Supply Chain

Supply Chain Strategy and Talent Challenges 

Wrecently ran an internal workshop to help us drill in on the skillsets that are in greatest demand in our Supply Chain practice.  To kick it off, we randomly (sort of) picked national, general interest newspaper and searched for “supply chain” headlines in issues published just prior to the workshop – we avoided the Wall Street Journal and publications like Industry Week, because that would just be stacking the deck.  The top four articles dealt with: 

  • the trade war with China (kind of obvious); 
  • tensions with Iran (still obvious); 
  • the opioid crisis (less obvious); and  
  • the immigration crisis (even less obvious). 

Not exactly the stuff the average person thinks about when they hear the words “supply chain”, but it does demonstrate why clients have raised the bar considerably on the knowledge, skills, abilities and leadership attributes they are looking for in their supply chain managers.  We saw three major forces driving these changes. 

ReliabilityReliability vs. Resiliency 

There was a time when the over-arching objective was complete stability and reliability in the supply chain.  Companies centralized procurement and logistics, the supply base was “rationalized” to a small set of strategic suppliers and “non-strategic” elements were outsourced.  Unit costs (prices) could be leveraged with purchasing power, inventories could be kept lean and non-essential staff could be offshored. 

Today, that kind of stability carries too much risk.  The disruption of a single-thread supply chain quickly overwhelms the few pennies that were saved in price negotiations, and operations can come to a screeching halt when some of those “non-strategic” things aren’t readily available.  Total costs, not unit costs, matter.  As a result, the overly simplistic and constant pressure for supply chain managers to constantly reduce costs has been replaced with a much more nuanced, multi-dimensional set of performance criteria. 

A resilient supply chain has disruption-responsiveness built in.  Contingencies matter as much as steady-state, and that requires a level of planning and forethought that can be very hard to find.  It also requires a re-think of internal systems and processes, from vertically isolated-and-compartmentalized to horizontally integrated-and-broadly-available. Again, a hard-to-find skillset. 

ChangeExponential Change 

Prioritizing resiliency over stability generally introduces massive amounts of complexity into the supply chain.  The technology necessary to manage this complexity is developing rapidly – AI, IOT and Blockchain are just three examples, but their bleeding-edge nature pretty much ensure that supply chain leaders with these skillsets are in very short supply.  As in many professions, supply chain managers at every level are struggling to keep up with rapid rates of technological change.  As a result, there is a growing emphasis on credentialing, although there is a lot of disagreement about what those credentials should be.  There is also a renewed and welcomed willingness to look outside the immediate discipline for talent.  Round-peg/round-hole recruiting doesn’t move an organization along fast enough.  As search partners, that’s one of the ways that the GattiHR Industrial team adds real value to our clients’ talent acquisition strategies – by understanding those adjacencies and helping clients think out-of-the-box when they are filling a role. 

PowerPower symmetry (internal/external) 

The days of “only-price-matters” have given way to a (again) much more complex set of dimensions.  In order to compete, organizations must stress real-time response to customer requirements.  That means the relationship with suppliers, logistics partners, and other players in the supply chain have to be based on much more than just who holds the upper hand on price.  It also means that trying to win on every transaction is a formula for losing.   That takes a much longer-tailed perspective, and an emphasis on the overall profitability of the relationship, not just the cost of a few transactions. 

What's neededSo, what’s required? 

There’s no question there is a set of very specific “hard-skills” our clients focus on when they are trying to build a world-class supply chain organization.  Those include: 

  • Project Management; 
  • Technical Specialization; 
  • Cost Accounting and financial acumen; 
  • Systems Integration; 
  • Contract administration; and  
  • Forecasting, sales & operations planning and information-sharing. 

But even more important are less specific set of “soft skill” that define a more current success profile, including: 

  • Balanced and multi-dimensional communications, facilitation and negotiating skills;
  • Geopolitical awareness; 
  • A clear business ethics framework;
  • Problem-solving and troubleshooting;
  • Leadership, vision, confidence, adaptability and customer empathy;
  • A strong bias toward managing relationships through influence and collaboration, rather than power and authority;
  • A strong desire for a continuous, and nearly vertical learning curve, and to coach, counsel and mentor. 

The bottom line – many universities and corporate environments simply don’t emphasize these soft skills.  They are either assumed (as in the case of communications and facilitation) or they are actually undermined (as in teaching competition over collaboration).  That makes identifying, attracting, retaining and developing these skills in the supply chain team a huge challenge.  According to, there are more than 65,000 supply chain positions open in the US today.  The company that fills theirs with the best talent wins…