Building a Better Supply Chain Professional

What are the skill sets that will catapult your supply management group to its peak performance? Here is a guide to help unlock their potential


Is there actually a "Top 10" that can be defined for the purchasing and supply management professional? Or, in reality, is there a more precise science to finding out what will make your supply management team the most competitive in the industry?

Sometimes a particular industry will demand certain skill sets that may not even be noticed or required by different industries. Or the hot-button skills that are so popular today may be replaced by newer, sexier terms. Strategic sourcing, spend analysis and supplier development processes — terms that didn't exist 15 years ago — are some prime examples.

And look at the logistics professional: Today he or she commonly uses computerized network modeling to design optimal warehousing and transportation networks, and applies bar coding and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that only 10 years ago would have seemed like science fiction.

The ever-changing business environment of progressive supply management departments demands continuous evaluation and updating of specific skill sets. Assessing exactly the right mix for your group requires attention to three critical areas:

  • Track business changes that cause a realignment of skills sets
  • Maintain the skill sets that withstand the test of time
  • Build and know your company's "Top 10"

Track Business Changes that Cause a Realignment of Skill Sets

"Several factors can cause leadership to realign the required skill sets in a supply management group," says John Evans and Don Dougherty, co-founders of SupplyStaff, a recruiting firm specializing in purchasing and supply management professionals. "Of most recent significance are the more progressive processes being used by today's supply chain organizations, including strategic sourcing and total cost modeling. Additionally, more complex global markets and greater expectations from C-level executives and customers force shifts. Progressive organizations with clear profitability targets now demand greater involvement in strategic initiatives by the supply management department."

Supply management executives interviewed by SupplyStaff sum it up this way: Significant improvements in strategic supply management processes, globalization, procurement automation, outsourcing, regulatory pressures, competitiveness and market instability have elevated the discipline and increased the challenges. This is especially evident in industries where the overall spend of an organization is tremendous and profit margins are tight.

But even in industries with robust profits, corporate executives' new awareness of the power of supply management raises the bar. C-level executives ask for and expect strategic cost reduction, regular supply availability despite volatile markets, aggressive market expansion and successful product innovation to be supported by — if not come out of — their supply management departments.

In one corporate example, the integrated supply chain became core to transforming the mix of skills. "Skills for supply chain professionals have been changing and elevated as a discipline to the boardroom level here at IBM," says Linda Cantwell, vice president, business growth initiatives, IBM Integrated Supply Chain. "In the last few years we've integrated the functional supply chain components into one end-to-end supply chain at IBM. As a result, we no longer only look for functional talent, but skills that complement our integrated, end-to- end supply chain strategy."

As a result of the increased expectations by C-level leaders, supply management executives are keen to keep their team's skill sets totally aligned with the strategic approach of their organizations. Supply management executives relayed to SupplyStaff the following four steps for skill set realignment:

  1. Continually assess the skill requirements of the team
  2. Provide continuing education where gaps exist
  3. Hire new talent in areas where skill gaps of current staff cannot be fixed
  4. Regularly review requirements based on new and ever-changing expectations of the supply management group
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