11 core competencies critical for today’s supply chain planners

These competencies are layered and extensive and provide an overview of what’s needed to measure supply chain planners’ effectiveness and develop leaders

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This is the second 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.

A version of this post was shared in April 2024 on the GSCI blog, where supply chain professionals can find essential reading from leading researchers and scholars on the latest trends and topics relevant to global supply chain management. 

Mindful of the five critical challenges facing the planning profession, supply chain decision-makers must ensure that when they hire, they develop their talent to be successful in their roles.

In previous research, teams with GSCI’s Advanced Supply Chain Collaborative identified seven critical capabilities for effective planning past 2030. In our latest paper, we identified 11 core competencies; they represent a cluster of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes the individual and the organization must possess so they aren’t left behind in an ever-evolving business landscape.

The 11 core competencies for planning professionals and their representative behaviors are as follows:

Ambiguity tolerance

Supply chain planners must be able to effectively make and implement decisions when causal relationships are unclear, when there are multiple possible interpretations or vagueness in precise meaning, or when a situation cannot be adequately structured or categorized because of insufficient cues. Ambiguity tolerance is reflected in taking logical next steps without direction, making decisions with incomplete information, integrating a range of perspectives and data points, and envisioning a future state based on values and trends.

Awareness

Good planners must see themselves from the perspective of others and their work within a larger professional and personal context. The ability to recognize one’s skills or strengths and act based on those abilities when appropriate, as well as identify limitations and seek learning and support based on those limitations, is reflected when taking confident action when capable. It is also demonstrated in knowing when to escalate a decision and engage internal/external partners, being willing to learn, having the humility to ask for help, prioritizing self-care, and addressing one’s personal and professional life with others.

Change leadership

This refers to helping individuals and groups achieve results by using tactics to prepare them for the changes associated with intervention. These leaders help with adoption and reduce resistance to change, taking care of people’s concerns regarding a specific change and communicating with everyone affected. Change leadership is eagerly becoming involved in change, willingly investing resources in change, and being aware of the impact of one’s behaviors on change initiatives. These types of leaders empower others, accept ownership and responsibility for the success of change initiatives, articulate a strategy for change and shared vision that gets people excited, and connect change with shared values.

Compelling communication

A modern supply chain planner must communicate in a clear, concise, data-driven manner oriented toward concrete action by the target audience. They must also connect content to the aims and values of the broader organization and stakeholders. Great communicators articulate a concrete action plan for the target audience, create excitement, rally stakeholders with communications, and present a compelling vision for the future.

Conflict management

Managing differences within an organization is critical. How do supply chain planners do it? Typically, in three ways. First, they promote organizational learning to understand how to diagnose problems and intervene when appropriate. Next, they satisfy the needs and expectations of the strategic constituencies (stakeholders) to gain balance. Finally, they promote ethical actions for everyone’s benefit. Conflict management requires managing interpersonal and group differences, departmental and organizational differences, and internal, partner, and broader stakeholder differences.

Cultural leadership

This term has a reputation for being a vague, feel-good talking point. However, organizational cultures—social systems that define shared norms, values, and assumptions—are critical for performance. Because of their boundary-spanning roles, planners, in particular, must be mindful of how they support innovative and inclusive company cultures. Cultural leadership integrates, supports, and promotes company culture, sets the cultural tone, and fosters the promotion of diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives, and organizational learning and change.

Data analytics

Planners must be proficient at analyzing data (real-time, historical, unstructured, structured, qualitative) to identify patterns and generate insights that inform and, in some cases, automate decisions, connecting intelligence and action.

Empathy

Recognizing and understanding another person’s experience, communicating and confirming that understanding, and acting appropriately and in a helpful manner are necessary for planners in today’s business environment. Empathy is reflected in disseminating knowledge and willingness to help and taking affection action on behalf of others.

Negotiation skills

This is the ability to uncover mutually beneficial tradeoffs through a prosocial concern for maximizing outcomes for all parties. Modern planners must be willing to exchange information and behave in ways that build trust. Negotiation skills are reflected in problem-solving, building trust, asking questions of the other party to uncover interests/priorities, providing information regarding one’s interests/priorities, identifying tradeoffs and making multi-issue offers, and identifying and using objective decision-making criteria.

Team leadership

Leading a team has many layers. A planner must articulate a clear purpose, set an appropriate cultural tone, and specify tasks. Once they’ve done so, they should assign distinct roles within the team, provide suitable leadership, and identify talent and resource gaps. Team leadership means putting the right people in the right roles and advocating for the team internally and externally.

Technological fluency

A detailed working knowledge of how current, new, and emerging technologies can drive new opportunities for people, processes, and organizations. Technological fluency is demonstrated through seeking learning opportunities and developing critical thinking around usage. It is also important to critically evaluate the application and assess the process for generating outcomes, as well as the outcomes themselves. Being comfortable with and able to use and engage technology creatively is critical.

These competencies are layered and extensive. They provide an overview of what’s needed to measure supply chain planners’ effectiveness and develop tomorrow’s planning leaders. In my next post, I’ll focus on the organizational action areas required to develop top talent.

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

About the Global Supply Chain Institute

The University of Tennessee's Global Supply Chain Institute (GSCI) is the preeminent hub for supply chain thought leadership and talent development. The pinnacle of GSCI’s efforts is UT’s Supply Chain Forum, which brings together more than 80 of the world’s most innovative and impactful companies twice a year to learn, network, and recruit the country’s top supply chain talent. 

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There are 11 core competencies that provide an overview of what’s needed to measure supply chain planners’ effectiveness and develop tomorrow’s planning leaders.
(Photo: Getty Images)
There are 11 core competencies that provide an overview of what’s needed to measure supply chain planners’ effectiveness and develop tomorrow’s planning leaders.

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