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Back to School

As spring turns to summer, millions of school children are counting down the days to freedom. So are their teachers. Yet even as college students head off to their internships, many companies are going back to school.

As we talk with our supply chain colleagues and clients in our travels we are increasingly hearing of “organizational reviews,” “skills assessments,” and other flavors of investigations and investments into supply chain talent. Why now? What has turned once steely hearts to take such interest in the softer side of supply chain?

High-tech companies certainly haven't been shy about investing in supply chain technology, extending their global reach, and developing complex networks of alliance partners to support their businesses. Despite the technological whiz bang and the specialized partners acquired to make the supply chain more efficient, managing today's global, distributed, high-tech supply chains is just plain hard.

The cuts in investment and downsizing that occurred during the economic downturn didn't make things any easier. We've realized that technology and partnerships can only advance the supply chain so far. Most companies have similar technology (i.e., there are only a handful of supply chain software vendors), and it's a rare partner network that truly provides “differentiated capabilities.” In the proverbial three-legged stool of people, process, and technology, people are often overlooked. Turning perhaps to the obvious, yet neglected, differentiator, companies are now investing in the skills of their supply chain staffs.

Among the supply chain chattering class, the talk is about making sure that organizations are properly organized to deal with the new reality of the high-tech supply chain. What should I do when manufacturing has been outsourced to a contract manufacturer? What transportation skills do I need if all of my transportation is provided by a third party? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Supply chain roles and responsibilities of ten, even three, years ago are not suited to effectively manage today's supply chain.

But this isn't just a question of shifting blocks on an organization chart, though plenty have tried. More and more, we see companies taking a deeper look at aligning their organizations based on “competencies,” groups of related skills and knowledge that real people need to excel at real jobs. It's actually a fairly logical approach. There are new skills needed to manage the new high-tech supply chain and there are roles in the organization that must provide those skills.

As a sidebar, it's important to note that developing the skills of an organization is different than providing a one-hour training refresh on how to use a new planning program. We like to distinguish training from learning. People can be trained to tell time, but must learn how to build clocks. The competency approach simply asks which roles need what skills and where those roles should sit within the supply chain organization.

The competency approach has additional value beyond simply being logical and supporting the hiring process. By starting off with questions around what skills are needed to run the supply chain, companies can more effectively identify what continuing education can best keep skills fresh and structure performance management to align with the skills expected from each role in the organization. The clear definition of required competencies and the mapping of those competencies to roles have the added benefit of limiting the duplication of responsibilities and titles. After all, the world has enough versions of the “manager” title as it is (and that would include us).

People matter. After all of the technology, outsourcing, and more, high-tech companies are turning to the folks who actually run their supply chains. How about that?

5 comments on “Back to School

  1. FLYINGSCOT
    June 2, 2011

    As part of your research did you discover many university courses tailored to advanced supply chain management (in the way an EE grad is a good fit for an EE design job). In my experience the folks performing this function arrived in their discipline after a variety of other job functions.  It would be good to learn if this important discipline is being adequately covered in our universities.

  2. saranyatil
    June 6, 2011

    A very interesting article,

    Now i see many professionals show casing a great level of interest in  supply chain management. there is a huge level of investments in this field by many companies to hire professional to create a smart supply chain. It has been very important to have awell defined interface between the technoilogy and supply chain professionals.

    This will definitely enhance companies positioning.

  3. bolaji ojo
    June 6, 2011

    Supply chain functions have also moved up in corporations with many companies now elevating the top executives in that division to C-Level. In addition, many professionals in adjunct fields are also migrating to the supply chain side. These would include senior engineers with design background as well as folks in engineering manufacturing, sales and marketing and finance. With such a wide range of background and a wide range of fields to integrate it would make sense to invest more in developing these folks to have common goals and common operating understanding.

  4. Craig Gottlieb
    June 10, 2011

    While I wouldn't say that our research covered that topic specifically, I think the fact that companies are turning to invest in this area perhaps gives an indicative response.  While one sees “logistics” tracks in MBA coursework, there is limited breadth (though superb depth, at least here in the U.S.) in terms of providing advanced SCM coursework.  I know that I've personally been able to take advantage of short (week to two week) courses that these institutions offer.

  5. CharlotteForlonge
    February 14, 2019

    I think each of us would like to go back to school, it was the best of times, we went to classes, fool around, studied, and now I study at the university, and I have very little free time, on my weekends I work in a company at Edusson and help students I wish I could go back to school.

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