For the 21st Century Supply Management Skill Sets Require

Dr. Tom DePaoli

Hands-on” Training

When an individual learns by doing over 90% of what was learned is retained. The acquiring of skills via “hands on” training will be key for the supply manager in the 21st century. The supply manager must literally immerse themselves in their business and in establishing relationships with broad areas of the company and the marketplace. They can no longer be content to remain in their own department and be reactive to the needs of their internal customers. They must literally stretch their “comfort zones” and the “comfort zones” of their peers. Skills necessary to implement best practices require supply managers to be agents of change.

Hands On” Training Methods of Improving Skill Sets

Supply managers of the future must understand their business first and purchasing second. One of the best ways to improve business knowledge is to actually process map or flow chart a particular material or service as it progresses thorough its entire supply chain. This requires the supply manager to understand the various issues of many departments. Suppliers can be great assets in helping chart this flow. They have a strong stake in completely comprehending the key points of the flow. It helps insure their long term viability as a supplier. The supply manager also needs to perform the same process with the supplier of that material at their own company. There is no quicker or more effective way for the supply manager of the future to build their technical knowledge of the business and the materials that they are responsible for. They immediately get leadership skills by dealing with cross functional team members and relating to their various issues about a material. A critical component of this process is understanding what the final customer really wants or values about your product. Supply management must be strongly linked to marketing and be aware of product quality concerns of the customers who pay for their products. Over 60% of quality variances are caused by purchased defective material components or equipment.

Learning to Become and Agent of Change for Best Practices

Skills in implementing best practices are only gained by actually implementing a best practice. The same cross functional team approach as process mapping must be utilized. It is not enough to be knowledgeable about EDI or corporate purchase cards. The most critical skill is becoming an agent of change and persuading many individuals that the change is for the better of the corporation. Supply managers need entrepreneurial skills and must be committed champions in order to insure the success of these best practices. The only way to learn this is by implementing and making the mistakes that often occur and must be expected when the massive and quick changes required to survive in the 21st century are put into place.

Communication Skills are The Most Important

Communication skills must be taken to the next level. As agents of change supply managers must master skills in written expression, public speaking, connectivity via electronic medium, and one-on-one persuasion. Again the best way to learn is by doing. Periodic update formal presentations both internally and externally need to happen frequently. Surprises derail change efforts dramatically. People need to vent their rage about change and supply managers must give people and outlet for this catharsis. Newsletters, monthly letters, and end user “how to” manuals can help people cope with change. The supply manager of the future must be able to use all sorts of media to convince people of the need for a particular change. The pace of change will be so fast and furious that supply managers will have to spend over 50% of their time just communicating, building relationships, and persuading people of the need for change. This is by far their most important skill set needed for the 21st century.

Professional Certification in a New Light

Professional certification will become more important. This will be a group learning and growing event. Strong network ties and sharing experiences and lessons learned with fellow professionals will be the driving force in this area. Traditional learning like seminars and courses will continue to be necessary as laying the groundwork for the perpetual learn by doing mode of supply management. Long term relationships with suppliers will require supply managers to learn the corporate culture of their alliance suppliers. Frequent assignments to key suppliers facilities will be the norm. Supply mangers must be able to quickly utilize any best practices gleaned from key suppliers.

The Supply Manager as Electronic Gatekeeper

Skills in gathering and digesting information will become more valuable. Easily available electronic databases will revolutionize the buying function. Instant access to worldwide sources will be the norm. A basic set of traditional software skills will be necessary. Another role that supply managers will evolve to is as an electronic librarian or gatekeeper for all sorts of information about the supply chain and the marketplace. The world will become even more interdependent and connected. The pace will seem corybantic and require the supply manager to be forever at the listening post of international developments.

For more information about improving supply manager skills for the 21st century feel free to contact the author.

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