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Opportunity for T-Shaped Supply Chain Talent


By Bisk

Nick-little-msuFinding and developing talent that can address constantly evolving supply chain functions is a major challenge facing companies as they seek leaders ready to respond to changes from advanced technology to increased globalization.

Supply chain professionals who can effectively optimize the end-to-end operations and be strategic leaders – also known as T-shaped professionals – are now in demand for their in-depth disciplinary knowledge, as well as their ability to see and influence the bigger picture.

Nick Little, Assistant Director of Executive Development Programs at Michigan State University's Broad College of Business, spoke at the SCOPE Spring 2016 Supply Chain Conference about how firms can transform what may appear to be a serious concern into a major strategic opportunity. Little shared new approaches to recruiting and retention, and ways to maximize organizational knowledge for strategic advantage.

Finding and retaining top supply chain talent ranks among the top issues on the minds of supply chain executives these days, researchers at Michigan State University, in partnership with the APICS Supply Chain Council, discovered as part of the Beyond the Horizon project. The study (PDF) features insights from executives representing more than 50 organizations in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

A Deloitte study, "Supply Chain Talent of the Future," found that a majority of respondents said hiring people with both technical (73%) and leadership (79%) skills was important to their companies.

It makes sense for firms to take a more strategic approach to supply chain management, particularly since the multiple moving parts it takes for a product or service to evolve from raw material to valuable consumer offering may require greater agility to support an organization's strategy.

What may seem simple in theory may prove more challenging in reality. However, T-shaped supply chain managers can position themselves for career advancement beyond the supply chain itself.

The Reality: Talent Concerns in Supply Chain Management

Companies not only face serious competition to hire qualified candidates, they also have to worry about keeping the people they already have on board.

"The competition for talent is much higher [than it's ever been]," said one executive who participated in the Beyond the Horizon project, who mentioned the challenge of finding the ideal person – one with a grasp of strategy, finances and change management.

Firms that struggle with retaining supply chain professionals must find ways to engage and develop existing employees, while recognizing that it could take time for organizational changes to become part of daily life at a firm.

"Most of the things I'm doing don't yield immediate results," one Beyond the Horizon participant said. "I mean it takes a year for a lot of those [development programs] to start to take hold."

The Opportunity: Value in Adopting a Strategic Approach to Supply Chains

Working with multiple functions and companies to deliver value to consumers requires balancing what may appear to be seemingly oppositional needs: maximizing efficiencies and containing costs, while providing or maintaining a high level of customer service. Externally, it means nurturing strategic relationships with suppliers in order for firms to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

High-level players have to understand logistics, procurement, manufacturing and distribution. Being an expert in one discipline and one system of operations may be enough to open doors to higher positions. But to become the leaders who create the supply chains of the future, SCMs need knowledge of each discipline.

Knowledge that goes beyond one specialized discipline can be a crucial differentiator for innovative organizations. Encouraging T-shaped leadership requires adopting a new perspective – one that focuses on the big picture without getting caught up in the details – to ensure success down the road.

Category: Supply Chain Management