of your supply chain team have end-to-end and cross-functional expertise while the remaining 80% continues to provide deep functional capabilities.
This new 20% will play a more strategic role, connecting the supply chain to other parts of the company through collaboration to achieve greater value. They can do this in part by serving as liaisons between marketing, product development and supply chain functions, for example, so that those involved have a clearer understanding of supply chain implications for customer experience and vice versa.
More companies, in fact, are forming cross-functional teams in these areas. Research and Development employees can create better products knowing supply capabilities. Talent that understands the links between sales, marketing and the supply chain can better anticipate their impact on customer behavior and marketing trends. And overall pricing strategies can be optimized when those with an end-to-end advantage consider product and supply availability and production times.
In the end, the end-to-end view shows how work drives or loses value at each step in the process, leading to better coordination.
So how do you find end-to-end talent?
Fifty-seven percent of supply-chain executives say they have trouble finding end-to-end talent, according to a Korn Ferry report published in May 2023. We recommend securing it in several ways:
Cultivate end-to-end skills in your current teams. Start developing in-house capabilities by upskilling frontline managers, prompting them and their workers to think ahead to what impact an unknown factor will have downstream. Support rotational programs that let them participate in multiple functions.
Build curiosity with embedded learning via use cases instead of process maps, encouraging employees to role-play in different scenarios where they can share their thinking. Urge everyone to speak up about the value they see from their vantage point in the supply chain and beyond before issues arise.
Rethink hiring from the outside. The second source for end-to-end talent might come from hiring new people, but you may have to rethink the capabilities you need. Look for cross-functional expertise, both within and outside traditional supply chain experience.
Candidates with the desire to learn new things are a plus, so look for a willingness to enhance their skills, especially with technology. To support collaboration, search for candidates with the ability to lead through influence rather than hierarchy. Finally, look outside of the traditional supply chain talent pool to applicants with transferable skills. They may be data scientists, project managers, accountants, engineers or liberal arts graduates.
There is no “I” in end-to-end
An end-to-end operating model creates meaningful connections and intersections across the supply chain to unlock stranded or hidden value. Whether you train your current employees or hire new ones with end-to-end skills, incorporating this type of thinking across key functions in your supply chain will help maximize overall value.