Supply Chain Development

7 ways to develop Supply Chain team

How to plan your Supply Chain team development? How to build your own competencies as a manager responsible for Logistics?

I don’t think anyone needs convincing that it’s worth investing in people. The need to work on oneself and one’s team is clearly illustrated by the proverbial dialogue between CEO and CFO.

CFO ask CEO about team development

But how do you practically plan for team development in Supply Chain or Logistics?

There are 7 ways to build competencies in Logistics. The tips can be implemented in any organization. Regardless of its size and budget. All of them I have used myself.

1. DIRECT EXPERIENCE

Experience in collaborative functions still remains one of the most valuable competencies in Supply Chain Management.

Nothing can replace experience on the internal supplier side or the distribution center. Whether we’re talking about developing people in management, managerial or specialist positions.

The Supply Chain still relies heavily on the physical labor of many people. Even technological developments, referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, will not change that.

That’s why it’s good for managers responsible for forecasting, planning and optimizing supply chains to not only analytically understand, but literally feel, the complexity of an organization’s operations.

Supply Chain professionals often enter the business with no prior experience in Logistics and therefore have no idea what’s behind the decisions they make or the flows of goods they control.

However, if you can understand the physical effort it takes to send a customer’s order through a distribution center, you can also make better decisions and solve problems more efficiently (or notice them at all).

understanding warehouse layout and team development
Source: A Pen and Paper Approach for a Small-Sized Retail Warehouse, Logiwa

Today’s warehouses tend to have much more complex processes than goods flows shown in the graphic. That’s why the experience gained on the warehouse floor is invaluable for anyone in the supply chain.

My own direct experience

After years of working in demand planning, inventory management and S&OP process, I decided to get some “hands-on experience” in warehouse operations management in Amazon.

Through the years I spend in Fulfillment Centers, I know that companies that invest in team development by allowing their employees to change careers across the organization win in the long run. You can read more on that in previous article on the 3 things I have learned working in Amazon.

Here let’s sum up only that regardless if an employee stays in a new role or returns to their home area after 2 to 3 years, they benefit from a broader understanding of business processes everywhere.

That allows for more informed decisions and faster responses. Why is it so important? Because today in business, it is not the bigger who wins, but it is the faster and better collaborators who win.

2. INTERNAL MENTORS

Maybe you are not able to provide your team with direct experience in Logistics (internal supplier) or Sales (internal customer).

Then developing a formal cross-functional coaching process within the organization is the second most effective way to develop Supply Chain competencies.

It has been scientifically proven that receiving feedback on how to interact with team members playing in other positions improves the performance of football players. Analogous mechanisms also work in business.

Coaching should start with selecting managers or senior professionals in Logistics or Sales and preparing them for the coaching role. This process should include writing down expectations, training listening skills, and providing feedback.

Then you could pair up employees and start a series of regular meetings can begin to share knowledge and experience about how one department affects the other, as well as understanding each other’s needs.

My own internal mentor

A formal internal coaching program will also likely have another effect. It will increase the amount of face-to-face contact between people, thus increasing everyone’s motivation to work on themselves and the process.

team coaching and team development
Source: Agile Coaching, Blue Professionals

I think that people rarely give their best just to improve the result in terms of KPIs or to fight for a departmental bonus.

The most motivating thing is to come into contact with people whose work and life are affected by our daily actions. Everyone wants their work to count for someone.

That is why internal coaching conducted by people working in Logistics or Sales can contribute so much. Many times understanding the supplier and the customer on an individual level is more important than acquiring formal knowledge.

This is not just a beautiful idea but an experimentally proven fact. More on this topic can be found in ‘Give and Take’ by Adam Grant. I recommend reading it to anyone who manages or plans to manage people (not only in Supply Chain).

3. ACCESS TO PROFESSIONAL LITERATURE

Although the world has evolved towards digitization it is still worth to read. Learning professional knowledge through specialized books and magazines is an effective way to improve professional competence.

Many people acquire knowledge most efficiently by reading. Why? You can read at your own pace and at your own time. When you know you feel the best and learn the most.

That’s why providing employees with access to Supply Chain Management books and magazines can be a good investment.

It doesn’t matter whether you offer individual employees a book as a kind of bonus or organize a library in the office. It is more important to provide opportunities for employees to read the materials within the working time.

I know that this type of recommendation arouses surprise in many companies. However, the largest organizations in the world work on team development as part of their independent activities.

An extreme example is Google where everyone can work on their own projects for 20% of the time. This should be thought-provoking for anyone who wants to motivate their employees to grow professionally.

If you get through this mental challenge, there is still a question – what to share? On the market, there are many books. Some world-class items. Some rather academic. Personally I would start with those three:

Then you can follow on what’s visible on my bookshelf.

In addition to books, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on professional journals. Review everything you can find (this sphere changes quickly). Pick out which one features articles that are most relevant to your company’s profile.

4. EXTERNAL TRAINERS & CONSULTANTS

Another worthwhile way to develop your Supply Chain team is to provide your employees with access to external training or to design your own training program in collaboration with a consultant.

When creating such training, you should focus on the practical side of the business. More theory than practice won’t benefit any company bottom line. Rather it will translate into dissatisfaction.

Cognitive psychology research has shown that adults remember more and develop better skills if they acquire them through active action rather than passive theory absorption.

Personally I fully agree with this fact. Out of all the training courses I have taken, I remember best the parts based on concrete case studies, practical exercises or games.

I still cannot forget working on the Addidas case study in Russia. That ended with a call with Peter Brook. At the time, Peter was the eCommerce manager for Addidas Russia and was actually responsible for Supply Chain management there.

The meeting with Peter allowed me to confront ideas with real solutions applied in a given case.

5. ONLINE COURSES & TRAINING

Not every organization can afford to invest in employee training that last days or weeks. In that case, online courses and training are a sensible alternative for team development.

The Internet is a source of knowledge in every field. Including knowledge in the area of Supply Chain. Most are in the price range between €50 and €200. Sometimes there are also free gems.

So where to look? I personally recommend the Udemy portal, where you can find a variety of courses on Supply Chain Management.

I also recommend taking a look at courses offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through www.edx.org you can take the following Supply Chain courses completely free of charge:

At MIT courses are for free. You only pay for the official certificate. Depending on the topic between $175 and $300 which is still gives very high return on investment.

In addition to competitive pricing, the advantage of online training is the ability to participate from any location in the world. Every participant can also follow subsequent modules whenever her or she want.

6. CONFERENCES & EVENTS

Attending industry conferences can be an extremely educational experience for the Supply Chain team. Especially for managers, whose role includes inspiring change within the organization.

Such events allow participants to discuss real problems and challenges with people working in other organizations. Gain knowledge that may not be available until many years later through formal courses and industry literature.

How do you get the most out of industry conferences? You can’t just focus on the formally conducted lectures. You should also make contacts “in the industry” and meet people. Before you go anywhere read those articles:

On the list of conferences I consider worth attending I will write separately in some time.

Finally… Supply Chain Team Motivation

Finally, I would like to emphasize that all the indicated methods of team development will be of little use if you don’t motivate your team. Whether in business or any other area of activity 70% of success is energy.

In the beginning, you need to create a workplace where people will want not only to work but also to learn and grow professionally. Otherwise, they will either pursue their training goals unreflectively or the CFO’s fear described in the introduction will come true.

This was well put by Sir Richarch Branson, who in 2015 received the award for the world’s most admired boss. The secret to employee development according to Richard is:

Train People well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.

— Richard Branson

Hopefully, the ways to develop your Supply Chain team described in this article will help you realize the first part of this advice. The second will have to wait for another article.

In the meantime, I encourage you to sign up for the Logistics Simply newsletter. You’ll always be up-to-date on how to effectively manage Supply Chain and you’ll receive a set of resources related to planning for growth in the field and Logistics.

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