Expert Insight: Guest Contribution
By Mike Gregory
Date: April 8, 2009

Supply Chain Comment: Creating a Performance Culture In Supply Chain and Logistics


Companies Need to Continually look Beyond Costs to the Multiple Factors that Drive a Dynamic Work Environment

“Other football players may have the coin, but they don’t have the ‘Quan.’”

- Rod Tidwell [Cuba Gooding Jr.], Jerry Maguire (1996)

As companies look to cut costs in today’s economic environment, an attractive cost cutting measure involves getting more done with fewer employees. These productivity improvement programs often include engineered labor standards.  But sustaining or improving a company’s culture can be challenging when implementing these types of programs. 

Fortunately, some forward-thinking companies have found a way to embrace the “Quan” principle in the movie, Jerry Maguire, to deliver outstanding results, while continuing to engage their associates. As the wide receiver, Rod Tidwell, described in Jerry Maguire, "Quan" has little to do with money and is much more about mutual love, friendship, family and respect.  In the corporate world, this translates to culture – the beliefs, behaviors and assumptions of an organization. 

To successfully craft such a culture, a company has to continually look beyond costs to multiple factors that drive a dynamic work environment. A performance management culture focuses everyone in the organization on, not only delivering results, but also on the way those results are achieved.

Building the Foundation

The first step to creating a performance culture is building a full-scale program design up-front. This process involves:

  • Craft a vision…not just goals:
    While goals and objectives are necessary (i.e., productivity, cost per unit), a vision implies much more. It includes “seeing” the results, as well as the means to achieve those results. It includes the interaction between management and associates, understanding the roles of partners, and clarifying the new organizational expectations.  
  • Declare non-negotiables…not just future improvements: 
    What are the company’s core values and cultural aspects that you do not want to change (i.e., respect for associates, value for customers, individual accountability, team-based problem-solving)?  Are these values a competitive advantage?  If so, ROI expectations must be defined for improvements that do not sacrifice these core values.  In most instances, it means that additional checks and balances are required to reinforce those values. 
  • Create fair, objective measures…not just expectations:
    One of the easiest ways to derail a performance management program is to lose trust with associates. Regardless of the engineering methodologies employed, associates need to understand how the measures relate to their job.  It must be absolutely clear that the measures are a fair representation of the work they perform and that the measures accurately calculate performance for the variety of work conditions and product mix that associates will encounter.
  • Define interactions…not just roles:  
    All roles and responsibilities as they relate to the program are defined – including management, supervision, associates and engineers. How will the interactions be characterized in a performance management program? How frequently will supervisors meet with associates?  What kind of feedback is required? What attributes of performance will be included in the feedback?
  • Define the actions…not just gaps:
    Currently, are managers focused on crisis management (fire fighters), managing flow (expeditors) or employee production (bean counters)? In the vision of the new organization, what new responsibilities are required?  Determine the development needs for supervisors and identify the systems, processes and routines to fill the gaps.
  • Demonstrate commitment…not just support:
    Front-line management needs to be seen as the sponsors of the performance improvement initiative. Often, the team implementing the program is seen as the key sponsor with management playing a back seat role.  This ownership must transition to management to achieve lasting improvement.  The management team should be prepared to answer questions, reinforce the reason for the changes and clarify any new expectations.  It may require time behind closed doors to educate the management team and prepare them to play this pivotal role.
  • Focus on the path …not just the destination:
    Quite frequently, there’s a temptation to focus only on bottom-line results with little regard to the details of an implementation. While a management team should not lose sight of progress against the ultimate goal, knowing the details and understanding implementation options will help the team remain flexible to input along the way and foster a willingness to course-correct if needed.
  • Build partnerships…not silos:
    With complex, high-value implementations, it’s critical to enlist partners in other parts of the organization to assist with the initiative and to provide support.  This likely will include IT, engineering and HR, but also store operations, allocations and transportation. 

Committing to a Plan

Due to the challenges and organizational change that is typically required, these programs cannot succeed unless there is a strong senior-level management commitment. That role is critical to the development of a program vision, ongoing program sponsorship, periodic communications and consequence management.  As issues arise, managers need to understand who to turn to for answers and to get issues resolved.

To support ongoing execution, management and supervisory training is essential. The most effective organizations conduct on-the-job training with management, and provide feedback. The four primary training disciplines are: conflict resolution, providing effective feedback, listening and leadership.


  • Focus on communications
  • Meet with associates to allow them to voice their concerns
  • Allow associates to ask questions
  • Educate associates on the measurement programs
  • Discuss the “why” as well as the “what”
  • Spend time on-the-floor
  • Seek (and listen to) feedback on areas that may have been neglected
  • Allow associates to voice concerns if there are problems


Harvesting the Results

A strong performance management culture enables companies to achieve the desired results much quicker and, many times, achieve up to two times the value of standards-only implementations. Successful organizations also significantly bolster retention and recruiting efforts as management transforms the culture to provide more support for associates, gives feedback on sustaining high individual performance levels and recognizes each associate’s efforts. Eventually, excellence in the workplace becomes a source of pride for associates and results in a sense of accomplishment. Management begins to view associates as individuals critical to the success of the organization and associates start to see supervisors as coaches who encourage their success.

At the end of Jerry McGuire, we observe the final steps of the journey that Jerry and Rod take together as every aspect of their lives become entwined.  Just as their “business relationship” flourishes, so does their friendship.  They have achieved their “Quan.”  Because of Rod’s testimonial, we begin to see other athletes turn to Jerry as they want to be part of his business and respect his approach to managing Rod’s career. 

In performance management programs that succeed by transforming the culture, the new environment is one where associates and managers have mutual respect and enable each other to become more successful.  These programs become a catalyst for energizing performance and driving, not only bottom-line performance, but also help contribute to organizational success.

Agree or disgree with with our guest contributor's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.

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profile About the Author

Mike Gregory leads the workforce performance improvement practice area in Kurt Salmon Associates' Supply Chain group.



Gregory Says:

The four primary training disciplines for building a Performance Culture are: conflict resolution, providing effective feedback, listening and leadership.

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