For decades, the United States’ workforce grew increasingly specialized. Disciplines have become so refined across all industries that companies today are often comprised of professionals that are experts in their discipline yet work in silos that lack connectivity with other branches of the larger business.
Educational institutions have long played into the division of labor of by teaching to this philosophy of hyper-specialization, the result being what are known as “I” shaped professionals with in-depth knowledge of their respective disciplines. Meanwhile, employers and entire industries are finding a need for people with the holistic view necessary to work across disciplines and roles to innovate and communicate across an organization.
Enter the “T” shaped professional. Whereas both types of professionals possess depth of skill and knowledge in a specific discipline, the T shape is defined by the horizontal stroke that represents the ability to collaborate across multiple functions.
One area in which a T-shaped professional is becoming ever more crucial is supply chain management. In their efforts to increase efficiency while trimming costs, supply chain managers have to understand the end-to-end dynamics of how a product goes from raw material to the consumer’s hands.
With continuous advances in technology and increased globalization, companies are finding themselves making adjustments to their supply chains in response to market forces and ever-evolving customer preferences.
A “Supply Chain Talent of the Future” report by Deloitte found that a majority of respondents said people with technical skills (73%) and leadership expertise (79%) in their organizations were needed to address future strategic decisions. Many organizations deem supply chain management to be “a strategic role, whereas a decade ago it would have been considered a tactical one,” according to the study.
Understanding multiple aspects of a business is one thing, but a T-shaped professional also possesses the communication skills necessary to effectively work with other teams rather than simply presenting the point of view convenient to the interests of their discipline. This is an important trait in collaboration, which is vital to yielding better solutions to complex problems.
If an organization has T-shaped leaders, it can manage existing operations and maintain the capacity to innovate for a healthy future.
Operations and strategy are considered two very different cultures within many organizations. Operational performance involves examining products or services a company offers and searching for innovative ways to improve the quality of offerings while reducing costs.
Strategy, on the other hand, takes a more long-term view of the business by determining how operations can be modified in response to disruptive innovations or other market changes on the horizon. Strategists have to look at the business environment and plan experimentation of their own with new tools. External collaboration and continuous refinement to the definition of future goals become the work of a strategist.
The problem is, how can a strategist effectively form a strategy that improves operations if they are unfamiliar with operations or don’t communicate with operations staff? In any business, the devil is in the details, meaning any decisions regarding a company’s operational ability and needs have to align with organizational strategy. T-shaped professionals make this possible.
When it comes to supply chain management, high-level players have to understand logistics, procurement, manufacturing and customer service in some way. Being an expert in one discipline and one system of operations is enough to open doors to higher positions, but to become the leaders that create the supply chains of the future, supply chain managers need at least a little knowledge of each.
Presently there is a shortage of supply chain talent capable of pushing innovation to the next level. According to an article from Supply Chain 247, troubling times are ahead for the supply chain talent pool. Research shows the demand for supply chain professionals exceeds supply by a ratio 6-to-1.
Michigan State University and APICS Supply Chain Council partnered to conduct research on the topic and published a whitepaper titled, “What’s Keeping Supply Chain Managers Awake at Night?” Researchers looked at the business practices of more than 50 businesses and asked their executives to identify the major issues they wrestle with.
Among them, talent was a major concern.
“The competition for talent is much higher [than it’s ever been],” one executive said. “You go out to the market, and it’s one of those ironies. Right now, you put a job description out there and you hear about 8 percent unemployment. However, I can’t find an industrial engineer worth his salt – you know, someone who can really think about strategy and think about [profit and loss statements] and drive change.”
Michigan State University is the leading supply chain management program in the United States for its ability to develop T-shaped professionals. In a nutshell, the school’s mission to create supply chain leaders who have a holistic view of supply chain operations, so that they effectively become end-to-end optimization specialists as well as change managers.