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Why Technical Skills are Not Enough for Career Success

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

While studying operations management in school, I was impressed by the fancy analytical models that were taught and I thought being good at them will undoubtedly add value to a business and result in career success. However, when I entered the workplace, I found that this is not the case.

I believe analytical models are useful and important in solving business problems but there are limitations. Firstly, as complex as analyses can become, there are ultimately simplified representations of reality and good decisions are often not obvious even after real-world application of them. Many people fall into the trap of believing that complexity equates to value and end up overvaluing their efforts in creating and mastering complex analysis and processes. The truth is that the more complex analysis becomes the more uncertain the outcome. Others use complexity as a way to signal their intelligence or incorporate it into their roles to add job security rather than productivity. This behavior is damaging from an organizational perspective.

More importantly, a mentor early in my career once told me: “it doesn’t matter if you are smart or even right in a particular situation, you won’t be able to execute if no one follows you”. One of the most important part of supply chain management is connecting people and organizations, it is implied in the name of the discipline. You can't have a chain with one link. A supply chain professional is at the intersection of many parties externally and internally. For example, you may need to negotiate with a vendor to get the best possible deal. Internally, you may have to effectively obtain information and requirements from other departments. You will often have to manage and navigate through conflicting interests. It is important that you can communicate your and others’ position well in order to be successful in your role.

My background is not in communications and I encourage you to find other resources to improve your leadership and communication skills but here are some tips from personal experience:

  1. Build trust by being consistent and following up with what you committed to. Having a good reputation and relationships will give you a head start in any interaction.

  2. Listen with as few preconceived assumptions and judgments as possible.

  3. Gathered information and assess the business case from multiple angles and determine the best course of action. You need to understand the situation thoroughly and provide counterparties with the reasoning for your preferences/decisions. If you have put in the work, people can tell and will be more receptive to your ideas.

  4. If a counterparty is contentious, look creatively to the root cause and proactively work to remove obstacles or find alternative paths to achieve the end goal. People often give up too easily or just argue harder when someone is contentious. Think win-win more than win-lose.

  5. If you don’t ultimately get your way, don’t sweat it unless it has something to do with personal health/safety or has catastrophic consequences. If you were right, people will generally remember it and keep tabs. If you were wrong, you avoided a bad decision. You are much better off keeping a strong and friendly relationship.

I’ll probably repeat myself in this blog but optimizing a decision for one supply chain partner or one function is unlikely the optimal decision for the whole system. Supply Chain Professionals should think holistically. Removing unbalanced supply chain decisions and cross-functional silos is the key to making good business decisions. Having what are often called “soft-skills” is critical in facilitating this endeavor.


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