3 Ways Supply Chain Leaders Can Influence the C-Suite

Supply chain issues have been in the spotlight since the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s time for supply chain leaders to prepare for higher-profile roles in influencing corporate strategy.

Chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) play vital roles in organizations, but mostly behind the scenes. Now, thrust onstage by pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and global trade challenges, they must seize the opportunity to shift how the CEO and board view the strategic importance of supply chain.

“Supply chain as an end-to-end process is now more broadly defined in many organizations to include functions from multitier supplier engagement all the way to service,” says Ken Chadwick, VP Analyst, Gartner. “Core design and enabling functions like strategy, analytics and even IT are being pulled into the orbit of senior supply chain leaders. This gives them the ability to drive outcomes on an unprecedented scale.”

To do this successfully, however, CSCOs must first build credibility with their peers, the CEO and the board. Understand what the board cares about — and deliver it. To adapt to the board’s shifting priorities, supply chain leaders must focus on driving performance while managing risks and still pursue opportunities to leverage new technologies, products and services for business growth. 

This requires these three actions.

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Become the partner of choice

To drive performance, the CSCO must be viewed as a critical partner with whom other leaders work to solve operational and strategic challenges. Currently that is not the case, according to Gartner research. Senior business executives rank the CSCO role at the bottom of the list when asked to rate key pairings for working on something new.

Showing leadership at the board level means designing a supply chain organization that is resilient enough to respond in real time

Repair this perception by inspiring confidence in your abilities and those of your team. Showcase not only your deep supply chain expertise but also your exposure to a broad range of experiences such as sales, marketing, engineering, and running factory and business units. Target each interaction with the board to an outcome that you are looking to achieve, such as a decision on funding. Clearly articulate what you are asking for and how it links to challenges that are important to the CEO or board of directors.

Learn more: CSCO role

Show resilience in turbulent times

In the face of risk, the board and CEO are looking for both competence and confidence. Supply chain leaders need a clear approach to explain their risk responses and strategies to the board.

As the pandemic has revealed all too well, there are some risks for which nobody has a plan. But showing leadership at the board level means designing a supply chain organization that is resilient enough to respond in real time. For example, many supply chains responded swiftly to global trade challenges by collaborating with supply chain partners to absorb additional cost, moving manufacturing operations to alternative countries or switching sourcing to different locations to minimize import duties.

Influence the future through supply chain

The opportunity mindset drives the CSCO to think innovatively about how supply chain can leverage new technologies, business models, and products and services to support the growth of the business. Look beyond the horizon and attune yourself to the needs of external stakeholders, such as investors and consumers.

Focus on trends that the board has yet to identify and take a lead in the areas that are mostly in your wheelhouse. The environmental footprint of your company, for example, is a prime area that you, as a CSCO, can own. Another is data. CEOs want supply chain leaders who are not only tech-savvy but who can also help determine the data landscape. Build your own technical skills and use them to improve your collaboration with your company’s technology leaders.

As a CSCO looking to build your business influence, begin your journey by understanding the board’s and CEO’s priorities for the organization. Then make solid connections between those priorities and the work that your supply chain does.

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Gartner for Supply Chain Leaders can learn more in Supply Chain Executive Report: Build CSCO Influence in the Boardroom. Gartner clients can also visit the Gartner COVID-19 Resource Center to learn more about how to lead through the disruption of coronavirus.

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