Leadership development, succession planning lack foresight, momentum within supply chain executive ranks, survey finds

July 26, 2021

A loosely translated phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” could be applied to the trend of healthcare supply chain leadership development and succession planning, according to the results of a recent industry survey commissioned by Bellwether League Foundation.

The current survey, conducted between mid-March and mid-June of this year, represents the third in an ongoing series designed to track momentum and progress of leadership development and succession planning in the healthcare supply chain profession.

 Jamie Kowalski, Co-Founder and Board Secretary, Bellwether League Foundation, launched the initial survey in 2015, tapping into the mindsets of Supply Chain leaders at more than 50 integrated delivery networks around nation. Six years ago, these provider-based executives expressed concern about the expected large number of Supply Chain leader positions that will be vacated through intended retirements. In fact, at the time, nearly 50% of survey respondents stated that they would be retiring within the next three-to-four years, culminating in what we now know as the year before the pandemic.

A follow-up survey the next year confirmed and reinforced the findings. The latest survey, which drew participation from Supply Chain executives and leaders as well as their bosses in the C-suite, found that the needle hasn’t budged much within the last six years, despite the anticipated exodus of experienced professionals.

The 2021 edition of the “Jamie C. Kowalski Survey of Healthcare Provider Supply Chain Executives: Leadership Development and Succession Planning,” was conducted with sponsorship from the following companies: GHX, Health Trust, Owens & Minor, Premier, Vizient, Wingfoot Media, The Wetrich Group, RiseNow and the CSS Consulting Group. Three organizations also served as content collaborators: • Strategic Marketplace Initiative (SMI) and The Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management (AHRMM).

Kowalski will present details of the survey and its findings during the second hour of Bellwether League Foundation’s 8th Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership Forum, sponsored by GHX, on Wednesday, July 28, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Central.

After reviewing and analyzing the results, Deborah Templeton, R.Ph., Board Chairman, Bellwether League Foundation and Kowalski, expressed equivalent parts surprise and concern to varying degrees. Templeton pointed to two key areas that surprised her the most: The lack of succession plans and the need for advanced degrees. “I feel that succession planning should be a core part of leadership responsibility,” Templeton noted. “You should be able to leave things in a state where they will successfully continue. With no plan, the message feels like it doesn’t really matter who they put in the role to continue. Organizations are looking for supply chain leaders, and as such, are looking for advanced training in key leadership traits as demonstrated in the survey. The [previous] survey demonstrated the trend leading to an advanced degree requirement.”

Kowalski referred to current events. “What surprised me the most is the low percentage – about 50% – of Supply Chain leaders that do not have a written pandemic plan,” he said. Looking back at five years of trending, Templeton expressed frustration and weariness about the lack of capitalizing on opportunities for improvement post-pandemic that have existed for a long time. “There have been ongoing struggles, like forecasting ability, and deficiencies were readily apparent when pressure-tested, yet no major changes have been seen yet,” she said. “What will it take?” Kowalski concurred but also lamented the continued low percentage of Supply Chain leaders and executives who still do not have a written Succession Plan in place and on file, to which he shakes his head in disbelief.

Templeton shared similar concerns. “Although a small percentage, some Supply Chain leaders do not feel planning for successorship is in their sights,” she said. “I believe that part of successful leadership is leaving a defined path for the next person in charge. Just because you will no longer be there does not mean you do not have a responsibility to make the transition to the next leader successful.” Kowalski and Templeton said they anticipate relatively mild reactions to the data, but hopefully not shrugs. Still, they expressed hope that these results might serve as a klaxon alarm, a wake-up call, to make changes. “Given the data about those with a Succession Plan did not improve in the last five years, I suspect there will continue to be a small percentage going forward,” Kowalski predicted. “This puts organization at risk of not having or finding a highly qualified, good match replacement for the Supply Chain leader position when the incumbent leaves. I hope it will be otherwise.”

Templeton agreed that the reactions won’t likely be surprising. “Knowing that healthcare supply chain had a challenging job during the pandemic, there is still opportunity for improvement,” she said. “The issues with trying to keep your ‘head above water’ made some of the weaknesses in the chain more evident. There is still a struggle with demand forecasting and planning throughout the chain, supplier to distributor to provider. There has to be a focus on better predictability and planning. “Connecting with the clinicians will also be key,” she continued. “When you could only get one glove, the color really didn’t matter. Have we learned anything for the experience that can help coordination with clinicians? Also, leaders will be relied on to keep the supply chain viable. As such, continued education on the leadership skills noted, particularly with ‘people’ management, communication and relationship management will be key. I hope that leaders will take advantage of the education opportunities offered as well as pursuing advanced degrees to further their employment opportunities.”

Kowalski will present details of the survey and its findings during the second hour of Bellwether League Foundation’s 8th Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership Forum, sponsored by GHX, on Wednesday, July 28, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Central.

Register here at Bellwether