The Supply Chain Leadership Mindset

When supply chain leaders are confronted with supporting an aggressive organizational growth strategy, they realize that old leadership mindsets cannot create the kind of innovative cultural change needed.

The new mindset reflects a clearer sense of collective leadership responsibility. Reacting to problems within one’s own function, while overlooking the upstream causes and downstream impacts of individual actions, would not create a cohesive supply chain to support growth without lockstep increases in cost, complexity, and infrastructure. This distributed, or shared, leadership capability is one that cultivates the spirit that all employees are empowered and encouraged to step across their individually defined task thresholds in pursuit of improved collective performance (Conger Sc Riggio, 2012; Prokesch, 2010). A supply chain manager with a leadership mindset is not afraid to challenge assumptions about how things are done no matter how established the routine, nor who is managing the process. Supply chain leaders who believe it is their primary role and responsibility to satisfy the firm’s customers can make better integrated performance decisions. The leadership mindset represents a shift away from local and individual efficiencies to a broader view of overall effectiveness that balances cost and performance (Kurz, 2018).

Digital Supply Chain Integrators

Leadership programs for global supply chains promote common workforce behaviors that promote and unlock end-to-end supply chain performance (Kurz, 2018). These behaviors concern spanning organizational boundaries, cross-functional disciplined collaboration, and problemsolving by seeking greater organizational outcomes. Firms that can build and expand these behaviors in their workforces will benefit from the competitive advantages offered by the digital supply chain more fully.

The New Digital Supply Chain Integrator Behaviors (Kurz, 2018)

Developing Digital Supply Chain Leaders

Leading organizations spent more than 169 billion dollars on leadership development in North America alone in 2019 (Training Industry, 2020). The best of these programs are custom-designed to exploit the knowledge of the firm’s organizational strategy so that participants can engage in leadership topics to be applied to their own roles in the firm. Participants in these programs should expect to improve their general management skills, and perhaps learn more about their own firm’s competitive strengths, weaknesses, and positioning.

What is needed, however, is a leadership development program specifically targeting supply chain functional leaders that is tailored to their unique needs, function, and roles (Kurz, 2018).

The Digital Difference

The argument being made in this chapter is that the digital supply chain will require enhancements in the managements’ mindset and attitudes, integration behaviors, and skills to realize its competitive advantages. The changes required are more in the realm of organizational behavioral change guided by intervention than in leadership training. Organizational Behavior interventions have traditionally been limited to corporate communications efforts such as face-to-face workshops or training sessions, town hall meetings, and internal media announcements. An organizational leadership program is needed to drive the digital supply chain behaviors and skills needed to execute a firm’s strategy (Kurz, 2018).

In a book chapter entitled Leading the Digital Supply Chain, Kurz (2018) suggests the following requirements for program intervention design:

  • • The ability to scale and reach large numbers of people quickly. Face- to-face training sessions for thousands of global associates are expensive, time consuming, and can be inconsistent in message and delivery. Media-based experiences delivered via the web may overcome this issue.
  • • Teamwork and collaboration must be supported and encouraged through practice. Individuals viewing media pieces in isolation are unlikely to change their behavior; videos of senior leaders sharing the firm’s vision and strategy may help build awareness, but they will not likely change the way people act. The ability to interact with a smaller group of participants as a team is required and these teams must work together online in real-time, as well as asynchronously.
  • • The experience should be purposefully designed to promote and practice cross-functional supply chain problem-solving. This means creating and guiding work teams in a structured dialog using a set of action learning tasks and activities that have pace, rhythm, and weekly deadlines for sharing results with a larger cohort. The platform should be a social media learning management tool that can be easily modified to drive weekly supply chain challenges in assigned learning teams. This method connects participants in ways that build participant confidence through experience and practice in cross-functional collaborative problem-solving. Behaviors are more likely to change if participants can experience the power of finding first-hand solutions as a team based on real issues facing their own supply chain.
  • • The experience should allow for the efficient delivery of core leadership perspectives on the transformation of the supply chain and how it supports organizational strategy. Short, well-edited video clips of senior organizational leaders can be prepared to clarify digital supply chain change imperatives and show how they will help the firm achieve its objectives. All managers and associates should be called upon to take leadership actions to initiate change.
  • • Guided, paced, smaller cohorts of participants are given scaffolded daily activities to build and sustain knowledge, awareness, and, ultimately, change their feelings and perceptions. E-learning technologies and design approaches abound as the effectiveness of the intervention rest on the quality of the program's design. A traditional eLearning design that mimics compliance and skills- based training modules is unlikely to have the desired behavioral change impact. A set of new design principles that is more strategic, based on adult learning theory, change management theory, and a practical recognition of the constraints of daily work demands, is needed to increase the chances of the intervention’s success.

The platform itself is basic, allowing a cohort of supply chain participants to experience the program content together and individually. The experience should integrate media activities such as video clips, readings, and threaded discussions, not unlike most common learning management systems. The main design parameters of the experience should be (Kurz, 2018) as follows:

  • • Virtual synchronous and asynchronous weekly activities for multiple sets of small (40-50 participant) cohorts.
  • • Activities, such as read, watch, reflect, and discuss, were designed to take approximately 30-40 minutes per day over four weekdays, followed by an hour-long synchronous event led by a facilitator each week. This cadence of activities continues for eight weeks.
  • • Each weekly series of activities is followed by a strategic supply chain capability theme focused on practical problem-solving applications at Coca-Cola.

• Each problem-solving ream, carefully constructed of diverse and cross-functional participants, is expected to report back on collaborative solutions to integrative supply chain challenges aligned to each theme.

The innovation and opportunity this example provides for digital supply chain leadership is not about learning technology or platforms, but how the design builds integrative mindsets and capabilities.

By bringing participants together to practice integrated supply chain problem-solving for regular intervals over multiple weeks, a collective belief in the power of integrative collaboration has a chance to develop in a sustainable way. Participants demonstrate their abilities by finding solutions to complex problems beyond their individual capacities to solve.

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