Changing times

From the October 2020 print edition

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has seriously changed how, when and where supply chain professionals work. What has been a traditionally in-person, face-to-face process of working and hiring has today become more technologically distant, or rather, ‘virtual’ process. Since the pandemic’s arrival, some supply professionals have been sourced, interviewed, and hired – spending months working remotely from home already; and yet haven’t met a single co-worker in person, or even visited the head office of their newfound employer yet.

It will be interesting to see how sustainable and transformative practices like these will be in the long term, considering they’ve been implemented through an immediate crisis and global pandemic. Similar to EDI’s (electronic data interchange) introduction into the supply chain field, there are myriad levels as to how far a firm will dip their feet into virtual hiring. Sure, there is Skype, and by now mostly everyone is familiar with ZOOM interviews, but one hiring trend which is starting to gain traction is the asynchronous video interview (AVI).

The AVI differs in that it involves no online conversation with an interviewer or even an organization. Individuals get an email invitation to participate, click on a link, and then record audio and/or video responses to questions. Interviewers can then score the videos and pick the top candidates. In some cases, a computer algorithm handles this task. I wonder how social recruiting will affect the already shrinking long-term tenure and retention rates of North American staff in general, if they haven’t been laid off or furloughed already? Many people find AVI rude and impersonal, with no two-way discussion for candidates to learn more about the company and their potential bosses. Not surprisingly, some unemployed candidates are refusing to cooperate with AVI altogether; and just move on. Is this really how employers want to be remembered and how they’re going to win the war for supply chain talent? Mindfulness when recruiting is a long-term strategic advantage.

Is automated sourcing and recruitment even ethical? Some may hint ‘yes’ when slammed against the hard reality of health, safety and environmental standards within today’s modern workplace. But isn’t today’s COVID-19 reality extraordinary enough without further exasperating supply candidates who already find themselves unemployed or in difficult and challenging situations? People don’t forget, and doesn’t this erode any positive social media awareness that
a company may have been trying to cultivate? Does this progress you toward becoming an employer of choice in a competitive marketplace, when superior supply candidates ultimately wish to make a move?

Is the process truly without bias, and ergo will this impede the firm’s ability to hire the best qualified or facilitate acquiring the most presentable? What about those lofty pre-COVID-19 corporate aspirations concerning diversity, equity and inclusion hiring goals? Ultimately, will remote working and hiring obstruct our profession’s progression toward a goal of building truly world class, resilient, responsive and responsible supply chains?

Or will it be just an army of pretty faces comfortable communicating via webcams?
Does remote working really empower enterprises toward driving a genuinely collective consciousness, with both increased efficiency and optimization of operations? I don’t think so.

Can remote newcomers be truly assimilated within the company – complete with common goals and values – if they work and are held away from the collective? It certainly gives a different perspective, heightened urgency and, frankly, necessity toward improving collaboration and teamwork in the workplace. Better collaboration will have a more crucial connotation for everyone in today’s remote workplace, not just for supply chain professionals.

Companies know of their environmental responsibility – to address the ecological needs of the planet and their firm’s guardianship of the natural resources used in the production of products and services. After all, an environmental goal is to leave as small a footprint as possible to preserve both renewable and non-renewable global resources. But what about the firm’s stewardship and responsibility for their human resources (their staff, in other words) within their enterprises as well? Is the drive now toward the smallest footprint possible in the HR department too, with automated robotic ‘cams’ asking one-sided questions?
Are staff in general deemed as renewable or non-renewable now? Have today’s remote onboarding practices been thoroughly considered beforehand, and what are the long-term sustainability goals, strategies and key performance indicators put into place to safeguard and ensure that it really does work?

Even beyond AVI, the entire hiring and recruitment process has changed from initial advertising of open positions, identification of candidates, pre-screening and prequalifying, remote interviewing, testing, reference checking and the conveyance (and related negotiations) of an acceptable offer. In the past one simply dangled an opportunity toward talent.
However, in today’s environment, smart employers must initiate a positive and ongoing connection with continuous social dialogue with potential supply candidates to help drive and nurture talent towards opportunity.

So, what should employers consider once they have captured new (and elusive) supply chain talent? Strengthen a sense of belonging. Ongoing communication and improved onboarding are paramount.

Nurture talent by providing guidance, communicate regularly, share as much information about the firm and their key role within it, as often as possible. Encourage strong teamwork and improved collaboration through special task forces, open communication channels, and yes, more virtual meetings. Help them cope.

Monitor how they’re managing their time whilst juggling responsibilities and chores at home. Let them know that although they’re working remotely, they’re not working in isolation. Beware of project creep where, according to one study, the lack of a formalized structure at home can cause remote workers to invest more hours and days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. While this may seem like a boon for employers, it adds more stress on employees as almost a third of remote workers report struggling with work-life balance, and even more reported a need to take a day off for their mental health. Competing priorities are a barrier to effective team development as well.

Encourage and reward their best work by eventually giving more freedom to make decisions and demonstrate your recognition of their extraordinary work being accomplished during the crisis. It’s imperative to share and celebrate great outcomes and improved results with all staff.

Whether new or established staff, reaffirm their value by extending an increased investment in their skillset and abilities by offering professional development training, ideally leading to a valid and respected accreditation such as the Supply Chain Management Professional (SCMP) awarded by Supply Chain Canada. No, a one-hour, generalized certificate or micro-credentialled webinar in purchasing or supply chain offered by a social media giant really doesn’t cut it. Professional development training not only shows a stronger commitment and confirms their value to you, the employer, but also gives employees a better sense of control with a credible outcome and accomplishment, at a time of turmoil when things seeming totally out of control.

To keep your more talented and established employees from going elsewhere, help improve their motivation for staying put and increase their level of engagement with the firm. Show them how you appreciate them and have been supportive during the pandemic with increased safety measures in the workplace, assisting them with setting up remote offices at home, and other innovations and benefits.

Illustrate what your longer-term plans are for the future once the pandemic subsides – they have been wondering. For those staff approaching retirement, how can your firm help them adequately prepare for a successful transition? Might there be consultative opportunities back with the firm, to help those recently retired and prevent the loss of institutional knowledge? Offboarding can be just as important as onboarding these days to ensure continuity and resiliency while making due with fewer resources.

Now is certainly not the time for automating your hiring processes or distancing your engagement with staff (remote or otherwise), under the guise of dealing with COVID-19. This serves only to further alienate great supply candidates who are in high demand and short supply. You will need them in the future.

People do extraordinary work and can demonstrate astonishing resiliency in crisis times. Employers must step up and go above and beyond to assist and retain current employees and better attract new staff in the future – whether they’re office based or work remotely.

Tim Moore is president and owner of Tim Moore Associates, a search firm focused exclusively on supply chain professionals.