The pandemic has presented numerous challenges in terms of people management in supply chains, so what new skills are required to excel as a leader and support your team to success in the hybrid workplace?
The Covid-19 pandemic has ripped a chasm through the normal running of procurement and supply chain functions. Intermittent global lockdowns, closed sea and airports and worldwide shortages of materials have meant supply chain managers have had to make Herculean efforts to stay abreast of emerging challenges and to keep their customers happy.
They have also had to grapple with a string of issues in terms of people management, with hybrid working looking to becoming the norm. So what can managers do to maintain a strong connection with their teams?
The soft touch
Fundamentally, supply chains depend on people and the primary challenges for procurement and supply chain managers have been around managing these people remotely – both their own teams and the suppliers they deal with, says Epicor region vice-president, UK&I, Mark Hughes. “The ‘new normal’ has been a significant adjustment for managers and will be an ongoing challenge for some time, especially if they are making serious use of some technologies for the first time, like remote collaborative software,” Hughes adds.
According to Hughes, the skills managers need now are geared towards the creation of supply chains that are as smart and seamless as possible, but soft skills are also vital for success, such as people management, negotiation and the ability to work collaboratively. “The evolution of hybrid working means people management has never been more important and managing teams remotely requires a softer, more attentive approach.”
A “modern” approach to supporting teams will require being more connected with your people, and managers need to be enablers of that culture. “That means proactively and regularly touching base with the individuals under their care and supervision,” says Hughes. “It’s about getting to know employees and providing some sort of emotional continuity. They need to know that managers care, that it’s not a token gesture.”
But even further than that, managers need to understand an employee’s support network, he says.
“Are there best friends on the factory floor that they confide in? How’s their home life? Each employee will let you in to a varying extent, but you need to understand what makes them tick, and how they recover from the issues they face. That takes time, and patience.”
Commit to development
Remote and hybrid working has its benefits in terms of cost savings for the physical workplace environment and flexibility of working, says Peter Taylor, managing partner at law firm Paris Smith, but learning and development, particularly at the early stage of one’s career, is extremely challenging for many in a remote and hybrid working model.
“Learning and development is best undertaken through the osmosis effect of working alongside others in the workplace. Supervision of a team is more challenging in a remote model and requires additional skills and time. Equally, workplaces have a significant role to play in the preservation of the culture of the business, the social interaction between staff and the sense of belonging for those working within the business,” says Taylor.
It is important, he added, for managers to ensure the team and the individuals within it have a clear understanding of the business objectives and to have regular honest and open conversations with team members to listen to their concerns, challenges, drivers and personal objectives – even if this takes time.
“Make sure you are measuring performance against agreed metrics; there is technology available to assess performance in a remote working environment but do not forget the benefits of the team being together in the same physical space and working collaboratively. Be realistic about the present but create a sense of optimism and ambition for the future.”
Managers still have a key role to play in the ongoing development of their teams. And in order to maintain morale and retain talent, this cannot be allowed to lapse. For Taylor, it is as – if not more – important than ever that managers enable their teams to upskill and grow, and gain the necessary skills to achieve this.
“Take time to listen to each member of the team to their personal goals, their challenges and drivers. Provide milestones as to career development; give timely, honest balanced feedback on performance,” Taylor advises.
“Show authenticity and vulnerability – be consistent, reliable and responsive. Take time to listen to the suggestions from team members as to how they see their career developing, how they see the business developing, what might be done better or differently. All these key pieces of information will help to inform you as to how their careers might develop and the skills that they might enhance or need to acquire.
Find your style
Management styles have also undergone changes over the past 18 months for many firms, including at software developer Zupa Tech. In response to remote environments and younger workers’ needs, CEO Jerry Brand says: “More minority-minded influencing and newer ways to manage and operate are becoming more relevant, and management styles need to adapt in line with this.”
During more than 33 years of running his own business, Brand feels his successes have been in part down to his ability to connect with people, for which he advises that managers “keep positive, motivated and use your character to drive you”. He adds that, while monitoring operations and welfare is essential, this is generally dictated by the size and policies of a company, whereas the importance of communicating is down to the manager.
Be flexible and accepting
Adapting ways of communicating and interacting with people is the top challenge of today, says Katell Déniel-Allioux, head of Dentons European Employment and Labour Practice, based in France. “It is key to define new rules and management styles to adapt to the changing expectations of the team. In the context of Covid-19, most employees have rethought their vision of work – and especially their place of work. Many companies in the EU, which were reluctant to use remote work, will now have to change their approach.
“Flexibility is one of the most important qualities for managers now. This means adapting their way of organising and leading the team by giving ongoing guidance and providing consistent and regular information on the activities, results and expectations.”
Managers need to recognise that all team members have different qualities and expectations of their roles, and they must be able to integrate those skills to create a cohesive team, Déniel-Allioux says. “A good manager needs to be able to assist each team member to reach their own goals but also to contribute to the results of the team. Being a good listener and providing clear objectives and regular feedback are key elements in successful management.” Technology is an enabler for team-building, but it’s also a barrier, says Hughes.
“If employees are based far away from the workplace, they can become isolated and distanced from the everyday camaraderie. Get them involved in virtual social events and invest time in connecting with them online.” Moving forward, he adds it’s important for managers not to hide away from difficult conversations and to acknowledge there’s been a hold on career mobility. Team members will need reassurance if they are to be retained.
“Given the restrictions on physical work and team cooperation, there has been limited opportunity for ambitious employees to demonstrate their competency, and work towards long-term objectives. This is going to require careful management as we open again, and employees consider their options.”