Suddenly, everyone is talking about supply chain. News reporters, Wall Street analysts, your colleagues in other departments who never gave it a thought in the past, people at the grocery store: “Supply chain issue?” has become part of the global lexicon.
Seize this momentum.
As record numbers of people quit their jobs and the hiring market becomes ever more competitive, supply chain as a profession has at least two big things going for it: increasing influence and careers that people find rewarding. According to ASCM’s 2022 Supply Chain Salary and Career Report, the Great Resignation has had little effect on our field. This past year, only 14% of survey respondents found a new job, up just 2% from 2020. This is particularly impressive considering the tremendous pressure and deluge of disruptions industry professionals have had to surmount of late.
But there are some challenges — in particular, the need to expand teams to attract and include more areas of expertise. Supply chain departments need people with cross-functional backgrounds that include expertise in finance, commodities, business strategy and more. That’s no small challenge, but there are solutions, if we learn how to assess what we’ve done in the past, interrupt the ways we’ve been keeping people out, and pivot to be more inclusive and open.
The ASCM study gives us a place to start. Respondents were asked to name essential leadership skills for successful supply chain professionals. For the third year in a row, they put critical thinking and collaboration at the top. Those are broad concepts, and it’s difficult to develop skills around broad concepts. So, let’s turn them into real-world, concrete examples:
Critical thinking: Practice rethinking how you do things. Jeff Pilof is the former senior vice president of supply chain for the retail division of CVS Health. His team was comprised of about 8,000 people covering purchasing of product, picking up orders, driving trucks, and all the underlying strategy and support required to run a large-scale supply chain operation. Pilof says they had struggled to find talent and enhance leadership capability for multiple parts of the team, and he was bumping up against outdated standards within the hiring and talent development processes.
He found places that were ripe for interruption. There were irrelevant hiring standards that were not only keeping talented people out of the organization, but also keeping many people from even knowing about the opportunities in the first place. For existing employees, the training opportunities focused more on making sure people mastered certain criteria set by the company, rather than helping them explore their own capacity to contribute in their own ways.
Of course, creating rules that only let in people who already think like your teams do, and then dictating what people can learn and how they can develop, hinders critical thinking. So, Pilof found a place to interrupt: He decided he’d have more success with recruitment and development if his own team—rather than the recruiters — set the agenda and guided the efforts in areas such as college recruiting and leadership development programs.
“We’re so focused on standardization,” he said. “We’re told, ‘These are the colleges that we recruit from. Here’s our process for recruiting. Here are the leadership programs we have inside our company.’ It’s everything you have to do to assimilate.”
Collaboration: Practice asking people to lead or participate in something new. Pilof also noted that the supply chain organization wasn’t well-understood by the recruiters or other leaders. “I looked around my team for peers who had a passion for this, and we birthed our own acquisition strategy, our own development strategies, our own internship programs,” he said.
In the first year, of course, they met considerable resistance. “People told us, ‘We don’t recruit at that school. We want MBA candidates.’ But I don’t need MBAs. And most of the target schools don’t have the best supply chain programs and students.”
But in the second year, others started to see his team’s success. “Our corporate partners were engaging with us, saying ‘Maybe we should be doing more of what you’re doing,’” said Pilof. “It’s not because we were brilliant, but we had passion for what we needed to solve for. And we knew that the standardization approach that was in place was never going to allow us to become the organization that we wanted to be.”
What Pilof and his team did was assess, interrupt and pivot away from the processes that are deeply embedded in most hiring systems — processes of standardization that maintain a corporate culture that values efficiency above innovation and values the corporate brand over individual contribution. His team built a system of inclusion that allowed them to get beyond someone’s experience and hire for capability and potential.
A final reminder
One word of caution: As you start hiring for more diversity of thought — and as supply chain becomes a destination for people with a broader range of backgrounds — remember that diversity doesn’t equal inclusion. You will not retain all this new talent for long if people are forced to assimilate and hide themselves. Invest in training to learn how to shift from ruling by assimilation to leading through inclusion.