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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore.


    Supply Chain Digest


May 19, 2023


Trip Report: Gartner Supply Chain Symposium 2023

Conference Continues to Gain Momentum, as We Review Opening Day Keynote and have Some Questions

I am back after three days at the Gartner Supply Chain Symposium last week - an event that continues to gain some momentum. I should have had this column last Friday, but an epic travel fail coming back left me unable to get it done.

Some may know that the Gartner conference is rooted in the same basic event that was started by AMR Research as the Supply Chain Executive Forum back in the 1990s. After Gartner acquired AMR in 2009, it infused additional organizational and marketing muscle into the conference, largely to the good.

Gilmore Says....

Chinese electronics giant Haier reorganized itself into teams, or “micro-enterprises,” which all direct accountability to customers, usually have 10-15 team members, and have their own in P&Ls

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The success led to the conference moving up in the Gartner event hierarchy, where last year for the first time it was named as a Symposium, and with that moved to the Disney Swan and Dolphin complex in Orlando, from its longtime home in Scottsdale, AZ., and was at Disney again here in 2023.

There were well more than 3000 attendees, a nice rise from 2022 and the event felt packed. It continues to grow, and is well organized, with support staff everywhere and high quality meals.

This week, I am simply going to review the day 1 keynote. More on the conference overall next week.

That opening keynote was by Gartner analyst Caroline Chumakov on “Unlocking the Collective Potential of Supply Chain.”

The challenges: turnover in supply chain 33% higher than pre-pandemic. Only 25% highly of employees are highly engaged, and just 16% of the supply chain workforce ready to go “above and beyond,” for the company, Gartner survey data finds.

Did you know labor productivity in terms of real-GDP per employee is near record lows? And how can that be with all this technology? Have we reached peak productivity?

Not it would seem in supply chain, with tremendous advances in technology that reduces need for labor. But the productivity of people remains a key issue, Chumakov says.

Companies need to invest more in their people, she added.

The opportunity is to unlock the “collective potential of the workforce,” with the whole of supply chain employees usually greater than the sum of its parts.

Driven by enhancing each employee’s potential, companies can then leverage that into greatcommunity potential, supported by technology in new ways – a three-legged stool.

Starting with the individual, Chumakov said all employees have skills companies simply don’t utilize. That happens in part when employees are treated as fungible assets, using uniform job descriptions, where it is assumed all employees have the same skills when doing a role.

There is great o pportunity to reimagined roles, as Chumakov said Unilever is doing.The consumer packaged goods giant has a program called the ‘”open talent community.” In this program, managers break down projects or process requirements into different skill sets, which are then shared with the Unilever community to find a match with the skills or current employees or external candidates.

I’ll be honest, this seems to me just a slight twist on the traditional approach to job descriptions and employees matching, but hardly in a big way.

Chumakov said Euro pharma company UCB is a more stark example of a new way of thinking. The change started when the company noticed its category managers were expected to be jack of all trades, with too many responsibilities.

ECB broke the job down into six core roles, each with its own skill requirements, and if I understand it right the once overly broad job of category manager could replaced with multiple workers matched with the right skills of the core six.

What this does to headcount is not clear.

Gartner said its research finds companies that have a lot of flexibility in roles have 45% high performers, much more than traditional companies, and those with “radical flexibility had 63% high performers, explained as they are more engaged in their jobs. The obvious question: how much more could get accomplished if a company had greater number of high performing employees?

Chumakov says companies also need to “embrace the human,” which can include flexible schedules to accommodate things like school pickups and soccer games.

Chumakov said it’s key for supply chain leaders to embrace this approach, with few today good at human leadership. That in turn is characterized by three skills:

-- Authenticity: being a straight shooter all the time

-- Empathy: showing more concern for the people side of the job

-- Adaptivity: Being more flexible.

Next, Chumakov moved on to thoughts on building communities within the workplace, similar to what we do all the time outside of the job.

Hierarchical org structures are barriers to such community thinking, Chumakov says. Look instead to Chinese electronics giant Haier, which reorganized itself into teams, or “micro-enterprises,” which all direct accountability to customers, usually have 10-15 team members, and have their own in P&Ls.

The results speak for themselves: delivery cycles reduced by 15 days, while growing revenue five fold.

Chumakov also likes the idea of forming “tiger teams” to attack certain problems or opportunities, which then are disbanded after reaching some level of success.

This so far covers about 60% of Chumakov’s presentation, but I think I will wrap it up here.

Do I think in general trends are moving in this direction? I would say Yes. How fast and how permanent – not clear. Lots of push back in some businesses now in remote work models even though it is a favorite of most workers.

But it will take time to get to “human centric” thinking into how companies and leaders work with employees – and with ebb and flow.

I also have to wonder if this was really the right topic for the day 1 keynote. While delivered by Chumakov very well, it was only loosely connected to supply chain in one sense and could have been delivered to a Human Resources conference just well if not better.

That said, I spoke with several attendees who said good things about it. Were you there? What did you think?

I hope to be back next week with some reviews of key breakout sessions.

What is your reaction to this Gartner keynot review? Let us know your thought at the Feedback section below.

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