A call to … [f]arms!

Dec. 19, 2019

Looking back at the past three years, having experienced leadership time in resurgent rust-belt states, I’ve had a running list of top three concerns that have managed to shift but always remain in the top spots: Meeting Ever Increasing Demands for Supply Chain Savings, Integrating Supply Chain Data with Clinical Data to Inform and Enhance Decision Making, and Retaining and Developing Talent.

As I scoured what Healthcare Purchasing News had to say on these topics in recent articles, I found myself gravitating towards the topic of talent management, a subject I’m passionate about and have put time in to studying. I was struck by the fact that in July 2018 two of the most respected leaders in our field managed to produce articles for HPN that had seemingly different things to say on this topic: One for its admitted absence as a trending concern from an annual survey of providers and suppliers; the other for highlighting 17 “skills” required of a successful supply chain professional. I hazard to guess the disconnect, but suspect the survey represents the most contemporary of concerns and the latter a more fundamental and arguably timeless view of talent. Let’s reconcile these, but first let’s draw on a metaphor about baseball, one that puts my beloved hometown team between the pages of this magazine for likely the very first time.


Generally recognized as one of the greatest Major League Baseball turnaround stories in the 2000s, the Houston Astros accumulated a miserable six-season (2009-2014) winning percentage of .393, then managed to follow the next five seasons (2015-2019), including their most recent one, with a winning percentage of .594 and two trips to the World Series. Their accomplishment seems all the more unlikely when one considers that they moved from the National League to the American League in 2013 after reports of their impending demise ran the gauntlet of the national press. Foundational to their success is their widely known reliance on data, taking a page from the Athletics’ 2002 season, to assemble a competitive team at a fraction of the cost that teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were spending.

Less known is that their rigorous application of sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of baseball statistics, was not focused on the Astros themselves but instead on their Triple-A farm system to develop talent, a move to fewer farm system teams to concentrate their talent and trainers, and the hiring of Jose Fernandez, co-founder of FC Barcelona’s – yes, the world-renowned soccer team – La Masia farm system. And if I can be so bold, the Astros’ new ownership – the transition that took place in conjunction with their move to the American League – was highly competitive and held a great sense of urgency.

Talent and retention

Perhaps the balance of supplier respondents to the 2018 survey skewed the results, but I believe strongly that the world of the provider, particularly amongst supply chain professionals, is highly competitive as evidenced by the time I spend with my industry peers as well as my own experience. Just in the last six months, our organization lost three, relatively short-term, highly competent and young supply chain personnel to Harley Davidson, Milwaukee Tool and Briggs & Stratton. If you’re operating in a manufacturing or Fortune 500 hub, the competition for talent is real. Couple this competition with the following:

  • Very limited empirical data to guide the industry to what are required, needed and nice-to-have skills
  • Declining member engagement in some of our industry’s anchor organizations largely responsible for professional development and advancement
  • Shrinking budgets for training and education for perceived non-essential staff
  • Inability for supply chain leaders to seriously develop succession planning
  • Migration of non-healthcare personnel into leadership ranks

What you’re left with is a critical gap to retaining and developing talent that will widen. As leaders, we must view this time as a clarion call to put aside our paradigms and radically rethink how we address talent management. A call to farms (as in farm teams), if you will.

Space limitations require a quick wrap-up but in my follow-up later this summer – two years to the date of the 2018 aforementioned articles – I want you to ask yourselves these important questions and email me back your perspectives, which I’ll explore further and incorporate into a strategic list of critical and timely to-do’s for the industry:

  • Who are our anchor organizations and what obligation do they have to ensure that talent management remains a top priority?
  • How does higher education play a role and what linkages might supply chain leaders create with their local universities, colleges and vocational schools?
  • What specific groups/individuals must collaborate to form a multi-disciplinary panel of thought leaders to accurately identify the educational, training and networking requirements of entry, mid-level and leadership personnel?
  • How do we help organizational development and education departments to best re-prioritize resources to support our efforts in talent management, inclusive of education as well as succession planning?
  • What can we do to turn the tables on our non-healthcare rivals for talent and become more competitive for entry-level personnel that haven’t given healthcare serious consideration to launch their careers? 
About the Author

Ed Hardin | Vice President & Chief Supply Chain Officer

Ed Hardin, FACHE, CMRP, serves as Vice President & Chief Supply Chain Officer for Froedtert Health, a Milwaukee-based integrated delivery system.  Hardin is an educator and mentor, passionate about creating work environments that cause people “to wake up every day loving what they do and loving who they’re doing it with.” He previously served as Vice President, Supply Chain Management, for Irving, TX-based CHRISTUS Health, named the 2016 Supply Chain Department of the Year by Healthcare Purchasing News. In October 2020 Hardin was inducted into Bellwether League Foundation’s Hall of Fame for Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership. He can be reached via email at  [email protected].