The Signal December 6, 2023

Three Great Talent Management Habits of Supply Chain Leaders

Building a digitally savvy team equipped with the right tools is the equation for excellence on the road to Zero100 supply chains, but how do we get there?

Kevin O'Marah Avatar
Kevin O'Marah

Zero100 research operates on a simple theory of change: the inputs of talent and digitization drive the outputs of business performance and decarbonization. Our data science team analyzed 2.6 million LinkedIn job descriptions posted by 100 B2C brands, looking for any correlation between them and public performance data to discern what the best do differently when they hire for digital skills. 

Three things stand out. 

Leaders Hire for Change Management Skills 

Building a great team and equipping that team with the best digital tools is the equation for excellence on the road to Zero100 supply chains, but the road itself is long. Navigating the journey is about change management, and most leaders with first-hand experience in transformation will agree that change management is not something to take lightly or bolt on as an afterthought. 

Our data confirms this with the finding that the companies who lead in hiring for digital skills are also much more likely to specifically require experience in change management too. In fact, the top five digital leaders in our B2C set are five times more likely to mention “change management” in job post descriptions as compared to the average.  

Chart showing top five digital companies vs 100 B2C companies hiring for change management skills. 
Source: Zero100 analysis of LinkedIn data.

Leaders Want Both Left and Right Brain Skills 

The frenzied hunt for digital talent has blown up salaries for data scientists and software engineers. It might seem fair to assume that this technical, analytical left-brain capability is all that matters to building Zero100 supply chains. Not so. In fact, quite the opposite.

Zero100 survey data, collected in late 2022 from 539 supply leaders globally, found that, when asked for the top three undergraduate majors they wanted to hire, the top choice overall was communications. This is not to say that supply chain leaders want marketing people running their operations, but that along with computer science, business, and data science, most saw a need to blend softer, right-brain skills with the hard, data-driven thinking needed to design and manage operations. 

It turns out that digitally savvy companies have realized that AI skills in isolation are not especially valuable. Our data shows that of those hiring for AI/ML skills across all roles, including areas like marketing and IT, 91% specify communication skills in job descriptions. And for supply chain-specific roles, the same principle is largely true. Many of the most advanced companies like Walmart, Microsoft, Toyota, and Procter & Gamble even specify creativity along with communications in AI/ML job descriptions. The takeaway is that AI’s power depends on how well it is trained to think like humans, and right brain skills are essential to this work.  

Leaders Pull Talent from Everywhere 

Conventional wisdom says that work experience is worth more than classroom learning, but this logic often leads companies to concentrate on hiring people with experience in their own industry. The upside is a faster ramp to usefulness, but the downside is narrowing the scope for innovation. Zero100 leaders are more likely to look outside of their own industry because they are willing to invest time in teaching industry-specific knowledge if that allows them to bring fresh thinking into their teams. 

Amazon, for example, casts a wide net in terms of industry experience required for most of its roles. The logic is reflected in a well-worn Amazon habit known as “looking around corners,” which implies thinking past the familiar to imagine surprising outcomes, whether good or bad. A typical Amazon job post specifies:  

“Industry experience in: retail, f&b, military, manufacturing, automotive, biotech, electronics, energy, instrumentation, machinery, defense/aerospace, medical, cosmetics, production or distribution environments.”  

The approach at Amazon, as in the case of many other Zero100 leaders, including SC Johnson, Volvo, L’Oréal, and Alphabet, relies more heavily on company culture and values fit than on specific industry work experience. These companies also tend to have better retention and intentionally rotate team members through a wide variety of assignments, expanding their learning. 

People Are More Important than Technology 

“People are our most important asset” is a cliché we’ve heard so often from CEOs and corporate communications that we generally tune it out or drift into cynicism. And yet, the data, anecdotes, and even theory all say the same thing.  

People are what matter most.