Closing the Generation Gap

Supply chain executives need to take advantage of the “dynamic tension” between senior and neophyte employees


That thinking, he argues, comes about more easily with a multi-functional team of all ages and experience levels. “With the right team, you get ideas. You have to have a long-term plan. For example, encourage marginal suppliers to seek your business. Give suppliers some help to think it through. That strategy requires a multi-year look.”

Another example: “What’s the role of procurement or supply chain in a company?” Rudzki asks. “We have a big client that’s been around a long time. Yet the role of procurement was very tactical, very operational. Each morning they had a meeting: ‘Was the plant interrupted yesterday? Was the problem solved?’ They made it very short, very tactical. They were just firefighting, but with no idea how to pursue strategic properties.”

“Dynamic Tension”

Often, though, that mix of young and experienced leads to a sort of dynamic tension within the department. Leaders should look at it as a positive, Natarajan notes.

“This dynamic tension is notby any means a bad thing,” he says. “You have to really balance the two and think collaboration/win-win to drive significant results. Young leaders should embrace the opportunity to leverage the experience to understand what works and what doesn’t work; formulating strategies and ideas while working in conjunction with experienced counterparts.”

In turn, he continues, “knowledge masters and experienced leaders should act as mentors and/or coaches to guide the future-generation leaders. They need to impart their wisdom and ‘know-how’ in a way that it can be leveraged by younger, more technology-driven leaders. You can only shape better ideas that are a blend of both the worlds if the culture allows free exchange of ideas in an environment that allows positive dissension, constructive dialogue and mutual respect.”

Not to be overlooked is the influence of social media, Natarajan says. “I see that future supply chain organizations will be shaped by all features that made social media so popular – accessibility, mobility, insight sharing, information sharing, real-time event awareness, alert triggers, agility and ability to react to issues and the creation of global communities that act as talent pools. Being able to participate at this level will be a requisite skill.”

A Diverse Environment

It might be difficult for senior executives to see the knowledge that young professionals can bring, sometimes considering them too inexperienced to add significant value. What can they do?

“The senior executive role is critical to the success of young people and the ability of an organization to harness their skills for the betterment of effective supply chains,” Natarajan says, adding that they must focus on three elements:

  • Providing a culture for success in a “walk the talk” style leadership. “It’s important that they demonstrate the behavior they want the young leaders to acquire and practice.”
  • Ensuring that they have right people with the right skills in the right place to build an organization centered on learning, experience and exposure (to industry and technology) to drive success.
  • Developing the goals, objectives and measurements that allow the tracking of results and the celebration of the wins.

“Senior leaders should pay particularly close attention to the dynamic tensions caused by intergenerational gap,” he adds. “The key is to create an environment where diversity in ideas, values, expertise and exposure are entertained and respected and morphed with constructive conflicts. Successful leaders create effective teams that leverage each other’s strengths and really transform how the business operates.”

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