Many of us are familiar with different management methods, styles and techniques. But what about the qualities of the managers themselves, the individuals that are expected to carry organizations, motivate staff and deliver the results? Organizations require a leadership/managerial team that excels with a mix of styles able to cope with various scenarios. Not surprisingly attributes and ability vary between individuals with external factors such as organizational culture (and pressure) having much influence over management styles.
So then, whilst it would appear that management techniques are generic with similar methods used whatever the function, given the often complex and varied nature of tasks and workload in the supply chain sphere, what are the qualities that sets an excellent supply chain manager apart from a mediocre one?
I believe that there are four key areas worth reviewing
Effective task management
All roles require getting things done. Getting things done or managing tasks requires close attention to schedule and deliverable. These attributes are typically associated with projects or issue resolution. Supply chain’s are unsurprisingly full of projects – consider
• Supplier rationalization
• Strategic sourcing
• Cost reduction
• Technology deployment
• New Product Introduction
• Etc etc
These tasks are often of critical importance to the business and the disciplines required for achieving success are modestly different than merely managing staff or transactions. Indeed the disciplines required to deliver a task often do not require significant functional competence in the technical aspect of the task (that’s not to say that no supply chain knowledge is required). Merely if schedule and risk are managed appropriately and the deliverable is obtained the business is satisfied.
Managers will interact with staff to review deliverables, timelines, and issues but often where things are going well the actual management time can be limited to staff meetings. As a result, staff morale resides with the criticality of the task and the performance of the team in its execution.
This style of management is often required in times of crisis. Consider your own business which may transfer personal who excel at this style of management to manage specific projects. These individuals are often very driven and clearly focused on their customer (often to the detriment of day to day activity).
Effective staff management
The skills associated with managing staff are associated with building and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a team whilst delivering day to day tasks (specifically transactional/execution and customer issue resolution).
For staff managers the strength is in their team rather than their own capabilities, typically comprised of individual staff members with different skills and attributes. True staff management takes the strengths and weaknesses of a group of individuals and develops them to match the continuing requirements of the business.
Managing staff will involve, motivating team members, measuring performance, developing processes, dealing with inputs/outputs (suppliers/customers) the staff manager will be concerned as to how a team executes their task and how that task fits into the broader processes of the business.
For staff managers – close interaction between themselves and their team is key – issues such as their work environment, training, personal development (including remuneration and career development) are of far more importance than they are in a task or project environment.
Expertise and Experience
Without appropriate skills and experience, could anyone excel at supply chain management? Probably not – within any business discipline there is a learning curve where subject knowledge acts as a barrier to performance. Whether this knowledge is acquired through training or simply through on the job experience it is still a necessity. Indeed you could argue that in recent years –the entry level knowledge required within supply chain has grown given the innovations in the market (P2P, outsourcing, global supplier networks etc). Expertise and experience leads to competency which reduces business risk.
Leadership is perhaps a bit more intangible – it is the business x-factor that separates a good manager from a great manager. What is leadership? Perhaps its best described as a means to influence. Leadership results in one person developing and communicating a strategy and enlisting and mobilizing the work force to execute it. Leaders don’t necessarily do the activity but have attributes such as ability, trust, charisma and gravitas which enables buy in from the workforce.
There are different styles of management. There is typically a requirement to position people in roles that match their skills and attributes. Some people are great at managing tasks but are not great at managing people or transactions so businesses find themselves being selective.
A world class supply chain manager is likely to contain a mix of these skills – having the industry knowledge and experience to devise a strategy, being able to create momentum for tasks with enough attention to detail to ensure execution processes go off without issue.