I’ve worked for a number of companies, and like most, at most times they each had their share of issues. While the executives (including at times myself) were running around trying to determine how to fix the problems, in the vast majority of cases I believe if you polled the rank and file, the consensus on what was wrong and what needed to be done would usually have been pretty spot-on (but not always – some exceptions below).
This leads me to two mostly related supply chain anecdotes. The first consulting project I did was for a warehouse management system at personal products maker Carter-Wallace in New Jersey about 1991. As we presented our findings on the “as is” state to the logistics management team, we outlined something to do with inbound flow. “That’s not how we do it,” came the response back. After some back and forth, it ended with us requesting that a very nervous woman from the Receiving area come in and tell the VP that despite what he thought and what might be on a flow chart somewhere, the process did in fact work as we had indicated.
Example two: In about 1999, I spoke as an analyst with the CIO of a multibillion division of a Fortune 50 type company that had a supply chain planning project that was not going as intended. There were so many issues raised and so much complexity that one despaired that there was any real path to success, save pretty much starting over from scratch and calling in a new set of consultants. That is, until a week later I spoke with a much lower level IT manager, who explained in very clear terms what was going wrong, and had what appeared to be a very logical and attractive plan for fixing it. This involved a much more incremental plan and solving a few key problems in sequence to get a working product, and then worrying about some of the galactic possibilities once they got there. The CIO was bogged down by both a lack of detailed knowledge and the swirl of all the politics and CYA – the manager was not.
My point is that as managers, we do not use the individual and collective wisdom of our teams as effectively or often as we could – to our own and our company’s detriments. If you are more on the “team” than the executive side right now, I suspect you probably agree with that view.
Why is this? Pride, not wanting to look weak, thinking we’re a lot smarter than the people who work for us, and maybe most often being afraid they’ll tell us we’re a big part of the problem –those are a few that come to mind. Some times, we take a sort half effort (I seen it many times from all sides of the table) – the group meeting/off-site where the manager/exec is going through the motions of collecting everyone’s opinion, but in reality is mostly using the meeting to push the group in the direction he or she wants.
So, I’ll just suggest this: If performance is any area of your supply chain or function or facility is not what you’d like, there is a darn good chance if you collected the wisdom of all those involved, there would be a strong and accurate consensus on what the problems are and what needs to be done.
The exception – groups are not likely to suggest major transformations.
I doubt Paul Gaffney, EVP of Supply Chain at Staples, would have culled from his team the power of the using the unifying metric of return on assets to focus supply chain decisions and performance, as he has ultimately done with success in aligning the supply chain with corporate goals and shareholder value creation. I think it unlikely that employees would have been thinking what needed to be done at IBM a few years back was a massive supply chain restructuring. This ultimately involved outsourcing a number of plants and logistics operations, putting a number of functional silos under one integrated supply chain executive, and making a series of other transformational changes.
The bottom line, whatever your level in the organization: (1) do a lot of management by walking around, so you have a better feel for what’s really happening; (2) recognize if you have performance issues or simply want to improve, the collective wisdom of the team probably has a pretty good idea of what needs to be fixed or could be done, if you just ask and listen.
Do you agree there is a lot of accuracy and unused collective wisdom in our supply chain teams, or is this not often the case. If yes, why don’t we use it more? When does it make sense to use it, and when not? Any keys to success? Let us know your thoughts.