Communicating change

From the October 2019 print edition

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.

Despite what you hear or read about the alienating effects of technology, I’d wager that all of us are communicating more than we ever have. Mobile devices and the apps they support mean almost constant communicatio—or the possibility of it—through email, social media, texts, and yes, for some real traditional types, phone calls.

Each morning, my personal and professional inboxes are filled with emails vying for my attention, trying to persuade me of some call to action or another. That persuasion and influence is a big part of communicating with our fellow humans, whether digitally or in person.

It’s no surprise then that when asked, several recruiters recently cited communication as a top skill for supply chain practitioners going forward. Indeed, so-called soft skills generally are lauded as equally, if not more, important than hard skills.

Communication, emotional intelligence, teamwork, adaptability, problem solving, time management and so on speak to the advisory and consultative nature of the supply chain role these days. Procurement, for example, is no longer simply about filling out purchase orders and hasn’t been for some time. It involves influencing decisions within an organization to not only save money but add value beyond the bottom line.

These soft skills may become even more important as the use and scope of technology grows. Indeed, many of the more mundane, routine and repetitive tasks may well be taken over by automation. There has even been talk of certain functions of automation making supply chain roles redundant. Practitioners would be replaced, the thinking goes, by AI-driven robots and computers that could do most tasks just as well, if not better than, humans.

Supply chain recruiter Tim Moore, for one, refutes this point of view (see story on page 20). Rather than technology eroding the role of the supply chain practitioner, he says, the field is exploding with possibilities. AI, blockchain, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality—all of these innovations open doors of possibility.

The growth of technology also means more supply chain transformation. Fellow recruiter Neil Drew (also page 20) sees more and more Canadian companies investing in transformations, not only through adopting technology but overhauling how the procurement and supply chain departments function. This drive to transform, says Drew, means a rise in the importance of soft skills such as communication.

Process? Sure, it’s important, Drew says. But advancing technology will be able to take care of many of those process-driven tasks. What’s left is the advisory, consultative nature of what procurement and supply chain practitioners do for stakeholders, vendors and clients.

So develop those hard, technical skills. But also make sure to work on your soft skills. They’re going to be important in the future.