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  • Kathrine Western and Shirley Lewington

Supply challenges are the problem - is coaching the answer?

These are unprecedented times – in 2021 we have experienced Covid 19, Brexit, cyber-attacks, Suez Canal blockage, Beirut port explosion, floods, forest fires, sanctions, oil price hikes – and more! Add to all of that a lack of visibility in our supply chains and an inability to establish long-term supplier management plans and we have a serious problem.

Businesses need to develop plans to tackle this crisis and will be relying on teams that have never faced challenges of this magnitude to deliver those plans – how might this be possible?

Business development hinges on people development – improving our most important resource to keep the business agile, resilient and capable of managing new challenges as they arise. Coaching is often considered the domain of senior management who use external ‘experts’ to transform their organisations. Doesn’t it make sense to use this management tool to supercharge all employees’ performance and, given current supply difficulties, to start with skills such as Category and Supplier Management that can have an immediate and lasting impact?

Organisations that have developed the coaching skills of their management teams have a significant advantage over their competition - coaching has become a way of life and makes a massive difference to business performance. The focus is always on the coach helping others to find the best solutions to their particular challenges and the great thing is that coaching can work at all levels.

It can support leadership teams as they plan strategic transformation, help managers coach their teams as they grapple with the challenges of category and supplier management and ensure procurement and contract managers build their commercial skill sets.

So where might these team members need to develop new skills? Given the swing in the balance of power in supplier relationships right now, it’s important to share future plans and offer security to your more strategic suppliers, ensuring they value your business and understand that you view them as part of your team. This requires constant communication, sharing of problems and helping each other develop solutions – a no-blame culture must exist. This is a very different skill to what is often in place but imagine the difference to results if team members developed this expertise across the organisation.

Greater visibility and control of the supply chain combined with better communication skills will help develop relationships with internal stakeholders too. No-one likes surprises in business and being able to keep everyone abreast of impacts on budgets and stock in this current climate is critical to the making of business decisions that are essential but also very difficult at the moment.

Right now, there are significant supply shortages in semi-conductors, electronic components, a wide range of construction materials and energy products, to name just a few – no business is immune to these. It is therefore essential that procurement and contract managers understand their supply chains, the tiers that exist and where any bottlenecks, inter-dependencies and price increases are likely to arise so they can develop a demand-led approach to securing supplies.

Sharing core tools and coaching the team as they apply them day-to-day will fast track this change in approach. A great coach asks the questions that enables the team to come up with creative ideas and think through the possible consequences of each, ahead of making choices. It is the team that ultimately decides, but the quality and speed of that process can be greatly enhanced by skilled coaching.

Our people are our most important asset – can we afford not to give them the skills and confidence they need in these unprecedented times?

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