Leaders must flip the script to cultivate supply chain talent

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Leaders must flip the script to cultivate supply chain talent

Graduation season is a time to recognize the accomplishments of those who have put in so much effort over the past few years, but it just feels weird this year. Even though celebrities, athletes and business leaders have tried to provide virtual commencement addresses, much like at in-person events, many of the speeches were unmemorable not long after they were delivered.

What starts with good intentions, with speakers talking of how their career progressed from a way-back-when new graduate to current day leader, too often digresses into a nice, clean package of stories, followed by a task list of what to do to be successful. However, especially in supply chain, the stories are often messy and the path to success is constantly changing. Even in the best of times – when global trade wars, pandemics and civil unrest didn’t all collide at the same time – those in supply chain are constantly trying to piece together a series of moving parts to keep the business going. It is a career where “normal” means to expect disruption.

Now, as extreme changes to demand and supply are occurring rapidly, supply chain is more important and prominent than ever. The next generation of supply chain talent will be expected to directly influence the direction of business overall by dealing with constant uncertainty and developing agility and resiliency along the way. So, while the old script is familiar, new graduates need to hear something different. They need leaders to flip the script, talking less about the past and more about how they are going to empower future supply chain leaders to build their definition of success.   

Start by treating employees as equal stakeholders in success

In telling this message, leaders must give new supply chain talent the confidence that they will have the chance to learn and grow within a culture that cultivates careers. That means, as Faye Tylee, Global Head of HR at Avaya, told to Thrive Global,

“providing a path forward and a safe support network to allow employees to take the path, even the one less traveled. …Allowing creativity offers opportunity to make a difference and be successful.”

This path forward represents a significant shift away from old ways of working, where an employee’s value was often defined by their potential to climb the corporate hierarchy. That meant that, in addition to demonstrating consistent performance, rising to the level of supply chain leadership signified outlasting peers and learning how to manage upward. At the highest levels, that even meant learning to serve shareholders first and everyone else later.

Recently, though, leaders have banded together to acknowledge that past pattern and break it. In August 2019, the Business Roundtable announced that 181 CEOs of companies including supply chain leaders like Apple, Amazon and P&G, pledged “a fundamental commitment” to an expanded list of stakeholders, adding customers, suppliers, employees and the communities they serve. Furthermore, they encouraged others to do the same, stating,

“Just as we are committed to doing our part as corporate CEOs, we call on others to do their part as well. In particular, we urge leading investors to support companies that build long-term value by investing in their employees and communities.”

Invest money – and more – to redevelop work and culture

Baseline investments in employees and communities include paying well, providing good benefits and making noteworthy donations – these are minimum expectations. Going beyond that means leveraging investments in technology and process to create an environment for organic development of collaboration and critical thinking skills. For example, investments in process automation will free supply chain talent from boring and mundane work, refocusing them on exception management, which will be more critical than ever. To manage those exceptions, they must then be able to use common platforms to engage with cross-functional peers in evaluating the best course of action that captures value for the overall business.

These investments in technology and process are evident, but the non-financial investments that follow are equally important to helping to fill the gaps between today’s capabilities and what is required for the future.  Once supply chain talent is freed from repetitive tasks, leaders must foster the environment that encourages everyone to try new things and to explore their strengths and weakness. This means crafting the right messaging as well as building and supporting programs that allow employees to participate in real-time, real-life, test-and-learn scenarios.

Enable agility in your people

By investing in building more diverse experiences and skills sets in the next generation of supply chain talent, today’s leaders will enable agility and resiliency in their people and ingrain it throughout their businesses. All of this represents an enormous commitment for everyone involved, but if new graduates are to be expected to put in the work to develop the skills that will be needed to propel businesses forward, then leaders must make the first move.

Today’s leaders must acknowledge that just as the expectations for supply chain are expanding, so are possible pathways to success. As such, new supply chain graduates don’t need to hear the same tired speech about what used to work. They need to hear that leaders are willing to give up the old script in favor of a new commitment to cultivating careers and redefining success.

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