The pandemic is behind us; however, the uncertainties remain. The last three years have weighed heavily on our personal and professional lives. While at the same time, the supply chain and logistics professionals showed greater resilience in sustaining the business momentum. The story has just become better with the professionals not resting on their glories, rather they have already started working towards making their business processes even more future-proof, stronger and tech-enabled, which are able to withstand any eventualities going forward. Our Panel on Talent Management highlighted the stance of these mighty supply chain professionals as to how they are ably transitioning from destruction to innovation and growth and are acing the supply chain game. Excerpts…
Technology has been evolving and global best practices and processes are being adapted and adopted in India. Where would you put people and teams in this framework?
Atul Barve, Vice President & Head – Supply Chain Operations (CDIT), Reliance Retail Ltd.: India is a rising economic power. Indian market is the Growth Market for most of the global companies. Hence it is obvious that most of the best practices across the globe are implemented in India. Since India has comparatively difficult logistical ecosystem then other parts of the world, I could see that lot of enhancements are happening locally and eventually those are helping in increasing productivity. As a result, you could see many Indians have grown and leading technology or ERP platforms for companies globally. India has not only adopted the global best practices but also helped in enhancing them further. I could see a bright future for people working on technologies or working for manufacturing or operational excellence.
Ronit Verma, Heading National Logistics & Imports, Red Bull India Pvt. Ltd.: Technology remains a strategic imperative for supply chain. In a recent Gartner survey, 61% respondents highlighted technology as a source of competitive advantage. Many also identify several emerging technologies as critical investments areas, with 20% investing in robotics. To be a supply chain leader with competitive advantage, I knew that I would need to be familiar with the use of enterprise software applications like WMS, TMS, and ERP, not to mention analytical software, which is increasingly becoming a staple source of leadership decision support.
There was a time when as supply chain leaders, we could rely on employees to do all the hands-on work with business information systems and be content to receive reports and Excel spreadsheets containing key data for supporting the decision-making. Those days are vanishing now, however, today we are expected to find ways around the different levels of modules of our organisations’ ERP and Business Intelligence Applications on own, we would require making necessary decisions and get the required favorable outcome for the organisation. Furthermore, your need for technological understanding extends beyond hands-on use. Organisations have started bringing in new talent and training existing ones to help them to adopt changing technologies and faster decision making. The focus has always been and will continue to be building skills but now more importantly, building skills for automation, IoT, and data driven decision-making to facilitate the transition to a technology-enabled supply chain. That’s why and how the people and teams are being evaluated and appointed a critical technical tasks/project. Going forward, these experiences will add many more advantages to a key person to excel in their career and at the same time, delivering more identical results for their organisations. It is always said a person or team having functional expertise will help in running the business, but on the other end, if they carry the required technical expertise, then they will be better placed to predict and deliver greater results for the business.
Gaurav Bhatia, General Manager – Supply Chain, Reliance Retail: It is very rightly said that technology and processes have been significantly accelerating and I think we all agree especially in supply chain, it's all about data and processes if you want to scale up. When I see the framework, it's about very simple Venn diagram where the technology, the process and the people are the three key pillars in the entire piece and when technology and people meet, it leads to the understanding and the simplification part and when process and the people meet, it leads to scalability in supply chain be, it in terms of logistics, be it in terms of supply planning or in terms of operations. I think real magic happens when all three of these pillars collaborate.
Believe me people are at the center of this because we can have the best of the technologies, we can have the best predictive analytics, blockchains, AIs, but if we do not have the right people with the right skills to drive these, there is going to be a challenge. Fortunately, all over the globe and especially in India, the way we see the talent growing, and the transition has been impressive. Earlier supply chain, as a function, never used to get its due credit, but now the scenario has been fast changing. Today it has become a key enabler and key driver of the business, which is a positive sign. These transformative scenarios will only help the segment to attract the right talent or best in class talent that we have in the industry.
What are the key enablers for supply chain function to deliver and for people in supply chain to prosper?
Atul Barve: Supply chain is all about technology and thanks to last three years of pandemic, the technologies discipline in supply chain has witnessed huge transformation. If someone wants to build a successful career in the supply chain, technology savviness is one of the most important enablers to prosper. Supply chain is all about Speed, Agility and most importantly, Customer Centricity, so the attitude and the approach towards customer centricity is another important aspect that needs to be imbibed by young professionals.
The third and the most important one is being Innovative. I think innovation is another enabler, which any successful supply chain professional needs to have. These are the three key attitudes and enablers, which I could see coming up as prominent ones.
Ronit Verma: One of the biggest enablers I have been hearing from all fronts is having the right support from top management. Top management support doesn't mean that whatever a supply chain professional does will get the management buy-in, it also implies getting the right training, encouragement on the performance, enabling an environment for open communication, so on and so forth.
Another aspect that I would like to bring into focus is the internal and external behavioral and relational changes, which necessitates aligning the customer as well as the organizational demand. This is one key enabler, which actually helps supply chain function to prosper as well as people to learn through doing the things and learning on the job as well.
What are the challenges you face when you're looking for talent and what are the skill sets which are missing from today's Talent?
Atul Barve: One of the biggest challenges that we have today is talent acquisition. We have lot of management institutes for imparting quality marketing and finance education but very few for supply chain operations. In fact, you can count them on your fingertips. There is a huge requirement for developing reputable supply chain institutes across the country. Apart from fresh talents, hiring middle and maybe a bit of middle and senior level management poses a challenge due to lack of adaptability.
Ronit Verma: There is a huge and rising demand for people with the right supply chain skills, and supply for these professionals isn’t keeping pace. But like any intractable challenge, it’s more complicated than that. While we are looking for talent, and if you want to become a top talent within the supply chain, there are many fundamental supply chain skills you must focus on, which are both Technical and Soft Skills.
The days of digitization have not left the supply chain untouched, and this has now become a valuable skill set than it used to be earlier. Now companies are seeking individuals with skills in automation, robotics, IoT, machine learning and other emerging technologies to help transform supply chain function for the next 5-10 years, these skills are very hard to find but possible. We have often heard soft skills are becoming more important than ever before. Soft skills are key differentiators for supply Chain professionals which facilitate them making a greater impact for their respective organisations. We will find a professional with functional expertise, but it adds a cherry on cake when we get a talent with required functional as well as key technical experience. From the functional skill front, organisation values a talent for their grasp on economics and market dynamics. As a supply chain key resource or talent, you will need to have focus on what lies ahead and, to some extent, predict it and this is only possible when you have a thorough understanding of the market dynamics relating to your industry or your company. Another key aspect from the functional skills is their understanding of Cost-to-Serve, as a supply chain individual, you play a very active role in the profitability of the organisation. If you are running a supply chain operation, your decisions impact the costs involved in delivering to your customers. You will always have an advantage and you will shine if you can easily quantify how your supply chain leadership decisions affect your bottom line. In short, the main skills must revolve around Soft Skills, Market Dynamics and how you can better manage Cost to Serve for your organisation’s overall bottom line.
Gaurav Bhatia: In India, we have roughly around an unemployment rate of 27% on one hand and at the other, we are looking at a talent pool, which we want in each and every organisation and I am sure everybody would agree that we want ready managers or people who are ready with the desired skill sets that we look for. When we talk of supply chain data analytics, it's more understanding end-to-end supply chain, which is also known as Integrated Business Planning (IBP). A lot of these skills are not readily trained, or I would say trained at the institutes. There are a lot of courses, which are specific to supply chain or certifications which are related to supply chain, and we all want people who are specialized in some or the other domains at the same time. In a nutshell, we look for people who have in-depth knowledge of one core domain and possess a generalized understanding of other operations. In terms of talent acquisition, we all are witness to the fast transformational landscape of supply chain, the way its relevance is increasing, especially in retail I have seen, there is a dearth of talent, and it is not so easy at all to find good talent who are just ready to be picked up and start contributing towards the organizational goals from day one. There is so much room for all of us to learn and grow in the supply chain and prosper. These are positive signs of development. I think, besides the skill set, there must be a match of the attitude as well. There's a very famous book, which says, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” and I think that's really what we look in terms of attitude, even at mid-level and senior levels, which sometimes while the person is highly qualified and highly skilled, but that attitude or that hunger is missing.
In today's day, age is actually only a number and young talented individuals are rising very quickly up the lines, what should be done at our industry level to encourage more and more professionals to come up as leaders?
Atul Barve: With the kind of growth, we are witnessing in India, I am sure there is enough and more for every individual. We are seeing an exponential rise of young and talented leaders and at the same time, the experienced ones are scaling newer heights by leveraging their experience at global level or even by trying their hands at entrepreneurship. Many great companies are a result of this. Most of the growing companies are giving platform to aspirational leaders to thrive and I believe that’s the need of the hour to create good pool of talented leaders.
Ronit Verma: Encouraging skill development and aligning it with the interest level would be the top most feedback to the leaders to encourage more and more professionals to climb up the ladder. I believe in assigning the critical task to the team so that it also develops a keen interest in them and at the end, they are also getting into the groove of managing critical tasks in a time-bound manner. We all know the 70:20:10 model, which was developed in 1980s where 70% stands for on-the-job learning, 20% is all about peer collaborations and learning through cross-functional teams and 10% is the academic acumen. Focusing on the skill sets and providing those opportunities is one aspect, we need to push the envelope further and provide the challenging status quo opportunities to the team so that they can excel and survive in tough times as well. For instance, someone joining my team with just about two years of experience will also be given the right platform to perform where I will be mentoring them closely.
I will be providing them with those opportunities, which will actually help them to utilize their skill sets and also deliver some status quo challenges for the organisation. Once those achievements are accomplished, they realize that they have achieved a certain milestone and that needs to be celebrated. Secondly, it's not just about skills or interest, the change management needs to be driven through the HR department. An all-encompassing support will only enable a person to deliver beyond his caliber, which will eventually reap great results for the organisation.
What would you do to ensure that your team thrives towards innovation and growth?
Atul Barve: I truly believe that giving the young talent or pedigree a space to thrive makes all the difference. We must offer an open platform to our employees to innovate, and it doesn't matter if they fail. Obviously, as managers, we keep a tab on the progress of those projects, but we give them enough freedom to innovate and try out new things because many-a-times, we have seen that great breakthroughs have always been the results of such opportunities. We also give them a certain sense of responsibility so that they get empowered to own the success or the failure of that particular project. We believe that these aspects go a long way in cultivating the right attitude and aptitude among the employees and leave a lasting trail on their sustenance and success in the corporate world.
Ronit Verma: The most innovative people are not likely to be innovative in an environment that does not adequately encourage innovation. As an active leader, we are very accountable to assemble teams and lead them to optimal performance outcomes. I have always tried my best to recognise the importance of embracing differences in my team members and finding out how to connect the dots amongst those differences to get the best outcome for the team and for the organisation. This is what cultivates the workplace environment of continuous improvement, innovation, initiatives and more importantly for their growth. In my journey of coaching my team, I ensure in making necessary changes and implying the innovation process by identifying: how team member wants to lead and be led, the required tool to adapt to change in positive and meaningful ways and the function they can best serve to add value. It is right to say that innovation and workplace environment are two sides of the same coin. There are many things I have tried and succeeded in to foster an environment of innovation and initiatives. This applies in both cases whether you are forming a new team or revamping an existing one. The top 3-4 which are really close, and I liked the most are:
Being A Change Agent – I have often challenged each team member to think more critically and see through the lens of improvement. One who takes charge and embraces the role of a change agent in support of constructive disruption that ultimately makes things operate better with better performance. As a leader, we are required to act as Change Leader, as such, our team members must equally be charged to do the same. Change leader also means taking on an entrepreneurial attitude, embracing risks as the new normal, a beginning to see opportunity in everything.
Communication to Learning – To help the team finding their rhythm and build trust and collaborate then you need a strong communication. I always have kept team engaged with each other, encouraging them to have a group discussion within them, like a group of innovation lab, during their connect I always emphasize more on listening to each other, challenging each other to learn from each other’s ideas and ideals and in a way planting a seed for future innovations.
Self Trust & Build Trust – I have kept the equal treatment when it comes to team members, by treating people fairly and acknowledging their perspectives and preferences, you can help people to feel good about working with you and to have more loyalty towards you and to care about innovating for the organisation. I ensure to provide a conducive environment where each member of the team becomes more transparent than ever before. As such, each member of the team must trust themselves enough to trust each other. When you achieve this trust, you become more patient, a better listener and over time more grateful for the new experiences and relationships that are being formed.
Gaurav Bhatia: Just go ahead and grab any opportunity that comes your way. If you start being selective right from the start and wait for a big bang opportunity, you will miss the bus. To give you an instance, I also got a very small opportunity from my Global Supply Chain head, which at that moment, seemed very small to be picked up or to be taken, but I think the visibility that project offered me in the entire system is immense and the learning curve was exponential, which will stay with me forever. I was taking care of the demand planning of the supply side and I was given the task of just clear the non moving inventory. On the face of it, the work didn’t enthuse me, but the moment I immersed myself into it, I realised that it requires a lot of intelligence to even perform such a task. Take any given opportunity that is thrown at you. Secondly, young supply chain managers need to keep looking at various avenues to grow and keep yourself updated with the new age supply chain practices either through journals or forums where there are higher chances of networking and knowledge sharing.