Terry Sueltman is vice president, supply chain management, Temple-Inland, Inc., Austin, Texas.
March 2006, Inside Supply Management® Vol. 17, No. 3, page 10
Leading an organization means leading people; you can not underestimate the importance of recognizing the best ones and then getting them on board.
Supply management is a developing field that demands strong leadership. We have a lot of pioneering work to do. The best people using the best processes should get the best results. For the next few moments, I'd like to focus on the best people.
I've often thought if I get the right people in place, a lot of other things will take care of themselves. Hiring the best people is so important to me that I will not entirely delegate it. I have continued to interview everyone we hire for professional positions, including personally doing a great deal of campus recruiting.
I segment what I look for in people into skills and attributes. Skills come from education or experience, such as a degree in the field or the experience of working in a well-regarded company, including knowledge of leading sourcing processes, how to use e-bid tools or how to perform market research for a commodity.
Attributes, on the other hand, are inherent personality and communication traits. I look for someone who speaks clearly and concisely, someone who is confident but not arrogant, and someone who listens well while engaging in the conversation. The person should not only be a good team leader, but also a good team member, as needed. Throughout the interview process, he or she must demonstrate a drive to succeed.
In terms of priority, I place attributes ahead of skills, because I've found that certain skills can be taught much more easily than key attributes. Matching these attributes to your company's culture is also an important consideration.
You may think you know which skills and attributes you're searching for in candidates, but the best leaders must have a strong benchmark against which to assess these factors. If you have never worked with great people, you may not really know what "the best" looks like. Visiting leading companies and participating in industry council meetings are good ways to see the quality of people who now work in supply management. Do not settle for less than the best, even if it means waiting.
One more attribute that shines through from the best people: They want responsibility and to be made accountable for results. They want to be heard, and to be involved in major decisions. They're not afraid to have a little "skin" in the game. The best people want you to be interested in their development, and in turn, they will thrive and benefit from constructive coaching and developmental actions.
Ironic as it may sound, sometimes the best developmental step for an individual is to move out of supply management and into other parts of the company. When someone shows an interest in this, I often encourage them to pursue their ambitions. I've always felt that I'm not losing a good employee, but gaining an ally in another part of the company — an ally who understands and appreciates supply management.
Of course, to maintain an organization of the best people, we as leaders also need to address poor performance issues that arise. This is a difficult but necessary action. The best people quickly recognize poor performance in others and won't understand if it is tolerated. Your own credibility and the well-earned respect of your team is greatly diminished if you're unable to make needed changes. Addressing these issues can be done in a fair, professional way. Treat all people with respect, regardless of their performance.
To lead any organization, we must lead the people in it. And attracting, developing and maintaining a quality staff can simultaneously be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the job. Be patient in your search and high in your expectations. In the long run, you'll be rewarded with the best.
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