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The Talent Challenge

March 5, 2012

I received an interesting note from Prof Rob Handfield (Poole School of Management, NCSU) today. In it, he said:

“A recent Hackett Group study found that supply chain management functions in organizations polled are working concurrently on nearly 10 initiatives deemed as “critical” or “strategic” to the enterprise. As such, people with Project/Program management skills, solid business acumen, analytical capabilities, and an ability to manage relationships are in short supply. To drive any transformation initiative, it is imperative that companies keep their staff engaged in those areas that are resource intensive and value-added in nature. This means not only retaining the people who are key in leading these initiatives, but also building a pipeline of talent that will fill the emerging gaps in capabilities that are starting to appear in the organization. Establishing the right mix of new talent, seasoned veterans, and mid-career hires is a delicate balancing act that must be aligned with the right HR strategies to support this effort.”

These observations are certainly reflected in a growing number of meetings and in discussions I am having with senior management. Of course, part of their challenge is how to balance the volume of operational workload with these more strategic initiatives, but increasingly there is concern that their existing staff has simply been taught the wrong things. This includes a growing frustration with traditional procurement training and certification specifically, a feeling that existing professional bodies are out of touch.

IACCM has been fortunate that it was formed during the internet age and on the premise that many of the skills raised in Rob’s note were becoming critical to management in the global networked world – project and relationship management, business and commercial judgment, analytical skills – and these lie at the heart of our value-driven training and research.

But the transition remains hard to make. Even on the sell-side, where many staff have greater business acumen, deploying resources onto the areas of strategic value is proving beyond many functional leaders. In part, I think there remains too great a tendency to re-invent the wheel. One thing that leaders must learn is to make greater use of benchmarking and opportunities to network more effectively. This power of shared knowledge and information also lies at the heart of IACCM training programs – but it is remarkably hard to get people to move beyond the idea that they must do everything themselves, or that their network is constrained by who they happen to know.

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