CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 22, 2018
Career Ladder
Career Ladder

To advance your career, develop a "personal brand"

These days, "doing your job well" doesn't just mean getting results; it also encompasses how you get them.

Do you want to be noticed for your career accomplishments? The most important factor in getting noticed is how well you do your job. These days, however, "doing your job well" doesn't just mean getting results; it also encompasses how you get them.

To advance your career, you need to create a "personal brand" that sets you apart and makes you unique. Creating a personal brand begins with maintaining a high level of job performance. It also includes marshalling the skills you already have or are learning.

Here are some practical suggestions for advancing your supply chain career and for developing the personal brand that will get you noticed:

Avoid looking for the next position on the corporate ladder before you have met or exceeded your current goals and objectives. Setting personal goals is great, but it must be coupled with the realistic approach of proving yourself at every step on the corporate ladder. You can probably come up with a list of colleagues who spent too much time looking for their next position or promotion and were not focused on doing their best in their current jobs. If their motives were obvious to you, then sooner or later others will notice if you take the same approach.

Keep in mind that the portfolio of skills, education, and personal characteristics needed for success is constantly evolving. Competition for high-level positions is more intense than ever due to mergers, acquisitions, and general economic conditions. Adding to the competitive pressure is the fact that the caliber of people entering the field has continued to improve since companies began to recognize that supply chain and logistics are important contributors to a company's short-term and long-term financial health. It should come as no surprise that at successful companies, supply chain managers have moved up in the corporate hierarchy.

Let's face the facts: We're not all going to be the vice president of supply chain. It won't be easy to become director or manager of a key functional area either, because those positions now require some skills and competencies that may not have been your responsibility in the past. At the same time, traditional areas like transportation and distribution are still important ingredients for success.

Leadership ability is a key characteristic of "promotable" individuals. When senior management looks for people to promote as part of its succession planning, it looks for those who clearly have leadership ability. The type of leader you are and your approach to getting things done through others count as blue chips when you're under consideration for advancement.

Companies seek to promote people who can demonstrate accomplishments in two areas—leadership and cross-functional competencies and skill sets. Here's a quick rundown of desirable leadership skills:

  • People skills. Listening, providing feedback, training, and developing others are basic building blocks of effective management.
  • A track record of selecting qualified people. What better thing can be said about a manager than that he or she selects and develops good people? Before interviewing a potential subordinate, know what skills and personal characteristics are needed to be successful in that position. Frame your questions so that the candidates' responses can be evaluated properly.
  • Team development and communication. The cross-functional nature of supply chain management makes team building very important. Do you provide your team with clearly communicated expectations and goals?
  • A record of relationship building. Relationships are fundamental to supply chain management. Collaboration with marketing, sales, information technology, and many other areas depends on you.
  • Ability to handle stress and manage crises. Disruptions are a fact of life in supply chains, and how you handle and communicate during a crisis will have a big impact on your reputation. Have carefully thought-out emergency plans in place.

Companies also look for individuals with crossfunctional experience. Here are some areas where you should have extensive knowledge:

  • Procurement. Most of us have experience with thirdparty negotiations in such areas as transportation and warehousing. However, expertise in purchasing materials as well as services is now a requirement in many organizations.
  • Global operations. Many products and materials are sourced internationally today so knowledge of foreign supply chain operations has become an absolute must.
  • Quality initiatives. Because lean systems, Six Sigma, and other quality programs reach across the entire organization, you need to understand how they affect supply chain management.
  • Manufacturing. Knowledge of just-in-time (JIT), demand planning, and other manufacturing considerations has become an important requirement for supply chain professionals.
  • Finance. Understanding the impact of capital, cost of inventory, and cash flow on current and future business conditions is paramount.
  • Language. More supply chain functions than ever are carried out in other countries. Speaking another language can be very helpful for building relationships and understanding what's going on overseas.

Practical steps for success
There are a number of steps you can take to build your reputation and enhance your "personal brand." First, of course, is to become a better leader. And, as mentioned, building and fostering good relationships across the board is critical. Life will send you plenty of enemies—there is no need to go out looking for them.

Always return calls from people who are requesting information. It's simple advice, but it's a surefire way to maintain good relations and get to know your customers better. You can also become more involved with your customers by teaming up with a salesperson for a visit.

To improve your breadth of knowledge, volunteer for projects or a task force outside of your immediate area of responsibility. And read! Read more about the industry you compete in to stay current with your competitors as well as industry news and developments. Join and participate in professional organizations.

Don't underestimate the importance of how you present yourself. Hone your presentation skills and prepare for meetings so people will leave feeling good about you. Document your accomplishments by sending reports and e-mails; management likes to be kept abreast of status.

Take performance reviews to heart, and not just reviews from your boss. Ask others whom you trust for feedback regarding your overall performance or how you handled a particular situation. And don't be afraid to ask for help—not just from your human resources department but also from people in manufacturing, marketing, finance, and other areas you work with.

Finally, be a mentor and a friend to those who have the potential and the desire to get ahead. Help the young assistant brand manager or the financial analyst make sense of what you do.

The world isn't getting any simpler, just smaller and more competitive. If you want to get ahead, you must learn to survive in a constantly changing environment where how you do something is just as important as what you do.

Chuck Durney, a former logistics executive at several consumer products companies, is Senior Vice President, Business Development for Beampines Inc., a talent management firm.

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