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The SC Manager’s Daily Decathlon (6/6)

THE SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGER’S DAILY DECATHLON (Nº 6 of 6)

Given the diversity of the challenges in their job, Supply Chain Managers need to be versatile, multi-skilled people, chameleonic in a way. A bit like the decathlon athlete, (s)he needs to perform well on a lot of different disciplines, not necessarily the best at each, but good enough to have a good shot at becoming the overall number 1 in the tournament. Inspired by the concept of the “T-Shaped Supply Chain Manager”, as it has appeared in various publications and was further developed by Inspired-Search, I will in a short series of blogs discuss the main important aspects of the Supply Chain Manager’s peculiar modern-day 21st century Daily Decathlon, as well as some of the main implications for the company. Here goes the sixth and last part.

Epilogue, from the finish-line

Marathon Finish
We know now in more detail about the Supply Chain Manager’s Daily Decathlon, the challenges it contains, and the skills required for doing a good job. Going back to the original idea of the T-shaped Supply Chain Manager: the vertical base of the T stands for very specific Supply Chain knowledge, experience and “hard” operational and technical skills, while the top layer of the T stands for the general executive experience and the well-developed and complete set of “soft” leadership skills, required for instance for communicating at board level.

Someone might raise the valid point that it would be nearly impossible to find people who are great at all this, so maybe it’s good to highlight once again that, “like the decathlon athlete, [the Supply Chain Manager] needs to perform well on a lot of different disciplines, not necessarily the best at each, but good enough to have a good shot at becoming the overall number 1 in the tournament.” In other words, it’s not so much about the individual elements, but particularly about the particular mix, the sum of all the ingredients.

In any case, I think we can reasonably safely assume that the Supply Chain Managers in question already were aware of the tasks they’re facing and the skills they need in order to perform well, since they live this Decathlon every day. But what does this all mean from a company perspective?

Let me briefly focus on three things: recruitment, training and career paths.

Recruitment
If we agree that Supply Chain Managers do not only need to have sufficient “hard” skills (functional knowledge in manufacturing, logistics, HR, finance, and relevant industry sector expertise plus vertical experience in production, trade, consultancy and service provision, etc.), but also need a sound basis of “soft” skills (communication, people management, negotiation, presentation skills and the like), then it should hopefully be clear that this is not a purely technical function.

In other words, typecasting like “oh, this is about pallets, so we need to find an engineer”, needs to be avoided. In fact, many of the required skills for successful Supply Chain Management are very similar to those of any (senior) management position, so it actually makes a lot of sense looking for people with a more generalist profile, or the potential to develop that. Of course, these could very well be engineers as well, but not necessarily.

Training
Depending on the particular characteristics of a company’s Supply Chain, the background of a specific Supply Chain Manager and his/her exact role in the company, the focus of training might be more on the hard or on the soft side of the job, but probably never on just one of these. And probably more shifting to the soft skills the more senior the person is. In any case, given the nature of the job, I think the training should be practically oriented, based on learning by doing.

In the end, we are talking about a (senior) management position, in other words about people who are being paid for making decisions and acting upon these, so any kind of training which allows for practicing the subsequent steps of analysis, synthesis, implementation design and execution will certainly be helpful. And this type of training comes in many forms and shapes. See also my recent blog, titled “Experiential learning”, about the subject.

Career paths
I have said it before: the required skills for successful Supply Chain Management are very similar to those of any (senior) management position. Adding to that, because of all of the close relationships with the other areas we have seen in many of the games of our Supply Chain Manager’s Daily Decathlon, the Supply Chain function offers a wonderful outlook on almost all of the company’s functions, living the trade-offs and the interdependencies first-hand and day-in day-out.

Therefore, I think that successful Supply Chain Managers are excellent candidates for higher general management positions. Or, to put it in a different way: I’m convinced that the Supply Chain function is a great intermediate step in the career plan of any General Management candidate.

And now, to bed! There’s a new Decathlon waiting for us tomorrow!

(this post was also published on Supply Chain Movement.com, 04-June-2013)