Ditch the Years and Look at the Experience: Why Years of Experience is Less Relevant in New School Supply Chain Leadership

By: Dyci Manns Sfregola

Okay, I’m just going to say it — I don’t care if your team has “120 years of collective experience in supply chain.” What does that even mean? Did your team consult Henry Ford on mass production? Better yet, was mass production your idea?! Years of experience doesn’t make a person more (or less qualified for that matter) for a position unless they can demonstrate value added and continuous learning during those years. This is especially true in supply chain and here’s why: 

  • Supply Chain is a people industry - And that means being successful in a leadership role requires a high level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. You can have 30 years of professional experience and lack both of those. For years, supply chain functional areas planned in silos and the companies that have been able to achieve supply chain excellence are driven by collaborative processes that cross departments within the enterprise as well as external boundaries. Instead of looking for solely someone with “at least 15 years of experience in supply chain,” consider, for example, someone that has a background in different industries and/or business functions like Human Resources or Product Management, that will understand human behavior or how the day-to-day decisions of other business units can manifest in the supply chain. 

  • Blockchain, AI, Machine Learning and the Cloud weren’t used in supply chain 25 years ago - Yes, the first instances of “cloud computing” were developed in the 1960’s, but I’m talking about the more modern 2010’s cloud. Best-in-class supply chains are leveraging planning and warehousing technologies that are changing rapidly. Technology companies are constantly upgrading and developing products, and it’s very possible to have 20 years of supply chain experience and also not have been exposed to or know how any of those technologies work - let alone if a company should invest in them. On the other hand, someone with just a few years of experience, or even a recent graduate who is likely a digital native, could have valuable insight into which technologies would provide the greatest ROI for the supply chain. 

  • Gone are the days of two-year ERP implementations - Okay, so they’re not completely gone. Many companies are still planning and implementing digital supply chain projects and ERP upgrades with a two-year timeline or roadmap. However, there are also many cloud-based planning tools that can be implemented in 12-20 weeks. What does that mean? Someone with “just” 3 years of project implementation experience in digital can have been part of 6-8 full project cycles (and have learned plenty of lessons from those implementations). Now, more than ever, we recognize that our supply chains need to be re-designed, digitally upgraded and re-networked and that means lots, and lots of projects. So don’t delete the resume of the PM candidate with 3 years of experience because they might indeed be the best choice. 

  • All experience isn’t “good” experience - This one is simple and straightforward: You can have 15 years of experience that aren’t necessarily relevant to the role or business context. 15 years working in manufacturing facilities that haven’t adopted IoT technologies and planning in silos is not highly valuable experience when it comes to the cross-functional collaboration and digital projects that will be required of new school supply chains. Moreover, we’ve all had our experiences with “bad” leaders - You know, micromanagers with communication skills that leave much to be desired. Don’t assume that a candidate with 15 years of experience is the best candidate solely because they have the most years in the workforce under their belt. 

So what’s the takeaway here? We know that diverse teams are better for business. But diversity doesn’t only mean hiring or promoting women or people of color - it also means bringing people to the team that have diverse professional backgrounds and promoting employees that may have fewer number of years of experience but higher quality years of experience, into leadership roles.

Age does not qualify you to run a team, or a company — Anjali Sud became the CEO of Vimeo when she was 34. We make assumptions that can be incorrect when we see or hear a number of years of experience. We assume that someone with many years of experience has seen and been exposed to more than someone with fewer years of experience, and that is a risky assumption that can lead to hiring people into leadership roles that are unable to perform and, on the other hand, it can mean missing out on exceptional talent that could give your company a competitive advantage.

There has been discussion and research about the correlation between years of experience or age and leadership effectiveness where studies have found that passion, among other attributes, is a much better indicator of potential success as a leader than years of experience. So be aware of your bias as it relates to age and years of experience and pick the best person for the job regardless of years of experience.

  • Great insights Dyci ~> provocative PoV and much needed as teams are led in a virtual environment? Are digital natives more inclined to be successful in digital workplace?

    • Sheri, I don’t think digital natives are more inclined to be successful simply because they are digital natives. While understanding how to quickly use and adapt to new technologies is a valuable skill, we can’t overlook the soft skills that will be required in the digital workplace that technology can’t teach.

      • This is too much sauce…. succinctly stated. I believe skills are more important than experience in this age. The new wave of challenges and the rate of change going through SCM is nothing that anyone has seen before so it requires new fountain of knowledge to deal with it. Now, experience has it place as well but not trump required skills.

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