Career Solutions: Hiring a Logistics Problem Solver

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Executives and recruiters in the supply chain industry spend a lot of time interviewing prospective employees. And while many logistics candidates look good on paper, their resumes don't always reveal the level of problem-solving skills they possess.

Companies need to hire logistics problem-solvers—people who can walk into an operation and help make its problems disappear. It is management's job to bring these people into the organization. Finding problem-solvers by making the right hiring decisions is crucial for keeping your supply chain on track. But is it easier said than done? Not if you know what to look for.

A Shared Philosophy

Every management team aims to improve shareholder equity returns, and this can only be accomplished through revenue growth, efficiency improvements, and capital optimization.

Make sure you know which of these strategies is of the greatest importance to your company, and be prepared to recruit from firms that share your supply chain philosophy, even if they're not in your industry.

For example, if your company's strategy is to grow sales through constant new product introductions, it might make more sense to recruit from Merck or Honda than from Wal-Mart.

Job candidates may have enjoyed successful careers within the industry, but their logistics philosophies may not match up with your company's. Imitation—while an excellent form of flattery—is a lousy form of strategy.

A logistics executive's supply chain philosophy is no small matter, and it can tangibly impact how that executive meshes with your company's internal accounting, information technology, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and other departments. It can also significantly affect their relationships with your company's customers, outsourcing partners, and vendors.

Once you have decided which target companies share your supply chain philosophy, decide specifically what problem(s) you want a new employee to solve in the first 90, 180, and 360 days.

Having a clear picture of what type of candidate—and what logistics philosophy—best serves your company's needs puts you in a better position to find the right problem-solver during an interview.

The Seven-Step Approach

When solving problems—whether in "real life" or in a job interview—it is important to follow a logical process. Indeed, most business problems are not solved because people don't clearly define the problem.

A good way to gauge the strength of candidates' problem-solving abilities is to walk them through the following seven-step framework, while they describe a specific problem they solved in their last job.

It is crucial to look for applicants who demonstrate an ability to do these seven things:

1. Define the problem. Have candidates identify the problem by including both a cause and an effect. This is the time to infer whether or not candidates can think holistically about your company's supply chain, and to assess whether they have a push or a pull orientation toward supply chain management.

2. Define the objectives. Ask candidates to explain their desired outcome. What did they want to achieve as a result of solving the problem?

3. Generate alternatives. Evaluate the alternative plans each candidate generated. How many alternatives did they come up with? Did the quality of the alternatives vary greatly? Was there a significant difference in the hard and soft costs associated with each idea? This is helpful for assessing the candidates' creativity and resourcefulness as problem solvers.

4. Develop an action plan. Usually, for an action plan to be effective, several steps must be taken over a period of time. Have candidates recap their action plans, and evaluate how detailed the plans were. Did they specify who did what? And by what dates? Detailed problem-solvers are more effective than generalists.

5. Troubleshoot. Give candidates the opportunity to recap worst-case scenarios. What could have gone wrong in their plan? What might the side effects have been? How did they ensure the plan's effectiveness? Were there any unintended consequences?

6. Communicate. Getting information to the right people is key to making any action plan a success. Have candidates discuss which individuals or groups affected the success of their action plan. Do they explain who was impacted by it and who needed to be informed? How did they communicate with relevant parties? The most effective executives are those who can communicate clearly.

7. Implement. Have the candidate explain who carried out the plan and monitored its implementation. Who was accountable for each part of the solution? What were the consequences for failure to meet the plan? As a manager, will the candidate be hard on the issues and soft on the people?

Predicting the Future

Drilling down on how candidates have solved problems in the past gives you a good idea of how they will solve problems in the future. Knowing what type of problem-solver candidates are helps you evaluate what type of impact they will have on your company.

During the interview, think in terms of the quality, consistency, and costs of candidates' solutions. You must get them to be specific about their problem-solving experiences. Minimize the chances of being duped by having candidates recap in vivid detail exactly what happened in a given situation.

Think as a child would: ask "why?" or "how?" to everything candidates say. If you don't challenge them during the interview process, you may pay a steep price later.

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