Insights / Supply Chain / Article

How to Successfully Transition Into the CSCO Role

December 18, 2019

Contributor: Sarah Hippold

How can new chief supply chain officers navigate a new role and deliver? Successful CSCOs follow four steps to embrace the role and build standing in their organizations.

When an organization appoints a new chief supply chain officer (CSCO), congratulations, praise and firm handshakes are first in order. There might also be an announcement that the transition will be as smooth as possible to set the supply chain organization up for success. But what happens the next day?

In a typical organization, new CSCOs — new hires as well as internal appointments — are left to self-manage the transition with no standardized process or support in place.

New executives who quickly build a strong network among company leaders are 50% more likely to succeed in their transitions

“New-to-role leaders are often forced to navigate their transitions alone. They have to onboard themselves while at the same time try to establish a new vision for their organizations and quickly execute high-impact projects and changes,” says Dana Stiffler, Vice President Analyst, Gartner. "This is an overwhelming number of competing tasks during the first few months on the job. And how new CSCOs handle this situation can make or break their future.”

With such a massive number of tasks waiting, it’s hard to prioritize. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, Gartner has developed a framework that defines four areas of focus. CSCOs can use this framework to identify the priorities that fit their profile and situation.


Every transition happens in a specific context. For example, frequent leadership changes in the past may have had negative effects on the supply chain organization, or the team could be very open to change, which will make the transition easier. The CSCO role may be brand-new to the organization, which presents its own set of opportunities and pitfalls.

Identify important contextual factors and mitigate the risks that come with them, paying special attention to clarifying your role’s scope. Focus also on how you will empower employees during this transitional time and beyond. Leaders who focus on empowerment during uncertainty develop higher-performing workforces and their teams show lower aversion to change.


CSCOs, especially those from outside the organization, should prioritize building robust relationships with their direct reports and crucial stakeholders, especially peers outside the supply chain organization.

“New executives who quickly build a strong network among company leaders are 50% more likely to succeed in their transitions,” Stiffler says. “Being heard and getting the buy-in for investments is much easier if you can build on an existing trusted relationship.”

The key task is to build trusted relationships with direct reports

It can be tempting to trust your gut when it comes to relationships; however, a more intentional approach will yield better results. For stakeholders outside the supply chain organization, prioritize executive relationships that will have the biggest impact on success. Certain executives will be natural allies, others natural challengers. It’s important to engage with both.

Inside the supply chain organization, the key task is to build trusted relationships with direct reports. For the new team to work in an optimal way, employees have to feel comfortable providing proactive upward coaching and feedback.

Read more: How to Implement Successful Change Initiatives in Your Supply Chain


Every new CSCO has to answer two questions: How mature is the supply chain organization? What is the state of the team with regard to skills, resources and operating model? To build a vision and strategy, you have to know where you stand and where you need to invest.

If the transitioning CSCO is an internal hire, the assessment shouldn’t take much time. For external hires, the assessment process is both a challenge and an opportunity. The new CSCO goes into the process unbiased and will provide a truly objective assessment. 

However, there’s the risk of analysis paralysis, where the CSCO is overwhelmed by the volume of insights and postpones important and time-sensitive decisions. Guard against this with a streamlined review against a supply chain maturity checklist with direct reports.

Learn more: Chief Supply Chain Officer


Finally, new CSCOs should take some time to pave a vision and strategy for the future, while addressing the most pressing issues right away.

Ideally, the CSCO can identity two or three top issues that must be addressed within the next three to six months. Those issues should represent major obstacles or challenges to the existing supply chain organization. These quick wins will cement the presence of the new CSCO and guarantee buy-in for longer-term projects and investments.

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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.
Gartner for Supply Chain leaders clients can read more in CSCOs in Transition — Accelerating Time to Impact by Dana Stiffler, et al.

*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.