SCM Talent Development: The Advance Process

Supply chain management (SCM) is a discipline in the midst of a high profile transition. Recognising the current and future need of organisations to enhance their SCM human capital, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals commissioned a talent development research study. The key findings are presented in three publications that will help an organisation build and retain a high calibre team of SCM professionals.

The value of strong, integrated SCM capabilities for propelling businesses to greater levels of success is being increasingly recognised. Supply chain leaders are being elevated to strategic roles and corporates are investing in SCM capabilities to create competitive advantage. This study, conducted by SCM researchers at Auburn University and Central Michigan University, investigates the SCM talent requirements of organisations and how they cultivate future leaders.

The publications

The resultant three publications are:

  • The ACQUIRE Process (see Logistics News 08/2013) addresses the critical aspects of finding appropriate SCM talent. This initial phase focuses on defining required skills, sourcing talent, and hiring desirable candidates.
  • The DEVELOP Process (see Logistics News 06/2015) analyses organisational strategies for SCM training and education. Throughout this publication, you will discover leading practices for onboarding, training, and guiding supply chain talent.
  • The ADVANCE Process examines forward-thinking approaches to SCM talent progression, and presents essential strategies for SCM career path development and advancement. These talent advancement activities build bench strength for future SCM leadership needs.

Talent advancement: supporting SCM leadership requirements

After spending considerable resources to hire and develop the best SCM talent, leaders may incorrectly assume that supply chain professionals will take charge of their own career paths. The result can be devastating, as leaders see little need for career guidance or investment in career advancement programmes. In such situations, talent may languish in nonchallenging positions and eventually defect for more enticing supply chain career opportunities.

As SCM shifts from its traditional functional roots to a strategic control tower process that touches nearly every aspect of the organisation, talent requirements shift dramatically. Supply chain professionals must have the ability to co-ordinate end-to-end processes, manage external relationships, and engage with the executive committee. That is, current and future supply chain leaders must transition to a more strategic range of skills and perspectives.

Though it is a well-recognised need, expanding the general management capabilities among the supply chain team is not easy to accomplish. In a 2011 SCM World study, over 85% of the respondents indicated that the development of supply chain talent is an ongoing or growing challenge. The availability of compelling career paths and improvement of talent retention rates are the key concerns. Talent development problems are particularly acute at the middle management level where the transition from technical skills to more strategic abilities must greatly accelerate.

Professional advancement opportunities drive in-house talent satisfaction and retention. Leading companies establish career path programmes to facilitate talent growth and to create SCM bench strength. In contrast, too many organisations place the burden of career progression on the individual employee.

A career path is defined as a flexible line of progression through which an employee moves during their employment with an organisation. As this description implies, most fields do not offer a standardised or universal career path. Based on research findings, supply chain management is no exception as individuals are expected to adapt to a progression of roles with greater responsibilities during their tenure with an organisation.

This career path flexibility affords employers and SCM talent the opportunity to map out a tangible and tailored professional advancement strategy. This facilitates SCM talent retention according to survey participants. When asked “What are the major reasons why SCM talent leaves your organisation?” the respondents identified a lack of opportunity and limited growth within the organisation most frequently among 20 potential responses.

Career path structure

Though some fields (like management consulting, engineering, and accounting) have relatively linear or prescribed career paths that culminate in leadership roles, fewer such options exist in SCM. SCM is a broad field with multiple opportunities for progression through lateral moves, upward moves, and moves outside the field. The value proposition is that talent will become better prepared for top-level positions where they will have to manage multiple functions and a web of resources and people. For example, a transportation service provider career path would progress through operations, planning, and sales to a leadership role.

Another structural option is the supply chain generalist role. This sample path affords the individual an opportunity to gain valuable experience within the SCM domain in transportation, fulfillment, and production. Moving between functions promotes development of a well-versed SCM professional who understands functional trade-offs and manages with a total cost perspective.


After SCM talent has been acquired and developed, organisations must support professional growth and advancement. Career paths, retention strategies, and succession planning are critical pieces of the talent management puzzle that help supply chain leaders build high performance teams. The long-range success of individual team members, the organisation, and the supply chain profession require ongoing investment in SCM talent.

This publication contains tables and graphs with valuable statistics and facts that will be useful to any serious reader. At the end is a list of 19 ‘end notes’ or references, which is also a valuable cross-reference to follow-up reading.

Written by: Brian Gibson, Auburn University; Zac Williams, Central Michigan University; Sean Goffnett, Central Michigan University; Robert Cook, Central Michigan University Publisher: Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals ISBN: 978-0-9761747-5-2


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