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?