Q&A: Professor Loredana Padurean, Asia School of Business
As someone who is creating Asia Pacific’s business leaders of the future, what do you believe are the essential skills leaders require?
In many ways, we need leaders who are Renaissance women/men or polymaths, as opposed to specialists of an industry or a field. A polymath is a person with profound knowledge, proficiency and expertise in multiple fields and today’s leaders have to be able to combine various ideas, look at problems in novel and useful ways, and develop a broad and yet still deep set of skills, talents, and knowledge.
You’ve coined ‘smart’ and ‘sharp’ as skills of the future. What are these?
They are replacements for ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills, a concept coined by a US Army doctor in 1972 who observed that his pupils had different skills: dealing with machinery required ‘hard’ skills, while dealing with people and paper were ‘soft’ skills. This concept has served us well since, but I find it too binary, not to mention the semantic implications of the words themselves.
Soft implies gentle, delicate, mild, quiet, tender, weak. However, there is nothing soft in navigating competing perspectives and cultures, handling and delivering critical feedback or dealing with office politics. Instead, I prefer to call these skills ‘smart’. Hard implies rigid, difficult, heavy, static. But how can we think of engineering or software development as static or rigid? I believe ‘sharp’ is more apt as such skills need constant updating or sharpening.
I think it’s time to reflect on these classifications, because we can drastically change someone’s perspective by how we choose to talk about and frame something.
How important are smart skills in leadership today?
Smart skills are more important than ever because we live in a world of extreme diversity: generational, ethical, value-based, gender, etc. Gone are the days when giving an order was an effective act of leadership. I personally work with people from five different continents and across five different generations, therefore as leaders, we need to know how to adapt, motivate, inspire and connect. We need to increase our investment in learning about them in action, especially as smart skills are more difficult to develop.
I believe that a successful leader today has to be both smart and sharp. Take cognitive readiness, one of my top 10 smart skills. In order to be cognitive ready, one has to master system dynamics, one of my top 10 sharp skills. Also, did you know that one of the primary reasons why digital transformation fails is not the absence of digital literacy, a sharp skill, but the need for more validation and adaptability, both smart skills. So, instead of thinking of these skills as binary, I prefer to think of them as the yin and yang; co-existing and complementing each other.
So, you can teach leaders smart skills then?
Yes, you can, via a combination of the classroom experience, plus an action component supported by deeply embedded reflection. At ASB we call this Action Learning, and we teach it both in the MBA and in the executive programs. For example, in teaching a leader emotional maturity as a smart skill, first they need to learn what it is, and then act on it, before reflecting on what we did and how we did it. And then to repeat it, but this time with more expertise and awareness. It’s not easy, but that’s why my favourite mantra is ‘the job is easy, the people are not’.
Discover Professor Padurean's successful skills for a digital transformation here
Opinion: Benefits of ERP for manufacturers and distributors
There are several challenges that are keeping manufacturers and distributors awake at night. The most dangerous of these is the uncontrollable forces driving fundamental changes in the industry and include the global pandemic, international trade wars, the rise of globalisation, changing regulations and emerging technologies, to name but a few.
While the industry figures out how to navigate these external shifts, there is still the need to resolve a few fundamental internal pain points that have been around for the last decade. The most critical of these being that many businesses are still reliant on manual or paper-based systems and on top of that, management systems are ageing and disparate.
Understanding the objectives of your ERP implementation
To address these challenges, IDC predicts that global spending on digital transformation technologies and services is forecast to grow 10.4% to $1.3 trillion in the next year. While the stats show an increased uptake in technologies such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), for many businesses, there has been a hesitation around the adoption of ERP.
Concerns centre around costs and time considerations, while many still believe their legacy systems are doing enough to keep the lights on. ERP implementations are also a complex task for most businesses. According to a report by Technology Evaluation Centres, “Buying and implementing an ERP system is one of the most complex projects a business will take on, no matter the size of the company. In fact, nearly 50% of ERP implementations fail the first time around.”
While those figures are distressingly high, the key to a successful ERP implementation is to understand the key objectives of your ERP implementation, and how the ERP solution will address the pain points in your organisation, and how it will improve your customers’ experience. The organisation needs to be crystal clear on the expected outcome and why.
To realise those objectives, it is vital to understand what ERP is, what it is not, and its key benefits.
What is ERP?
In summary, ERP systems standardise, automate and integrate the core business processes. The standardisation of business processes allows the organisation to consistently do things the same way and easily understand if a problem occurs. The automation of business processes reduces human effort and consequently error, while improving operational efficiency and productivity. By integrating disparate business processes, ERP simplifies data and information transfer across the organisation, ensuring coherent information in all systems while also avoiding duplication of effort. Disparate systems encourage discontinuity between processes and result in people working at cross purposes in different parts of the organisation. Simply put, the ERP becomes the heart of a business.
ERP offers a single source of truth
As a single source of truth for companies, ERP allows businesses to operate with real-time data. Leadership can therefore take decisions consensually as they share the same data and insights. The business can also automate tasks, while eliminating the tracking of operations via spreadsheets, which in turn can drastically reduce manual errors, duplication of work and free up employees’ time so that they can focus on more important tasks.
The ERP platform also is able to connect to Internet of Things (IoT) devices to collect live data to assist in closely monitoring critical processes and quality. Having a shared the single source of information ultimately provides the business with a complete and detailed view of their sales forecasts, incoming raw materials to meet those forecasts, manufacturing operations and progress of orders through the factory, distribution of orders to customers, cash position and account status for suppliers and customers. In other words, all the key information required to make the business a success
ERP allows for comprehensive compliance and traceability
Globally, manufacturers and distributors need to comply with several regulations to ensure a safe working environment, product traceability and adherence to regulatory reporting. The ERP system can produce the reports that are required to comply with the regulated reporting.
From defence contracting through to food and beverage production, granular traceability of product details such as supplier and material sources, material changes and customer deliveries of specific batches, as well as the ability to audit all material transactions are expected. The requirements to successfully track and sort all this data will require the cross-organisation data collection of an ERP system.
From a traceability perspective, a product recall system allows manufacturers to perform a full product recall quickly and efficiently by having instant access to all the critical information needed to track a suspect product, throughout the value chain. It supplies the necessary information to identify, isolate and action the activities that need to occur within the predetermined recall time limit.
ERP offers accurate forecasts
With businesses increasingly shifting routes to market to remain competitive, having accurate and real-time visibility into inventory levels are vital to improve profitability as well as manage cashflow. The ERP system supports this and allows businesses to analyse forecasted demand, accurately predict production targets and meet demand levels. A strong point of any ERP is that it helps manufacturers and distributors by automating the processes of balancing material supply, and product and service demand. This allows them to optimise the ordering processes, take advantage of economic order quantities, batching and economies of scale.
By getting all these fundamental elements in place right at the start of the journey, a business can reap the benefits of an ERP and achieve the desired ROI for the investment.