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  • Writer's pictureZsofia NAGY

Professional maturity in supply chain organisations: where are you?


supply chain teams at work


Another strong post from me to kick start the new year!


Many won't like it, but it must be talked of.


Many supply chain professionals whine about it, but would never take it up openly.


So I took it up for our own profession's sake.


In the last few years, I met again a bit too many people in supply chain, who were overconfident in their expertise and the numbers seemed to grow. At the same time, we still have folks who severely underestimate themselves & don't have a clue how to market their value.


Earlier it was true that great supply chain professionals didn't know and didn't bother representing themselves in the organisation, therefore their value was overlooked (massively in some cases, to the detriment of the company too). This was the era of engineers in supply chains.


This is still true for a few people (as pointed out above) and it is not age relevant, but rather personality relevant.


However, I see 2 attitude trends that I don't particularly like:

  1. Older professionals, who didn't bother investing in real knowledge building, let alone cross-functional knowledge and are stuck in the "that's how we used to do it" mentality, now riding the popularity wave that supply chain got during the pandemic

  2. Younger professionals, who simply don't have enough experience and still cannot yet put the theory in practice correctly in many cases, now riding the popularity wave as well


The fact that in supply chain in general we need to take advantage of every drop of popularity we get in a business is undeniable.


The other fact, that supply chain professionals need to get better paid for the good value delivered is also undeniable.


And for the love of God, I know amazing supply chain professionals, who aren't getting what they deserve, or they are getting it, but then they are also frustrated with peers, who just don't deliver but market themselves ad nauseam and are getting ahead.


At the same time, it is frightening to see how businesses are still unable to gauge, if someone's supply chain knowledge is on point or lacking maturity comparably to the role they want/get (or if they are overqualified - equally bad).


So this piece is more for leadership levels, as they are at the crux of the problem (the fish always stinks from the head).


There have been an incredible amount of incorrect hires and organisational issues across all supply chain sub-functions and leadership levels.


To name a few (non-exhaustive list):

  1. Bumping up roles between organisational levels without any proven value/result behind from existing role holders and not willing to go through the pain of re-hiring for the new role if the bump up in the organisation was justified for the role itself

  2. Over valuing individual roles without tangible evidence of performance from the individual (also compared to others in the same team)

  3. Not following up on actual role requirements and the person in the role diluting the role over time by only doing a small fraction of the required tasks of the role

  4. Not holding role holders accountable for their relevant responsibilities and at the same time not finding the courage to boot them out, if they don't perform (resulting in talent leaving and the leadership remaining there with empty hands and lack of performance)

  5. Requirements exist on paper, but these have never been followed at hiring and sometimes full teams don't meet any of the minimum requirements of the actual roles in question (this is true for older professionals longer in the positions), sometimes some positions end up being managerial & hiring even further people who should not be in the position at all

  6. Putting people from cross-functions into supply chain roles where they clearly lack competence (also leadership roles), yet no one seems to be bothered that their teams deteriorate slowly but surely

  7. Leaders sliding down to functional work levels for short-term gains, which then never reverts back to leadership and leadership completely falls out, stops functioning in that area

  8. Endless list of role requirements in the Job Description at hiring stage, which weren't thought through and the requirements end up being redundant completely in the daily reality of work (over-qualified team for lower level work becoming fast frustrated)

  9. Copy-paste job descriptions ending up with teams where competencies fully overlap and the gaps aren't addressed and cannot be plugged, or they end up in internal competition which results in low/no performance

  10. We hype AI and want it (it isn't a problem in itself), but then we forget that many in our SC teams still struggle with technologies and utilising them to the best extent possible (some are not yet ERP literate, or struggle with Excel in some cases...even in my generation in western countries, for example).


These come from my observation in companies I saw/met in the last few years and I can't really understand these as the antidotes to these issues are really not so hard to accomplish.


Now some leaders may shake their heads and say: well, it is merely down to not having time for organisational aspects due to XYZ (insert anything you heard of), or these aren't even new issues (what are we even discussing here, we have seen it all), or simply they are doing these well and not having these problems (I salute all of them and thank you!).


But are these good enough reasons/excuses?


I don't think so.


These unfortunately may result in a few consequences:

  1. The quality/value compared to the pay rise asked for is not there (peers in the business see it and aren't happy)

  2. Businesses again may start thinking that they overpay SC professionals and they may do a broad sweep of pay-cuts in the next few years (or stop pay rises across the board), which will hit good SC professionals as well

  3. If the leadership is not supply chain (no CSCO on board and SC reports to finance or COO), then again it may result in not seeing the real value hard working supply chain professionals deliver and allocating even less budget, or taking some tasks away (wrongly allocating elsewhere)

  4. Talented people keep "wandering" between businesses, where they too might not get the relevant professional satisfaction and leave the profession for good leaving the succession pipeline empty

  5. Young professionals or those who considered supply chain during their studies might never actually stick to the profession based on what they see up front (again, zero pipeline for succession)


All the above points can end in further deteriorating supply chain structures and results, while top leaders are expecting more, including further automation, digitization (introducing AI for example), handling disruptions like a charm, becoming more bold & entrepreneurial, stepping up to the board and C-level leadership tables etc-etc.


Sadly, these notions were also confirmed by senior supply chain leaders, who shared their feedback, saying:


"It is really hard to find supply chain professionals, who really can deliver on functional basics, have cross-functional knowledge and they have entrepreneurial attitude as well".


OR:


"The team I inherited has close to zero competencies, I find it hard to find ways to explain basic supply chain concepts in multiple ways, which will then fall on deaf ears as they simply don't want to change."


If we look at the situation at companies by size:

Startups - I can somewhat understand and they make mistakes, but then please get help and not when it is already burning, but when you realise the supply chain is not working (early signs can vary, depending on which role carries the problem person - we can delve into this at another time).


Scale-ups/SMEs - This category is hard again, as they are smaller, usually already getting more complex, while not having the privilege of a corporation to get A-players yet, or they need to strike a really good balance between expectations vs seniority, professional freedom vs structural requirements through their growth. Some of them are in rural areas as well, where talent supply is also sub-optimal. Still, written requirements and getting help with your organisational structure realignment should not be such a huge expense to get it fixed.


Corporations - Now this is the category I simply cannot understand, other than complacency and negligence, or missing qualified leadership. Then they end up spending much more on hard structural corrections than what they could have invested earlier into the necessary changes, or they lose key customers in the process (just to name two outcomes).


As I wrote many times earlier, leaders need to lead, which means their job is literally mostly organisational work, rather than functional crunch.


If they aren't allowed and aren't competent in the first place to do so, the organisation suffers from A to Z.


In 2024, I really don't want to see further excuses to why not tackle critical organisational issues in supply chain organisations.


There are no magical tricks and no shortcuts. Organisational work must be done. It needs to be maintained every day too. It will pay off multi-fold.


So for 2024:

  1. Leaders, please put your feet down and lead! Don't let business pressures make you think it is better to slide down to functional work (not even for short-term result gains).

  2. Supply chain peers regardless of age group: please work again more on improving your functional and cross-functional knowledge, than on marketing yourself! (under promise, over deliver - remember?)

  3. Both leaders and supply chain professionals: be open minded for feedback and learn to learn and develop yourselves!


I do hope these observations and the points made will inspire you to do better this year and if you have been on the right path already, then you continue walking in that direction!


For those not seeing this perspective of the great supply chain picture, I implore you to sit down with me and have a chat!


For those who still undervalue their results and don't market themselves enough: please hop to my relevant articles on getting your worth paid, as this one wasn't really for you today!

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