Chain of Thought

Half Your Brain Tied Behind Your Back ISN'T Fair

Too much supply chain talent is operating on half a brain. That's not meant as an insult, it's just the challenge of our human condition. It's about hemispheric dominance. Most of us are left brained because that's what our school systems reinforced in us. Let's face it, technical analysts eat better than most poets and artists.

But if you believe educators like Stanley Fawcett, a professor at Georgia Southern University, a logistics professional has to be as good a choreographer as a business manager. A choreographer gets people to work closely together. He teaches them the right steps then gets off the stage and lets them perform. He talked about this from a stage at HK Systems'/Dematic's Material Handling & Logistics Conference a couple weeks ago in Park City, UT. His topic: Preparing Supply Chain Leaders of Tomorrow.

To do that, he said, you also need to be a coach who corrects mistakes quickly and a champion who changes his or her company into a learning organization. They encourage failure but demand excellence. In fact they create a safe harbor to fail excellently. But when you fail, you must learn from it.

If that's not touchy/feely enough for you right brainers, Fawcett also says good managers need to set up a succession plan. In other words, make sure the people you cultivate will be able to take your place. Teach yourself out of a job.

None of this is easy to do. There just aren't that many people who make it through one organization to develop the cross functional skills required to act as the hub of that organization. And that's what a good supply chain professional needs to be. That person needs some experience in quality control, R&D, finance, production planning, account management, process engineering, commodity management—all in addition to logistics management. Without such a hub to unite these spokes, an organization's mobility is limited.

Fawcett says to get today's skulls full of mush to maintain interest in one company for the long run, they need two-year development cycles. Start them off developing a critical skill set then after two years, transfer them to a new geography and a new function. Put them on cross functional teams. By the time 8-10 years go by, that person will be well connected and ready for senior leadership, according to Fawcett.

Only one problem with all that: how do you hang onto the superstar you create? They'll be headhunter bait. Competitors would love to get their hands on such rare talent without taking any role or responsibility—or economic stake—it their development. So what's the point? Why bother?

Because you CAN hang onto such talent. Just make your company a good place to work and offer good compensation. What a concept.

No, it's not easy as that. Developing talent is a gamble. But life's a gamble. Anyone with half a brain knows that.

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