Five Critical Challenges Facing Planning Talent & Leadership Development

April 16, 2024
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Written by Dan Pellathy

This is the first in a series of blog posts based on the applied research report “Developing the Next Generation of Supply Chain Planning Talent and Leadership” by the research team of Dan Pellathy, Michael Burnette, and Ted Stank. Download the white paper.

Whether companies seek to manage complex cross-functional processes better, increase digitalization and automation, or build greater agility, planning is central to their strategic initiatives.

Given its central role, it’s not surprising that the demand for planning talent is high. However, the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that today’s planning professionals require differ from those of just a few years ago. Today, planners must be more comfortable managing ambiguity, leading change, and adapting to new technologies. At the same time, companies must be proactive in providing educational opportunities and creating processes, metrics, and incentives that build professionals’ competencies and contribute to developing tomorrow’s planning leaders.

In this blog series focusing on my recent research with GSCI’s Advanced Supply Chain Collaborative, I’ll share some of our key findings, starting with the critical challenges facing planning talent and leadership development.

The role of the supply chain planner has dramatically increased in importance within high-performance enterprises, which recognize that planning is the heart of most critical system transformations. Planners hold one of the few roles that create total value across the end-to-end business.

Recent disruptions have led companies to emphasize multifunctional business processes that require integrating individuals across different reward systems, cultures, data, and leadership. At the same time, heightened customer expectations have increased demand for customized products and services. In response, companies have increased the speed of innovation, with a corresponding increase in system complexity. More than ever, businesses are turning to planners to manage these trends.

However, organizational support for talent and leadership development has trailed behind the demands placed on the planning function. Below are five critical issues we identified in our research with partners at Pfizer, Shaw Industries, and Kenco Group that affect planners today.

Changing Work Modalities

Work-from-home, hybrid, face-to-face, and other modalities present various challenges for planners. While questions of oversight and productivity are essential, the question of how best to build company culture is paramount. When associates are not integrated into a set of shared assumptions and work patterns, they lack context for communications, are less willing or able to problem-solve, and are more likely to jump to conclusions. As a result, teams can become constrained in their ability to manage operational processes while collaborating to implement needed changes to the system.

Talent Need vs. Talent Availability

Available estimates suggest a significant shortfall in supply chain talent over the coming decade. Given the highly competitive market, companies must critically evaluate and dramatically overhaul their human resource practices. Talent and leadership development programs must be central to how they attract, position, and retain people in the supply chain.

High-performance organizations understand that teams with diverse experiences and knowledge make the best decisions. When people are motivated to succeed at their work, the company succeeds. Yet our discussions with industry leaders suggest that companies often fail to create systems that enable individuals to contribute to their potential. Training, promotion, career development, compensation, and reward systems must feature a long-term commitment to developing every team and individual.

Systems that create limits and ceilings must be eliminated. The planning, work, continuous improvement, and innovation cycles are collapsing exponentially. Successful companies build teams that thrive in the “new speed of business.”

The Mid-Level Manager Crunch

The talent gap between entry-level and senior planning professionals is growing and presents several challenges for organizations. Entry-level planners require substantial training and acculturation before contributing in full. Training new associates is usually the responsibility of mid-level managers who are already balancing a considerable workload.

At the same time, more senior planning team members must often be reskilled. The competencies required to succeed in the planning space change rapidly. Senior members may be unfamiliar with new technologies or management styles. Without thoughtful strategies in place, the need to develop new competencies may lead to conflict within the team.

Mid-level managers are also often tasked with navigating the challenges of changing established mindsets and habits. The result can be overwhelming for them, slowing progress on critical transformations.

Lack of Senior Leadership in Planning

In many organizations, planning processes are driven by quarterly decision cycles at the category level. Often, these decisions are linked to an S&OP process bogged down with difficulties in demand planning, gaps in the supply base, and cross-functional disconnects.

As a result, planning leaders have typically spent their time reacting to mismatches between an incomplete (and often outdated) plan and the operational realities facing their functional area. Planning leaders typically have not occupied senior-level positions with responsibilities tied directly to strategic initiatives.

Need for Broad-Based Organization Actions & Supports

The competencies planning professionals require to be successful in the future often involve managing the social and personal dimensions of system transformations. Yet many companies continue to approach talent development through targeted activities to acquire technical skills. They have failed to combine robust educational opportunities with processes, metrics, and incentives to create broad-based experiences for growth. Companies must map current planning talent and leadership to understand their strengths and weaknesses and provide experiences for growth that align with strategic priorities. Holistic approaches are key.

In my next post, I’ll discuss in detail the core competencies and organizational action areas needed to develop good planning talent.

To learn more about how your company can partner with us to explore advanced concepts in supply chain management, visit ASCC.

Download the white paper using the form below to read more about developing the next generation of supply chain planning talent.