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Written by Dan Pellathy

This is the fourth and final post in a series 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.

In the first post of this series on supply chain planning talent development, I outlined five critical challenges facing the profession. In the second, I shared the cluster of knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential for planners to succeed in today’s business world. And in the third, I looked at organizational action areas for developing talent.

To close this series, I focus on the critical lack of senior leadership in planning.

In most organizations, planning leaders have spent time reacting to their area’s operational realities, not occupying senior-level positions with responsibilities tied to strategic initiatives. Companies have failed to combine robust educational opportunities with processes, metrics, and incentives to create broad-based experiences for growth.

As a result, companies are challenged to map current talent and leadership, understand the strengths and weaknesses of the planning team, and provide growth experiences aligned with strategic priorities.

Moving into Senior Leadership

The research team assembled by GSCI’s Advanced Supply Chain Collaborative considered a range of experiences meaningful for planning professionals as they moved into leadership positions.

Required Experiences for Senior Planning Leaders

  • Exposure to functional areas across the supply chain, in particular, international logistics, to gain an end-to-end perspective on planning and operations
  • Strong operational experience in tactical planning across the supply chain, including demand planning, material and supply planning, production planning, customer logistics planning, inventory and distribution planning
  • Strong understanding of forecasting systems; ability to evaluate inputs, processes, and outputs of forecasting systems and learn from system failures
  • Significant experience in cross-functional business processes, especially sales and operations planning, integrated business planning, demand-supply integration
  • Significant experience engaging with critical supply chain partners, including suppliers, customers, and third-party providers
  • Significant experience with data analytics, strong analytical and technical background in information systems management
  • Strong understanding of planning tools, particularly related to artificial intelligence and automation
  • Experience in commercial, sales, or business development areas
  • Experience managing complex systems (e.g., projects in manufacturing, retail, consulting)
  • Strategic leadership; experience as a change agent

Beneficial Supplementary Experiences for Advancement

  • Exposure to long-range business planning, long-range capacity planning, strategic planning, market analysis, and forecasting
  • Experience in support functions such as finance, human resources, information technology
  • Experience in risk management or compliance, particularly trade compliance, security requirements, international agreements
  • Significant work in process implementation, improvement, or system transformation
  • Work in finding new approaches and solutions, piloting innovations
  • Experience managing a profit/loss statement and working toward profitability metrics
  • Work that falls outside the planning or supply chain space that requires change leadership
  • Work that incorporates an end-to-end view of the supply chain and its role in business success

Planning leaders must have a proven track record of strategic leadership. They must use creative problem-solving skills and strategic vision to help team members and the organization achieve long-term goals. In addition, planning leaders must be objective and data-driven. Managing teams and engaging top leadership around critical system transformations requires individuals who can present a compelling vision of the future grounded in present realities. Organizations should look for these competencies as they seek to hire, develop, and promote leaders in the planning space.

Organizational Support and Structures for Planning Leaders

Finding a suitable candidate for senior leadership is a challenge. The background most appropriate for senior planning leadership depends on the organization’s needs. Different experiences may be required depending on where the organization is in its transformation journey.

When individuals are available to assume senior roles, organizations can enable their success by establishing a range of supports and structures:

  • Planning leaders should occupy a senior-level position (e.g., executive senior vice president) that reports directly to the CEO rather than a COO or other functional leader
  • Strong connections should be created between planning and strategic initiatives
  • Planning leaders must regularly and substantively engage with senior leadership in other functional areas.
  • A well-staffed and resourced team responsible for regularly reviewing and developing talent across the supply chain should be provided
  • Planning leaders should assume continual renewal; resources must be available to scan the external environment and incorporate process changes
  • Planning leaders must have significant opportunities to act as change agents; companies should position planning as a leader in transforming systems in other areas.

As reiterated throughout this series, supply chain planning is at the heart of today’s most critical system transformations. Today’s planning professionals must be comfortable managing ambiguity, leading change, and adapting to new technologies. Companies must proactively provide educational opportunities and create processes, metrics, and incentives that build professionals’ competencies in these areas.

As managers incorporate the insights from this research into their organizations, they should consider two final points.

  • Talent and leadership development is a continuous process. Companies must view talent development as a process that requires constant improvement and adjustment. In addition to capturing learnings and implementing appropriate improvements, companies typically conduct more comprehensive reviews. The research team strongly recommends that companies undertake a bi-annual full review of talent that maps out current talent, identifies individual successes and challenges, and defines experiences needed for individuals to progress according to their development plan. In addition, companies should maintain a rolling five-year strategic plan for acquiring, developing, and promoting planning talent.
  • There is a significant opportunity to partner with educational institutions. Forward-leaning educational institutions respond to today’s challenges by creating opportunities beyond traditional degrees. These institutions are staffed by highly effective educators who are experts in their field. Moreover, these institutions have deep organizational knowledge and resources to develop educational offerings. For example, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers various educational offerings for corporate partners, including traditional degree programs, targeted talent development programs, a biannual Supply Chain Forum, collaborative research opportunities, tailored corporate training, audits, and consulting. Companies should prioritize working with educational institutions as a core component of their broader talent development program.

Senior leaders should be concerned about the challenges facing their planning functions. Today’s value creation systems are severely constrained by insufficient talent and ineffective processes for developing leaders. Yet many companies fail to recognize this critical constraint even as pressure on supply chain planners intensifies. Talent and leadership development programs must be central to how companies attract, position, and retain people in the supply chain. High-performance organizations understand that teams of people with diverse experiences and knowledge make the best decisions.

When people are motivated to succeed at their work, the company succeeds. Yet our discussions suggest that companies often fail to create systems that enable individuals to contribute to their potential. If companies hope to build out planning capabilities that meet the challenges of today and establish a foundation for tomorrow, they will need to take urgent action in developing planning talent. I hope the learnings I’ve shared on behalf of our team will help managers on that journey.

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.