2019 Supply Chain Talent Breakthrough Finalists: Taking Charge and Partnering to Win

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If you want to get the equivalent of a micro-degree in supply chain talent strategy, get yourself to Gartner’s Live Americas Forum event every February.

At least half of the 46 sessions focus on people and organization, with the event culminating in a glittering awards ceremony — the Power of the Profession Awards, a community-led recognition of the best initiatives capable of elevating the supply chain profession. There’s also a half-day diversity and inclusion-focused event-within-the-event. Chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) often invite human resources and diversity and inclusion partners, which makes for a richer discussion from different perspectives.

Members share accomplishments on the big stage, but there is also extensive peer-to-peer problem solving going on in breakout tracks and roundtables, and in candid 1:1 discussions. The leading supply chain organizations weren’t always destinations for high-achieving, diverse talent, and the CSCOs leading them today will bluntly tell you so. They share the challenges and casualties to expect when you start doing things fundamentally differently. All of these discussions at Live Americas are treated as crucial strategic inputs to supply chain’s mission and performance, not afterthoughts.

At center stage on the talent front, the finalists for the Power of the Profession Awards’ Talent Breakthrough of the Year spanned industries, continents and public-private partnerships. Under three major headings — Talent Diversity Champion of the Year, Talent Partnership of the Year and Talent Payback of the Year — the stories we heard shared two common themes:

  1. The CSCO did not wait for permission or a signal from corporate leadership or the HR function. The CSCO took the initiative, going after these projects because they had burning business platforms. Personal passion didn’t hurt, either.
  2. Even outside the Talent Partnership of the Year category, no one did this alone. CSCOs went outside of supply chain, beyond company walls to get the content and capability required.

2019 Talent Partnership of the Year

GE Appliances (GEA) emerged from a competitive, diverse field to win the Talent Partnership award, then went on to win the overall Talent Breakthrough award. GEA won the award for its leadership in forming and driving a greater Louisville chapter of Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education. In 2014, difficulties in filling mid-skilled and entry-level manufacturing positions in the greater Louisville, Kentucky, region of the United States led GEA to pull together local manufacturers, agencies and schools to build “A Blueprint for Bridging the Industrial Skills Gap.”

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Over the past few years, the federation established development plans and certifications from middle school to two-year post-high-school/GED technical degrees. Today, the local pipeline for medium-skilled manufacturing talent is solid, as is the sense that “manufacturing is back” as a sector and a profession to take pride in. The initiative is noteworthy for the broad scope of ages and backgrounds it pulls into the pipeline. In 2018, 12% of new hires out of the programs were non-native English speakers and over 350 new hires were from targeted, economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The other finalist for the Talent Partnership of the Year was a unique pairing of Vodafone’s global procurement arm, based in Luxembourg, with the country’s national incubator agency, Technoport. The partnership, dubbed Tomorrow Street, launched in 2017 to help Vodafone explore and apply agile and startup techniques to supplier partnerships as business models increasingly blend together hardware, software, information and services. This partnership provides space and access for Vodafone’s teams to partner with its suppliers and up to 16 late-stage startups to solve big problems and pursue big opportunities.

2019 Talent Payback of the Year

The two finalists for Talent Payback of the Year brought scale and rigor to the challenge of building digital skills and speaking a common language across large, global supply chain organizations.

Agilent Technologies, the award winner, built and launched its OFS Academy in six months, working with partners CorpU, Penn State, Lynda.com and Mind Tools. The platform allows 2,730 associates at 23 sites across four continents access to 10,000 courses. It helps proliferate important foundational learnings like lean and Six Sigma across the organization, but also newer strategies and technologies like blockchain. The platform allows Agilent to customize the role-based view for the tenured PhDs in the organization, as well as newbies. In addition to the shared learning environment, ideas generated and fostered off of OFS Academy are achieving seven- and eight-figure paybacks for Agilent.

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Schneider Electric has won the Talent Breakthrough award in prior years, and this year the company was back to show the people and organizational components of its Tailored Supply Chain 4.0 transformation, focused on 2025 readiness. Schneider highlighted three things. One is a center of digital innovation, a group maps out impacts to the company’s business and operations, including workforce impacts. The second is a concept called Digital Learning Corners, an effort to engage employees on newer technologies like augmented and virtual reality. Finally, a virtual subject matter expert component allows employees to learn from each other, connecting to ask questions or collaborate. The emphasis is on coevolution of supply chain and manufacturing talent alongside emerging technology.

2019 Talent Diversity Champion of the Year

Diversity Champion is a challenging and rarified category. Apart from a handful of pioneers, even the largest supply chain organizations are just beginning to achieve meaningful inclusion and diversity impacts that they are ready to share with and model for others. In 2019, we were fortunate to have two great examples of leading practice: Microsoft and ABB.

Microsoft, our 2019 winner, showed the benefits associated with disrupting traditional supply chain recruiting approaches in the U.S. In the past, the company recruited exclusively at the top supply chain programs at the university level. This resulted in massive competition with other hiring companies, as well as little diversity in its supply chain ranks, since most of the top supply chain programs are typically less gender and ethnically diverse than the U.S. workforce.

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Microsoft changed its approach on several fronts around a new mantra to “go where the diversity is”. It started to partner with schools that were slightly further down the rankings, as well as with programs that might not have formal supply chain degrees. It broadened job descriptions to allow candidates without supply chain development paths to ensure that new hires without supply chain subject matter expertise can acquire it over time. As a result, over half of its supply chain employees are diverse.

ABB, our other Talent Diversity Champion finalist, submitted a story of a supply chain executive answering the call of tomorrow’s leaders and setting an example for other parts of the business in the process. The head of procurement and logistics for one of ABB’s four business units found herself constantly fielding questions from junior staff who wanted to know what it would take to be successful in the traditionally male field. She did not wait for HR to solve this challenge. Instead, she proactively went to her partners in HR and other parts of ABB to establish a year-long program for her division: the Female Talent Development Program.

The pilot program, which focused on procurement roles, was so successful that it became a model. It is now being rolled out across the group, including finance, sales and marketing, and others. In addition to development outcomes, senior mentor participation is resulting in diversity and inclusion impacts where they count most: in the pipeline and access to opportunities. “The learning for me is that while we spend good effort and time trying to find women leaders outside the company, many of the future leaders are right here waiting to be identified and fast-tracked,” one senior mentor said. ABB has expanded its pool of future leaders, a materially competitive supply chain advantage.

Lessons Learned

This was the premier talent-focused session, but only one session out of 46! We realize that not all supply chain leaders are in a position to drive these programs and impacts. Elsewhere at the event, a range of stories and proof points ensured new ideas or validation for more incremental approaches to attracting, developing, retaining and progressing talent.

For CSCOs trying to accelerate progress or disrupt themselves in a big way, however, the takeaways from the Breakthrough companies’ experience were clear, and showed up in other sessions as well. CSCOs who take the initiative, who build partnerships and ecosystems, and who do things that have not been done before (i.e., disrupt and innovate) are achieving better talent outcomes, but also better mission and business outcomes.

Dana Stiffler, Research Vice President, Gartner

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