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Make Your Supply Chain Competency Model Built-to-Last

May 30, 2016
To assess the capabilities of your supply chain team, focus on identifying and then plugging any gaps in their competencies.

Perfection may be your goal when developing a competency model for your supply management team. While that’s admirable, keep in mind the most important characteristics of the plan are consistency and value.

In our industry, we have explicit expectations of the capabilities a supply chain professional must possess and demonstrate in their role and at their current level. Key characteristics of a good competency model include aggregating those capabilities into core competencies that are supported by logical sub-competencies. It also should have the levels of role experience and a description of what each level means.

Of course, for a competency model to be effective, you have to judge the value that it truly provides. You can identify the value by surveying the current level of competency that individuals possess and evaluating where the gaps are as a part of their individual development plan. There, you’ll begin to see organization-wide competency gaps which will enable you to create a roadmap for addressing them over time.

Re-running the survey of competencies should provide feedback on progress and also enable individuals to focus on new (or existing) areas for improving their skills and knowledge.

There are other metrics you should follow regularly: increases in employee training hours, improvements in the employee engagement index and employee retention figures, just to name a few. Employee retention is particularly critical since many supply management teams are hiring, or recently have hired, younger professionals who have their own idea of how they can advance their careers.

While the number of competencies, sub-competencies and role levels is not a hard rule, you need enough of each to cover the breadth and depth of the work being performed. In fact, it’s a good idea to stretch the competencies for a role to its boundaries and not rely just on those capabilities that are safe and historically a narrow definition of the job role. This enables you to include things like communication, and analytical and decision-making skills (e.g., business acumen), which can be one reason why an individual struggles in his or her role even if they possess the technical skills.

Finally, a good competency model clearly states the knowledge, experience and credentials one must attain to move to the next level within their role or to be able to transfer to a new role.

Be sure to stick with a framework that can last many years. Some organizations create a competency model but then don’t touch it even though the demands of the job roles change significantly. If you develop your own competencies and sub-competencies, you should review them at least once a year with your team. Or, consider adopting models that are industry standards so you’re not constantly trying to keep your framework up-to-date.

One final note to remember: A competency model is not a business process nor is it simply an empirical truth when it comes to survey results for individuals and your team.

Supply management processes overlay any competency model. It is important to identify the intersection of your processes with the model of competencies because this will help you to translate where competency gaps may point to issues around process, tools and organization. Because a gap in competencies may require an explanation beyond an individual or group’s skills and knowledge, the results of any survey need to be viewed in the context of your process capabilities.

For instance, I know one individual who selected a lower-level capability on a recent competency survey than he would have in his previous role with a different company. His reason was that the data to make certain decisions was not available in his current company and role, leading to a lower ability to execute his job in this area.

My organization has created an example of competency model structure –the ISM Mastery Model. This framework contains 16 core competencies, 70+ sub-competencies, and four job role levels, from “essentials” to “executive leadership.”

Don’t worry about trying to create the perfect competency model. Just make sure you include a full understanding of the reasons there may be a gap in competencies. This way you’ll be implementing a framework that is appropriate, flexible and built-to-last.

Jim Barnes is managing director, ISM Services, with the Institute of Supply Management. He is responsible for collaborating with clients to find unique solutions for their company’s procurement and supply chain management challenges. His 25 years of professional services experience helps him assess an organization’s potential opportunities and work to implement new transformational strategies.

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