When you’re trying to decide how to spend a supply chain training budget, it can be difficult to know just which areas to prioritise. Supply chain management is a vast field and one which continues to expand as global business networks become more widespread, complex, and diverse in nature.
To make matters more complicated, supply chain dynamics are changing rapidly, driving a need to update training frequently and prevent knowledge gaps from constraining business performance.
The fast pace of change also impacts the educational sector, which is struggling to generate new job candidates with the right mix of skills for today’s supply chain organisations.
Getting the Right Supply Chain Training Mix
Amidst all this disruption, you need somehow to identify the right mix of skills and knowledge to concentrate on to ensure your leaders, managers, and workers receive the best possible supply chain training.
Unfortunately, this is a mix that enterprises frequently get wrong, either by focusing too much on technical skills for logistics, procurement, and manufacturing staff, or by recruiting graduates with lots of academic, but little practical supply chain knowledge.
Most supply chain knowledge gaps—particularly the ones described in this post—fall somewhere between the purely technical and the academic. If you ensure your supply chain training program doesn’t miss the following areas of knowledge, you’ll be better equipped than many companies to manage a cost-effective, efficient and customer-friendly operation.
Customer Service through the Supply Chain
The majority of companies understand the need to maintain exemplary levels of customer service, but rather fewer consider customer service as a vital supply chain training need. Instead they remain mired in the belief that customer service is for “customer-facing” staff at the front-end of the business.
Back in the days when manufacturers and sales companies “pushed” products through the supply chain, customer service training in warehouse, procurement and other “back office” environments might not have been super-critical, but all that has changed.
Today’s most successful companies recognise that customers are central to the very existence of the supply chain and that in order to thrive and prosper, they must ensure customer service remains front and centre across the entire business—and from one end of the supply chain to the other.
Kill those Customer Service Knowledge Gaps
By following the lead of these successful enterprises, and making sure customer service enjoys a keen focus from a supply chain training perspective, you can avoid some of the troubles plaguing less customer-centric organisations.
These issues include:
- A higher level of customer-related issues and complaints
- Increased need for expedited deliveries to customers
- Higher supply chain cost to sales ratio
- Smaller orders per customer, placed at a higher frequency
- A greater number of unprofitable or even loss-making sales orders
- Lack of cross-functional understanding of the company’s customer service promise
All the above issues are avoidable, but more likely to creep in when customer service knowledge gaps exist in your business.
By including customer-service in your supply chain training program, you enable your managers and employees in procurement, manufacturing, and logistics to fully appreciate how their roles impact the customer experience.
When the “back office” understands your customer-service offering and knows how best to support it, your workforce will be happier and more productive.
Returns on training expenditure can include reduced supply chain costs and lower levels of customer attrition. Not only that, but as a company known to be customer-centric, your business will be palatable to today’s service-hungry customers—and hopefully more profitable.
Collaborative Planning Across Functions
While most executive leaders understand the need for cross-functional collaboration, many companies still have difficulty putting it into effect. Sales and Operations planning (S&OP) programs for example, are notorious for being hard to implement, and even harder to maintain effectively.
This would seem at least partly due to a lack of real understanding as to how S&OP can be made to work. In other words; a knowledge gap.
From a broad perspective, there is great value in hiring and training for collaborative expertise in the supply chain profession. When it comes to demand planning though, the need for collaboration extends across the entire enterprise.
The path to successful demand planning can only be found when marketing, sales, manufacturing, procurement, and logistics teams all pull together—in the same direction. Where collaborative abilities are lacking, individual business functions remain insular, protecting their own perceived priorities and rarely considering the wider impact of their decisions and actions.
Stuff the S&OP Knowledge Gaps
If the supply chain training of your staff and managers hasn’t included S&OP, your efforts to implement and maintain a collaborative demand planning process may be ineffectual.
Of course, you might not feel the need to implement an S&OP program if your supply chain is not troubled by concerns such as:
- Inventory shortages
- The use of unwieldy spreadsheets to manage inventory
- Inventory obsolescence
- An excess of slow moving SKUs
- Inaccurate forecasting
- Short planning horizons
- Frequent changes to demand plans
It would be surprising indeed though, if some or all of these concerns don’t feature in your improvement wish-list. That’s why it’s more than worthwhile to ensure your supply chain training priorities include S&OP as a fundamental necessity.
Measurement for Management
What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed, and what doesn’t get learned can’t be applied. Yet performance measurement is still an area in which knowledge gaps are commonly encountered. There can be little reason, save for a lack of knowledge, behind the following performance measurement mistakes:
- Developing too many KPIs
- Using KPIs that drive the wrong behaviours
- Failing to understand the difference between metrics and “real” key performance indicators
- Insisting on KPIs that measure purely “by function”
- Introducing KPIs that are hard to understand
In the course of our consulting work at Logistics Bureau, we see these same issues arising again and again. It’s all the more disturbing because in many ways, a performance measurement knowledge gap is one of the most serious that can exist within a business, for a number of reasons.
Get the Measure of KPI Knowledge Gaps
If your management team and workforce don’t have sufficient understanding of the subject, KPIs and performance measurement can do more harm than good in the management of your supply chain.
Remember, measurement drives performance, so if the wrong measures are in place, or performance management is not practiced correctly, your managers and staff might find themselves working against one another.
If care is not taken to align performance measures, improvement efforts in one area can be counteracted by those made elsewhere. Even if alignment does exist, the wrong choice of KPIs can actually take your supply chain (and hence your business) in the wrong direction.
Regardless of how well-educated your supply chain managers are, you should ensure your supply chain training program includes effective KPI development and process performance measurement.
This will be your opportunity not only to try and correct any bad habits or misunderstandings about supply chain measurement, but also to make sure everyone is on board with the KPIs you have in place.
Partnership and Relationship Management
As business becomes more and more automated, fewer and fewer management professionals place a strong focus on the skills needed to manage people. But even if workforces are becoming smaller and people less important as process-performance agents, the supply chain world is still one in which human relationships play a key role, even if the types of relationships have changed.
Let’s focus on the relationship side of things for a moment. Is your supply chain under the full control of your own company?
If so, you are probably in a minority, since modern supply chains typically comprise a multitude of partners, consisting of suppliers, logistics service providers and perhaps distributors and retailers.
If you want your supply chain to function effectively from end-to-end, the relationships between your own company and all these partners must be positive and strategic; conditions over which technology as yet has no influence. However, your supply chain managers will certainly play a part in how these relationships develop and evolve.
This should be reason enough to ensure that all your procurement, purchasing, and logistics managers have relationship-management skills.
Some may have acquired these skills prior to joining your company, but to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to include relationship management in your supply chain training plans. This will help to prevent knowledge gaps obstructing your ability to build and maintain productive cross-enterprise partnerships.
Managing the People Inside
Aside from managing relationships between people in multiple enterprises, there is also a need to manage those within your own company. So heavy is the bias towards technology in today’s supply chains though, that knowledge gaps in leadership and people-management are becoming more prevalent.
The problem is that if you have these knowledge gaps in your organisation, technology won’t help you to counter the consequences.
Without sufficient emphasis on leadership and people-management in your supply chain training activities, you’ll be relying on the skills inherent in the managers that you hire. If those skills are lacking, employee engagement may suffer, performance-management may not have the desired effect, and change or improvement will be all the harder to realise.
Technology might make tasks easier for people to perform, but even in fully automated environments, (of which there are still relatively few) you need well-managed people to get the best from technology. It’s still vital therefore, to place leadership skills above technical prowess when hiring and training your supply chain managers.
The Fast Track Approach to Supply Chain Training
To summarise then, the most common knowledge gaps in supply chain organisations are:
- Customer service
- Collaborative planning/S&OP
- Performance measurement/KPIs
- Management of business relationships
- People management
If you have these knowledge gaps in your operation, the only way to get them closed quickly is to introduce supply chain training that includes the relevant topics.
You could introduce modules or workshops into your existing training programs, or you might seek education providers to run workshops or courses on each topic. Alternatively, there is a way to close all these knowledge gaps with a minimum of effort, fuss and worry, and without needing to coordinate lots of different providers.
Fast-track supply chain training is an option that’s affordable and suitable for most people employed in your organisation.
It doesn’t require lots of time off the job and covers all the key areas where knowledge gaps often exist. Best of all, it’s a form of education that delivers knowledge in a pragmatic and practical way, enabling your people to apply their learning immediately.
We’ll Help You Close Your Knowledge Gaps
Of course you need to find a supply chain training partner that can provide such comprehensive training programs. If there’s not one in your vicinity, you may be able to find a provider that offers fast-track training online.
You might like to take a look at Our Supply Chain Secrets for example; an online supply chain training program suitable for just about anyone wishing to close knowledge gaps fast.
If your company is based Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, you should also check out our Supply Chain Leaders Academy, which combines online training with real-world workshops held in Sydney, Australia.
Whatever you do though, take note of the knowledge gaps discussed in this post. If you want to ensure your supply chain organisation supports your business effectively, make sure your training and education activities get them covered and closed—preferably sooner rather than later.