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Consider rebranding your supply chain meeting.

Regardless of the business sector, meetings intended to review the supply chains have become just downright depressing. Sit down with any business leader in the automotive industry, and you will get reminded of the gray clouds accompanying chip shortage. Sit down within any maintenance department discussing upcoming periodic outages, and you may hear that disruptions are highly plausible because of compromised delivery dates of critical parts. This bombardment of bad news is the red-dye stains on the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are intended to show good velocity and delivery performances required. What comes from all of this red is internal tensions, opinions, and excuses from disconnected organizations that have forgotten the importance of collaboration.

The last few years have taught us how sensitive supply chains are to changes in the overall environment. The ability to plan for disruptions such as weather events, political disturbances, or pandemics is a critical challenge that is still not fully addressed. - Nima SubramanianMIT Sloan Management

We can intentionally counter this red dye by rethinking how we communicate the collaborative efforts and their results. This is not a reflection of making everything sunshine, beach breezes, and smiling faces. Nor is it an attempt to put our hands up in the air and say, there is nothing we can do. It is quite the opposite. As leaders, we must weather the storms while maintaining the momentum, disrupting the blame games, and maintain focus on moving forward.

I would like to challenge you to consider an executive summary of six highlights that get reviewed within your supply chain meetings. Opempathy has shown the simplicity of a 6-pack in the past with its approach on post outage reviews and we feel the six highlight in this blog will be just as helpful. This approach is not diminishing other important KPIs that denote important discussion points, performance, or setbacks. Instead, these six highlights are a reminder that momentum is intended to be maintained and the organization demonstrates a maturity to collaborate when times get tough.

Six vantage points

Indirect activities

Highlight and review specific team members, organizations, and production units that have positive trends that are indirectly supporting the supply chain's KPIs. These should be trends that are setting the next production cycle up for success or influences that make doing business easier. Consider things like a bottleneck unit that has achieved 4 months in a row of achieving their unplanned delay performance target. Another option could be highlighting that a procurement team member is averaging two new suppliers per month in the last 12 months. These are auxiliary accomplishments that bring additional flexibility, redundancy, and nimbleness through times when the team is stressed. When other people see these individuals and teams being called out for their accomplishments, the intent motivates individuals to recognize others' accomplishments.

Enabling activities

Review the specific key steps that must be accomplished in the upcoming production schedule that enable the success of the enterprise. If you played any sports in high school, these are callouts before the game stating the need for a strong performance from the second line tonight or that we need extra attention to detail by our guards on the competition’s all-American guard in Friday’s game. These shouldn’t be the same thing every week. We don’t need to call out that we need a great shift out of Kristy’’s team every week for example. Kristy knows that, so don’t bother reminding her. Instead, spread out the responsible burden. If spread out effectively, these can be perceived as a motivational catalyst for someone to understand their part in the enterprise’s effectiveness. We are connecting here that an individual effort greatly influences the effectiveness of the team to synchronize all of the processing steps together.

Experimental activities

Conduct a high-level review of critical milestones and specific activities that team members and production units are working with to increase yield and velocity. These are milestones within experimental projects or dares of doing new things with less. These could indicate a start of a new project, an individual milestone of a project, or even canceling a project because the results just ended up crappy. These highlighted courageous activities show teams and individuals that are attempting to unlock the untapped value. Accept that some may fail and only a few may win. The goal of these few bulleted notes is that we are encouraging experimentation.

Global approach

This is a list of empathetic activities support organizations conduct that support team members on the shop floor. Too many times through these supply chain hurdles, I see the burden unnecessarily consumed by the operators on the floor. As the operators on the shop floor jump through more schedule adjustments than normal or consume the blame for a delay, they will naturally begin to get overly defensive on bad performance. The shop floor feels the burden of the supply chain more than anyone else because they touch the product and are the easiest organization to measure their influence on the fluidity of the supply chain. To counter the fermentation of negativity, list out quantifiable actions that organizations on the perimeter of the operations (e.g. sales, finance, procurement, logistics) are doing that show the support they are giving to the men and women on the shop floor. This is operational empathy on a sugar high.

Critical shortcomings

Don’t avoid highlighting examples of where the team fell through in the previous week. But don’t remind the owners of the shortcomings week after week. This output has a half-life of one week and we must strive to not bring them up week after week. When we needle a performance week after week we are destroying the morale of this team’s ability to rebound. Instead, these are blunt examples of shortcomings, and those individuals are accountable for the results. This isn’t a blame game, but instead establishing ownership for the shortfall. Be specific with quantifiable points that denote the impact on velocity and volume. The maintenance delay on the cleaning unit cost us 50k pounds of production. Or, due to an order entry error, Justin accepted customer XYZ asking us to change the schedule which caused us 100k in production delays due to the unplanned changeover.

Thus, for effective supply chain management, measurement goals must consider integrated supply chain goals and the metrics to be used, linking all functional areas of sourcing and procurement, manufacturing, logistics and distribution, as well as supply chain planning and customer service. Tummala, V.M. Rao, and Tobias Schoenherr. “Best Practices for the Implementation of Supply Chain Management Initiatives,” International Journal of Logistics Systems and Management, Vol. 4, No. 4, 2008

Collaborative approach

The last one of the six is probably the most important. A colleague of mine routinely says, there should be no such thing as a happy meeting. What this means to me is that a high-performance team embodies that they commit to aligning decisions to the mission versus opinions, and they are committed to collaboratively solve problems regardless of their potentially siloed vantage points. In this call-out, you should show specific examples of collaborative activities of individuals and teams that worked through a challenging problem to make something happen. These are accomplishments from live negotiations or live problem-solving activities that embody nimbleness. The second shift and planning were able to adjust the schedules when the pallet-making facility had the fire alarm. Or, operations volunteered to stay over on the midnight shift, to help logistics clean up the hydraulic leak on the forklift so that 1st turn production wasn't impacted. When the team recognizes examples of gratefulness, the team will organically replace the distribution of blame, endless opinions, and excuses with how can I help?

Collaboration is key

You can disrupt the byproduct of supply chain disruptions with a little creativity. You can replace the blame games with individuals that instead ask, can I help out? If we can get these little things right we can get through these challenging supply chains and make ourselves more adaptable for future ones. It just requires us to collaborate and call out collaboration a little differently.


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