During the month of April this year, our SCLA Executive Think Tank group discussions centered on geopolitical risks to global supply chain sourcing and strategically positioning our supply chains for success.
Unfortunately, geopolitical tensions in several areas of the world are running high, and these are causing more than just theoretical risks, but real-world threats and disruptions to the supply chain.
From the political strife in Myanmar to unprecedented port congestion around the globe (even before the 6-day Suez Canal blockage incident in late March), it is an understatement to say it’s a challenging time in the supply chain industry.
Two presentations to our group early in April, by Chris Jones of Descartes Systems Group and Steve Holic of Holic Supply Chain Solutions, respectively, provided some fantastic insights into risk mitigation and why supply chain agility and resilience are hot topics right now.
In my last article, I discussed the one big factor that company leaders need to provide their teams as we continue to move into the future of work in a post-pandemic world.
That factor is flexibility. And one large company we’re connected to here at SCLA—Rich Products Corporation—has been embracing what Director of Global Markets Ken Kwasniewski calls “radical flexibility” in the approach to building up and managing its teams.
Today, we’ll explore that approach based on a fantastic presentation that Mr. Kwasniewski recently gave to our Think Tank group.
What Does Radical Flexibility Mean?
For office staff and other non-frontline workers, radical flexibility is about giving team members a variety of options to work how they want. This means expanding the ability to work from home—or “work from anywhere”—and fully supporting workers who choose to be remote even when full-time in-person work is available.
In a recent article on LinkedIn, I covered the fact that transforming supply chains from internally-focused to customer-centric operations is the key to unlocking their potential as a competitive advantage—a "weapon" in the battle of building a more successful business.
There are many ways to become more customer-centric. We looked at how my colleague Renee Ure, Chief Operating Officer at Lenovo Data Center Group, has led her team members to develop new skills and attitudes that drive success.
Amazon is Setting the Pace
However, because e-commerce giant Amazon has been rapidly reinventing "last mile" fulfillment—with a goal of same-day delivery to just about anyone in the United States on the horizon—it is now clear that being customer-centric in our behavior isn't good enough.
The supply chain must also literally bring our work closer to our customers—both by offering more visibility in everything we do and physically moving closer to where they are to serve them more efficiently.
Our SCLA Executive Think Tank group has recently embarked on a discussion series centered around the supply chain's potential as a competitive advantage—a "weapon" in the battle of building a more successful business. Many large organizations are beginning to realize that their supply chain can be a powerful differentiator that drives more revenue, though unlocking its power is not easy.
The good news is that there are many opportunities to utilize assets like data, real estate, and even the customer experience from the supply chain perspective to leverage better results.
(Note that for the purposes of today's article, "customer" refers to enterprise clients, not end-user consumers, though consumers are also arguably much savvier about supply chain now than ever before.)
Customer Focus as a Key Differentiator
My colleague Renee Ure, Chief Operating Officer at Lenovo Data Center Group, shared specifically how being intensely customer-focused has made her company's supply chain a force to be reckoned with.
Looking to gain competitive advantage and supply chain effectiveness? Then tune into the SCLA C-Suite Commentaries to learn from my one-on-one conversations with legendary supply chain executives.
Not sure what the C-Suite Commentaries are? Read on for a little “teaser”—or just click any of the video links to jump right in!
A little while ago, I published a quick intro to my fantastic video interview with Jayne Franchino, who is the Senior Vice President, Global Operations at Pearson. We talked about the idea of resilience as an essential quality for future leaders in the supply chain and beyond.
During a recent SCLA Executive Think Tank group discussion, I asked my fellow supply chain industry leaders what challenges they're facing now that are "keeping them awake at night." Several individuals raised points that are worth sharing with the broader community as we continue to navigate back to smoother sailing in 2021.
The good news is that our SCLA Economist, Dr. Walter Kemmsies, had several positive economic updates to share, which suggest that all of these challenges can eventually be met head-on—and overcome. It won't be without extraordinary efforts from our supply chain professionals, however. Of course, we're used to working hard!
Nearly all of these challenges are tied to the ongoing COVID-19 recovery, though many of us are also attempting to keep up with the shifting political climate in the United States. It's a lot for anyone, but there's no question that our best supply chain leaders are dedicated to learning, growing, and innovating as we establish our "new normal."
1. New Executive Orders from the White House
My colleague Rear Admiral Mark Heinrich, CEO of Oakleaf Software, shared that he is working to stay up-to-date on President Biden's new executive orders to understand how these policies will affect the supply chain. Those related to the environment will affect the supply chain's cost concerning such regulations as CO2 generated per mile—and more. RA Heinrich spoke about remaining on the leading edge of creating a green supply chain to ensure compliance with changing regulations.
I recently published an article on LinkedIn about the idea of "distributed work," which is dramatically reshaping organizations of all sizes both inside and outside the supply chain industry. (The term refers to employees being physically distributed in various locations distant from one another, and it includes those who are working from home due to the pandemic.)
Based on research presented by my colleague Todd Steffen, Vice President of Supply Chain & Real Estate Advisory Services at Colliers International, distributed work is already shaping the "workplace of the future," and that was my focus in that earlier post. Some employers have embraced a distributed workforce and will continue to do so long after COVID-19 is a distant memory.
Distributed Work is Not for Everyone
But what about organizations that still function best through in-person work in a centralized location, such as corporate offices or distribution centers? As the pandemic continues to significantly disrupt in-person work, these companies have had to get creative—or face big problems and losses.
During our most recent SCLA Executive Think Tank group discussion, we heard from our friends at Jockey International, Inc., the Wisconsin-based intimate and lifestyle apparel maker. They have shown us that it doesn't have to be a struggle to bring their teams back to the traditional workplace. Tim Taylor, SVP, Chief Supply Chain Officer, and HR Executive Lisa Johnson shared all of the things that Jockey has done right to get back to work safely.
For part of May this year, our SCLA Executive Think Tank group discussions centered around Lean as a process and organizational methodology. We asked the big question on many people's minds: is Lean still viable?
It's no secret that Lean has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent times. Many observers and organizations believe that Lean has failed—and have even suggested it's the reason there have been so many shortages during the pandemic.
Some organizations are beginning to abandon Lean, mainly because the JIT (just-in-time) aspect of the system did not seem to work well during the time of immense outside pressure that we just endured.
However, it seems that abandoning the system is the wrong approach. Lean can still work—and well. It just depends on the culture of the organization. Dr. Jeff Liker, Professor Emeritus of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan and a Lean expert and consultant, joined us in early May to provide a more positive perspective on Lean. Dr. Liker has written extensively on The Toyota Way and showed our group how the automaker's culture is at the core of its system and perennial success.
Our SCLA Executive Think Tank group recently began a new discussion series centered around taking care of our hardworking teams in the supply chain as we look to a post-COVID future. Keeping team member morale from sinking remains a top concern among leadership, and we have discovered that top talent is beginning to drift away from our organizations due to burnout.
This is alarming, to say the least.
Being problem-solvers, supply chain leaders naturally want to know what we can do to stop the talent drain. And, luckily, new survey data and input from experts suggest there are several significant ways we can nurture our teams into remaining engaged, productive, and even happy.
Our colleague, Misty Bennett, Assistant Dean of the College of Business at Central Michigan University, happens to be one of those experts. She studies industrial organizational psychology, human resources, and the way of work.
In a previous article for our SCLA ongoing thought leadership series here on LinkedIn, I covered what some of my industry colleagues identified as the biggest challenges facing the supply chain right now.
Are you surprised to learn that concerns about low team member morale were high on our top 5 list of challenges? My guess is you're not.
And, your organization—large or small—is very likely facing issues with team members feeling overly stressed and perhaps even completely burned out.
Burnout's Difficult Symptoms
Unfortunately, due to the continuing adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of our supply chain teams—from workers through executive leadership—are dealing with burnout symptoms, whether we recognize these or not.