Amid all the current rhetoric about supply chain management and its changing nature, the topic of training and education is receiving perhaps more than its fair share of attention.
Many pundits for example, are suggesting that supply chain training and logistics education programs need to change, quoting in particular, the need for a greater emphasis on technology-based skills, analytics especially.
While I won’t argue with the growing importance of technology’s role, the one thing I’d suggest we don’t lose sight of is the other major factor in supply chain evolution—relationships.
The Growing need for Soft Skills Development
Supply chain has always been about relationships.
In fact, it has been said that supply chain management is relationship management. From my perspective, that statement becomes more true as corporations increasingly leverage partnerships to improve synchronisation of supply with demand across global infrastructures.
Technology can certainly support business relationships to some extent. However creating and maintaining productive and effective relationships is a long way from being manageable without people to foster and nurture them. Hence the need for all supply chain professionals to focus on soft-skills development is as great, if not greater than it ever was.
Which Soft Skills Development Areas Matter Most?
If you’re a supply chain professional yourself or, are responsible for the career development of others, it’s reasonable to ask which soft skills you should focus on when setting goals and undertaking development activity.
While there are no hard and fast rules about this, you should probably prioritise your soft skills development as follows:
Technology can aid communication, but it still requires you to make use of text or the spoken word. The ability to communicate appropriately, depending on context and the nature of the audience, should always be the top priority in soft-skills development, critical as communication is for building and managing positive relationships.
2) Interpersonal Skills:
This goes hand-in-hand with communication, but covers a broader scope. Interpersonal skills enable people to know what type of communication is appropriate and when. Interpersonal skills also relate to the way you interact when working with others. They encompass qualities such as tact, diplomacy, and team-working, as well as extending into the art of good leadership.
3) Observation and Listening:
I have grouped these two skills together with good reason. Whenever you’re not actively engaged in interpersonal interactions, watching and listening to what’s going on around you is the best way to learn and develop. Like communication, technology can help you to watch and listen, but it can’t force-feed you with information. You must have the desire to see and to hear.
Isn’t Leadership a Soft Skill Too?
Perhaps you’re wondering why I haven’t really mentioned leadership skills in this list of soft-skills development priorities. I offer two good reasons for this:
Firstly, communication, interpersonal skills, observation and listening are all areas that every supply chain professional should focus on developing. Not everyone wishes to take on a leadership role though.
Secondly, good leadership makes extensive use of all the skills mentioned above, which should therefore be developed to an advanced level before leaders start thinking about their other soft-skill development-needs.
Soft Skills Development Needs are Here to Stay
It will probably be decades before artificial intelligence can enable technology to replace the human touch in relationship management, if indeed it ever can. Therefore, as supply chain management continues to rely more and more on strong, solid, collaborative relationships; organisations and the individuals who work for them should strive wherever possible to improve soft skills and employ them tirelessly.
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