Top 10 insights, oversights for leadership, succession planning

Aug. 26, 2021

The past 18 months have been challenging for people around the world, but perhaps none more so than healthcare administrators, clinicians, executives, staff members and workers. What impact has the pandemic had on the healthcare supply chain workforce, and in particular, its leaders?

Veteran healthcare supply chain consultant Jamie Kowalski recently completed another survey exploring the state of supply chain leadership and whether the talent and development pipeline of future leaders is adequate. In late July, Kowalski shared results of the survey as part of the 2021 Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership Forum presented by Bellwether League Foundation, which he co-founded 14 years ago and now serves as a member of its board.

While it is impossible to share the survey’s full insights in a single column, I highlight below what can be considered among the top 10 findings. These include a view into how the results have changed since the last survey, which was conducted five years ago in 2016, and where things have remained the same despite the pandemic, other significant shifts driven by the move to a value-based healthcare system and finally what’s new.

First, a bit about the respondents. The majority hold positions at the Vice President level or higher, with nearly half working at systems with six to 20 hospitals, and another 30 percent at organizations with more than 20 hospitals.

What’s changed?

1. A little less seasoning. Over the past five years, there has been a notable reduction in the number of seasoned supply chain leaders. The number of respondents in leadership positions five years or less has grown 2.5 fold, while those in leadership roles more than 20 years dropped by more than 46 percent.

2. Lack of awareness. Despite a significant percentage of supply chain leaders planning to retire within six years, the percentage of executives aware of those plans dropped significantly. A notable 27 percent of executive level leaders were unaware of their supply chain leaders’ plans, compared to just 18 percent five years ago.

3. Ready, set, no? Of even greater concern is the fact that almost three times the percentage of supply chain leaders currently compared with 2016 doubt that the person they are mentoring to be their successor will be ready by the time they plan to retire.

4. Rent a leader. The past five years has seen a three-fold increase in the number of supply chain respondents who believe that contracting with a third party to fill the leadership role is a viable solution. A majority of those responding said their group purchasing organization (GPO) would be a likely resource to find that contracted leader.

What stayed the same?

5. A Master’s class. The percentage

of supply chain leaders holding a master’s level education has remained relatively the same over the past five years. A new question asked this year revealed that more than three-quarters of supply chain leaders believe a master’s degree, and in particular, an MBA, is a requirement for a supply chain leader.

6. Retirement planning. The length of

time before today’s supply chain leaders plan to retire remained relatively the same, as in 2016, when that percentage was 38%, the survey found.

7. On the job training. The time supply chain leaders believe it will take to fully prepare their chosen successor for the job remained relatively the same, with more than two-thirds saying 1-3 years.

What’s New

The survey also compared the results of questions answered by both the C-suite executives and their supply chain leaders and found some interesting similarities and differences.

8. Skills assessment. While supply chain leaders overwhelming believe leadership and management skills are more important than technical supply chain skills, when asked about specific skills, they still resorted to more supply chain-specific capabilities, e.g., the application of supply chain technology and tools, value analysis and contracting. Executives instead keyed in on visioning, team leading and selling of the supply chain vision and strategy.

9. Character alignment. The two types of leaders – executive and supply chain – did align on traits, with both emphasizing the personal character, e.g., ethics, integrity, accountability, along with the ability to see the big picture and drive results.

10. Write it down. Perhaps of most concern is that less than half of the respondents have a formal, written supply chain leader succession plan.

The survey goes into further details on how the respondents believe it is best to train and develop future leaders, including how they can leverage both internal and external resources. Given the timing, the survey also goes into detail, including open ended responses, on how the respondents believe they and their supply chain partners performed during the pandemic and specific areas they are prioritizing for improvement. 

For more information on the survey, visit Bellwether League Foundation at

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