Beating COVID-19 and five traits for Supply Chain Professionals

It’s a brave new supply chain world out there, with established processes and mindsets being totally abandoned and hastily redesigned to accommodate a new (pandemic) order. There has never been a moment in time since the second world war, that there has been so much global awareness and need for resilient and dynamic supply chains and the qualified professionals to manage them. As supply professionals, this should be our moment to step up … this should be our time to finally shine.

But it’s not, because many are being forced into unemployment. Many of you are a casualty of the fear associated with COVID 19, with it’s related ‘layoffs’, ‘downsizing’, or whatever your firm is calling basically protecting it’s mere existence by reducing staff and temporarily bunkering.

Globally, countless Supply practitioners are unemployed because of fears of an extended pandemic or a looming financial recession. Let’s face it, COVID 19 has disrupted the entire Supply Industry, in much greater magnitude and faster than any technological advancements that have been building for some time. Many stressed out practitioners need a break to re-evaluate and regroup.
So what should we do?

In times of trouble, rather than potentially remain idle for some time, astute Supply professionals pivot to include consulting and short term contracting work on their resumes. Many see contracting as a way to keep their competitive and intellectual edge razor sharp than simply a way to earn a paycheque.

Those really strategically minded Supply professionals, choose contracting assignments not by projects which are familiar to them, but something that flexes their intellectual and social skills, by deliberately choosing an industry or sector dynamically diverse from their core group of working experiences. Why? To further exercise and expand their perspective in the Supply Chain field, and realize that in the grand scheme of things, procurement and supply techniques can be very similar, and like you, cross transferable into a number of different sectors or industries. And who knows, perhaps in doing so successfully, you too may become a ‘disruptor’ bringing new concepts into your new firm and sector – further enhancing your credibility in the profession, and becoming a ‘Candidate of Choice’ when times do change, and the hiring market rebounds…and it will. Coming out of it, many firms will struggle and suffer from a knowledge vacuum, which they themselves created, from being too heavy handed with staff reductions since the beginning of the pandemic.
Consider an example…

Leading an employment agency specializing in Supply Chain talent, one of our best recruitment placements was for a Director, in which the highly successful (and unemployed) candidate went from the automotive field to take the lead in pharmaceutical production. How is that possible? Both firms relied heavily on just in time methodologies aimed primarily at reducing times within the production system, as well as response times from suppliers and to customers. (And if response times from suppliers isn’t topical these days, I don’t know what is !) The other qualifying factor which helped to cement the deal was the candidate’s thorough understanding of the concepts inherent within mature quality systems. In both the automotive and pharma sectors, if you experience quality problems with raw materials, production or distribution errors; forget about meeting or exceeding customer expectations – people could die.

So while firms are cautiously navigating the pandemic and re-evaluating their viability, they’re also hesitant about instantly scaling up to their pre- COVID 19 employment levels when things improve; making this the perfect opportunity for you to sharpen your skillset, expand your knowledge and experience base, and be gainfully employed, all at the same time as a Contractor or Consultant, during this transitional period.
So, what are 5 key traits to enhance your potential for success as a Contractor and Supply Chain Consultant?

Without a doubt, the # 1 trait has to be the “ability to influence others.” As a Supply Chain Contractor or Consultant, you’re called upon to solve problems. They could be relatively minor, involving a single department or concern, or could be monumental and systemic affecting the entire company. The bottom line is that it’s up to YOU. Frankly, it’s something I’ve seen time and time again. A great candidate, highly educated with a Masters in Supply Chain, having several professional designations, years of dedicated experience, a great deal of potential (on paper) going for themselves; yet little or no ability to be totally effective, because of a lack of ability to communicate and ultimately influence others. As a Consultant and problem solver if you can’t elicit the burning desire, conviction and approval in others toward a common vision, goal or operating solution, then no amount of strategic planning, preparation, networking or knowledge will suffice. You must be able to influence others in an effective manner, not through coercion, but by projecting and justifying a vision or solid course of action toward an applicable solution.

Sometimes, it can be as simple as just being able to get the attention (when others couldn’t) of the main Stakeholder in order to present an informed case, or having the diligence and conviction of your ideas to not give up, even after several attempts, if you know your ideas are sound and correct for the company. When needed, you have to be able to have an impact on the attitude, opinion and behaviour of others.

Influence, not authority is the key to unlock your successful future as a Contractor or Consultant in Supply Chain matters. (There’s another name for it as well…LEADERSHIP.)

What’s it really a matter of…?

This leads me to a very close # 2 trait, which has to be an ‘ability to create TRUST.’ The more that you focus and deliberately work to develop and establish trust, in all your current day to day activities, the easier it will be to influence others, when needed, in the future. Do you ‘walk your talk’ and are you credible in your conveyance of thoughts and intent behind your recommendations and decisions? Honesty in your communication and a determination to ensure that your motives or recommendations are clearly understood – even when it’s bad news, unfavorable, or a tough decision. Being reliable, supportive in nature, and honest in opinion will help develop trust.

Sometimes, it can mean overcoming your fear in order to speak up to help others or the Company; even if it may be an unpopular perspective, contrary to the status quo, or a notion not generally well thought out in the past. You’re a consultant or contractor, not an established employee, and could bring in a new fresh perspective. Like Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ when the ministers were fearful of their jobs, and the crowds of citizens pretended to see the Emperor’s clothes – to protect his own vanity (and decision making process), it was the innocence of a child, unfamiliar with all the pretension and social convention that shouts out the truth. The difference between a good Contractor and a great one, could be the ability to tell truth to power, no matter what the ‘popular’ opinion is – which quickly leads directly to the next trait.

The ‘ability to possess and convey Empathy’ is trait # 3. Speaking the truth about a situation, plan of action, or aspect critical in nature to others, without empathy, is non productive and instantly builds barriers toward gaining trust and ultimately influencing others. You must develop the ability to detect the emotions of others and understand their perspective – whether right or wrong. Being non judgmental and listening enables others to be more open and feel accepted; and knowing ‘where they’re coming from’ validates their opinion. This is how you build trust. You must understand the person first. What are their priorities? What are their preferences in a particular situation? What are their motivations and how does their opinion fit into the assignment or project you’re working on? When you interact with that person, give them the gift of your full attention too, not just a partial interaction because you’re busy texting or multi tasking on other concerns. Being focused on their issues shows empathy and also shows respect as well.

How can you earn the respect of others if you don’t show your respect in your day to day interactions with them? Use your listening and empathic skills to gain further insight.

The ability to be ‘engaging’ is trait # 4. Offering an immediate opinion to any situation can be disastrous, especially for Supply Chain Contractors and Consultants. In fact, initially going into any situation, offering an opinion is the very last thing one should be worried about. Supply professionals need to fully engage and proactively glean information from myriad stakeholders to determine various perspectives in order to deeply identify and explore potential options available. Instead of simply offering your opinion, ask engagement questions first to better understand the situation, the other person’s perspective, and what their fears may be and that person’s point of view. Engaging others is NOT a spectator sport; and at times, there is suspicion to overcome. You’ve got to get over being seen as ‘the gatekeepers’ to what they want. You have to get engaged, get to the root of the problem – in a non threatening manner, to gain alternative perspectives, before you can offer options, a final opinion, and logical course of action. Its only at that point, after you’ve gained a full understanding of the entire situation, that Supply Superstars can reciprocate by seizing the opportunity to educate other’s and advocate supply chain’s perspective, it’s responsibilities and it’s function in the organization. That’s when you’ve leveraged the maximum possibility to influence others and build a greater trust and rapport – not beforehand. Remember, through successful engagement and your stakeholders learning about both sides of the issue, you eliminate suspicion and fear.

The final trait, especially for Supply Consultants would be to ‘be seen as an expert in your profession,’ certainly in a particular category, function or ability; whatever that may be. If you consider your last three or four work assignments, what might you be best known for? Cost savings, negotiating skills, transitioning legacy IT systems into greater leading edge capabilities (like virtual working and related business transactions), implementing industry wide best practices, vendor management – there are so many to choose from. Pick one or two and run with them!

But again, don’t forget the added value of expanding and stretching your capabilities in an entirely new sector and endeavor.
What’s the future hold?

Covid 19 is not the first global pandemic and will not be the last going forward. Each time a pandemic has hit, we’ve learned and adapted to it. In 1918’s Spanish Flu pandemic over 500 million were infected (a third of the global population at the time), but back then it lead to the introduction of public health interventions used today such as quarantines, face masks, hand hygiene, bans on mass gatherings, and social distancing. Like today, larger cities were particularly hit hard, and mandatory mask wearing outside of the home was tightly enforced. Police officers used fines, and at times even drew weapons to enforce it.
So, what’s the good news about all these interventions?

It was found that cities that committed earlier to longer and more aggressive social distancing interventions not only saved lives, but also emerged more economically stronger that those that didn’t.

Today’s pandemic has reshaped our culture and it will have an influence for generations to come. New industries will be born and some older ones revitalized. Others will temporarily fall to rise again, and some businesses will disappear forever. Virtual technologies for socializing, business, education, healthcare, religious worship and even government have already exploded.

Today’s supply professionals must re-evaluate their skills and reshape their abilities in order to pivot successfully and transition into the brave new world order and remain viable. You must adapt, improvise and ultimately overcome. Those that do, will come out of this pandemic much more stronger and wiser.
Final thought

The pandemic won’t last. Stay protected and rebuild yourself. Your time WILL come again. A world of possibility awaits. Be patient and soon you will be able to go out into it. Go forth and conquer! The world is depending on you.

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