‘Supply chain leaders must improve talent retention rates’

talent pipeline

At a recent talent management workshop by Supply Chain Media, the overall statement for discussion was: ‘We should manage the talent pipeline in the same way as our supply chains’. Supply chain executives from home and abroad endorsed this statement. Karen-Marie Katholm from AkzoNobel: “We need to identify shortages or skills gaps and then proactively address them.”

In many ways, a talent pipeline exhibits the same characteristics as a supply chain. It is not only necessary to ensure sufficient inflow, but also to facilitate progress by removing bottlenecks and eliminating waste. Business administration graduate Wouter Bak therefore likes to look at the talent pipeline with supply chain professional’s eyes. “Most companies mainly focus on the beginning of the pipeline: the inflow of talent. But anyone who wants to ensure sufficient talent in the long term will have to look at the entire pipeline.”

During the workshop at Rituals, Bak showed that the flow of talent often stagnates. As an example, he cited a company where the supply chain director left. Often, the company’s management chooses the safe option and hires an expensive head-hunter to bring in a new supply chain director from outside. “But for the same amount money, you can also promote someone from within your own organization and hire two or three new young talents.”

Planning years ahead

The statement that companies should treat their talent pipeline as an end-to-end supply chain was endorsed by supply chain executives from the Netherlands and abroad. “I totally agree”, said Magne Setnes, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Heineken. “Top talents need a personal development and career plan that looks years ahead. This is necessary to create the opportunities and experiences these talents need to succeed. The pipeline needs to be built on a solid foundation, with early identification and signalling of talents being key to success.”

Karen-Marie Katholm also concurred. “The approach we use to optimize our supply chains by eliminating bottlenecks and improving efficiency should also be applied to our talent pipeline. That means identifying areas where there may be shortages or skills gaps. We should then proactively address these,” stated AkzoNobel’s Chief Integrated Supply Chain Officer.

Digital skills

Katholm also drew attention to digital skills. “Improving these is crucial in today’s changing supply chain landscape.” Jamal Chamariq, Senior Vice President Global Supply Chain at Estée Lauder, also emphasized this. “Talent is a key factor in supply chain. Strong decision-making, judgement, communication skills and knowledge in areas such as planning, procurement, production and logistics remain essential. But as artificial intelligence, automation and other technologies continue to change the way we work, it is also increasingly important for supply chain leaders to be digitally savvy.”

By ‘digitally savvy’, Chamariq means having data science competences, among other things. “Talents need to know how to turn insights from data into tangible actions. After all, in our supply chain, we need to put data analytics at the heart of improving service levels, quality, safety, efficiency, speed to market and sustainability. People will always be at the heart of what we do, so we need to continue investing in their skills.”

Analysing needs

Thomas Panzer, former Senior Vice President and Head of Supply Chain at Bayer, outlined the process steps that need extra attention to strengthen the talent pipeline. “We need to proactively recruit talent by using digital platforms and advanced sourcing techniques. We need to analyse data to identify talent needs and labour market trends. And we need to adapt the recruitment process in line with talents’ expectations by deploying digital tools.”

Panzer also called for extra attention to gaps in the talent pipeline. “With careful succession planning, we can identify potential gaps early, mitigate risks and promote a smooth transfer. Offering stretch assignments, job rotations and short- and long-term assignments contributes to the career development of talents. It is the responsibility of supply chain leaders to improve talent retention rates by focusing on their development.”

Super specialists are not the answer

In talent management, collaboration and knowledge sharing across teams and departments is essential, Panzer argued. “After all, we need personalities who think entrepreneurially and take a holistic view of processes and systems.” Tommy Rahbek Nielsen, COO of Vestas, agreed: “Talent development is important in all functions. Appointing super specialists is probably too limited in its approach. We need talents who support the whole business model and have an end-to-end vision.”