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The First Step In Talent Management: Finding the Best Supply Chain Talent

By Mike Burnette
March 03, 2014

Editor’s Note: Mike Burnette is Associate Director at The Global Supply Chain Institute University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Business Administration

At the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Business Administration, we interface with hundreds of business and supply chain (SC) leaders each year.  In our discussions, supply chain leaders consistently highlight that finding, recruiting, and developing the best supply chain managers is their number one challenge.

In addition, after working and leading supply chain technician and manager recruiters globally and regionally for the last 30+ years, I had the opportunity to discuss and confirm my learning with two supply chain talent supply managers from two leading Fortune 500 companies. Based on this input, I believe that the following represents the most important elements of supplying talent. (Note: talent management is a disciplined process that requires multiple systems working together in concert to deliver an organization’s human resource goals.)

Let’s consider talent management within a “Who/Can/Fit/Where” framework.

Who?

The most important leadership work in talent supply is to define in detail the “who”, i.e. the right person with the right skill set.  This is the step that companies struggle with the most.  We’ve found that many supply chain professionals either skip this work or do it poorly. Leading companies document requirements in detail, fully communicate precise needs, and make sure they are fully aligned with the decision makers and stakeholders across the company.  Some sample questions that could be asked include:

• Are you looking for a hard worker with potential that you can develop?
• Are you looking for an experienced supply chain leader with specific expertise?
• Are you looking for a college graduate with excellent technical skills and leadership potential?
• Are you looking for a college graduate with excellent planning skills and potential to develop technically?
• Are you looking for someone who can become a senior supply chain executive (VP)?

The important point is to clearly define the “who” so the talent systems can focus on identifying candidates “who” have the right characteristics.

Can?

This is the step that many companies do very well. There are hundreds of interviewing guides, resume programs, and tests available to determine if the person has the experiences, aptitude, and skills to become a supply chain professional.  The most critical element of the “can” is to follow the time-tested principle that “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”  The activities in the “can” should focus on demonstrated behaviors and performance.

Fit?

The third element in a disciplined talent management process is whether the person will “fit” into the current culture (or into a future, aspirational culture). This is the element of talent supply that requires the most judgment.  Some key questions to think about are:
• How would you describe your current culture? Can you describe its current behaviors and attributes?
• What is the culture that you want? Can you describe the behaviors you want?

These are difficult questions and will be assessed differently by different leaders and parts of the organization. A second “fit” challenge is the balance between finding someone that can excel in the culture you want versus creating a diverse organization (diverse thinking and experiences). Supply chain professionals we talk to confirm that diverse teams always make better decisions.  This is the “sweet spot,” where diverse thinking and experiences become critical attributes to success.

One key to watch out for: Fit does not mean finding people that act, look, and think like you. Fit is about finding the right people to enable the culture your business needs to succeed.

Where?

Now that you are clear on “who” you are recruiting, whether he/she “can” do the work, and if he/she is a “fit” within the culture you are creating, you are now ready to actually search in earnest for the right talent. For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on manager recruiting.

There is a debate in supply chain circles spawned by advancing technology– Should you focus on Internet recruiting? Should you establish strong university campus partnerships?  Or, should you rely on traditional network approaches? The answer is “yes” (all are critical).

A. University Partnership – After defining the “who,” top companies typically target recruiting the best, new supply chain talent. These students come from the best supply chain universities. I came to UT, after retiring from being a global supply chain executive for over 30 years, to help create the best, next generation of supply chain leaders.  University partnerships require effort (physically on campus and in the classroom). Talent supply managers must invest in getting to know the students and determining the students with the best “fit.”  Your most valuable assets in this process are the students you hired in the last two years. They have or can get the data on which students would best “fit” your team. Additionally, it is vital to have the supply chain leaders actively and visible involved on campus. This work includes HR and supply chain leaders. HR owns the process/work and the supply chain leaders are the best judge of talent and fit.

B. Internet – The Internet enables companies to “cast a broad talent search net.”  Having an easy way for potential candidates to access your corporate website and apply online is a necessary step to compete for the best talent.  Leading companies treat the Internet path as another “partnership” that should develop and grow in its own unique and different way.  This tool can assess 10x more candidates quickly (less investment in campus visits but more investment in the interviewing work).

C. Internships – I have specifically highlighted internship programs due to their importance. Internships are a part of the university partnerships and Internet work.  The internship enables you to get a “first-hand” experience with new talent in a way that increases quality of the recruits, accept rate, and retention. Some important elements of internships include;

a. Have your own Intern Program – recruit interns from other leading companies, but the best data comes from your own program
b. Making it Real – to properly evaluate interns, you must see them perform in real situations
c. Providing Great Coaches – not everyone on your team is a great coach – make sure your best coaches work with the interns and new hires

D. Networking – For recruiting needs of “experienced supply chain managers,” finding the candidates from personal, well-developed, supply chain networks is the most effective tool. Typically, experienced supply chain managers will enter your organization at middle to upper-leadership positions. Therefore, he/she will have a significant impact on results and organizational culture.  Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of an experienced manager-recruit enables you to ensure that you can deliver the “who,” “can,” and “fit.”

Recruiting the best supply chain talent is highly competitive. Being clear on who you need, being personally involved, and actively following these best practices will enable you to win.


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