A Process for Elevating Supply Chain Performance

A Process for Elevating Supply Chain Performance

As you gaze out the window at your office, or home office, feelings of disappointment can start to creep in. We’ve all been there, as another quarter rolls by with results below our expectations. Us “Type A” supply chain leaders tend to replay in our heads what we could have done differently. We ruminate over whether a different outcome from that one strategic project or supplier negotiation could have delivered the supply chain performance we needed. Maybe you feel mentally exhausted? You’re not alone. A recent Forbes study cited that 71% of leaders expect high performers will quit because of burnout.

Feelings of frustration are also common, especially if you feel that your team’s hard work hasn’t quiet translated into tangible results, though no fault of their own. As you reflect further, is it even possible for your team to work another hour? Your most recent attempts to rally the team to address the latest “fire” didn’t seem to garner the same enthusiasm. The unrelenting, prolonged pandemic and supply shortages have taken their toll as your team is rising earlier and working later.

A timeless quote from playwright William Shakespeare’s Hamlet comes to mind, “there is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.” Certainly, these are dramatic times; however, our mindset plays a key role in how we frame adversity and thus impacts our ability to deliver results in the face of headwinds. Although being positive is helpful in keeping one’s mind open to new solutions, it’s more than that. Times of significant change require greater open mindedness to adjust our strategies more quickly to better navigate evolving environments.

Transitioning from Fires to Flow

How do we break this seemingly endless cycle of firefighting in the face of less time? To properly address the pain, we must dig deeper. We must uncover the underlying processes and ingrained habits that consume our time and hinder our workflow. On a manufacturing line, a breakdown in physical flows causes disruption. Similarly, optimizing information flows can yield equally exciting results. The way in which information is stored, presented, and utilized impacts everything, from people resources to results timing.

To alleviate today’s workload pains, we need to approach the problem in different ways. “If you don’t do anything different to get better or work on your processes and systems today, tomorrow will present the same fires,” says Phil Ross, Global Supply Chain Director at Urbana, IL based Flex-N-Gate.

We need to take that first step outside of our comfort zone. We need to transition from immersing ourselves in the work to gazing down on the problem from afar to craft a better path forward. Sensing when team members are experiencing added stress can aid both morale and results. When Ross senses a team member is having a rough time he will ask, “Did you have a rough day today? What did you do today to make tomorrow better?” 

Focusing inward, ask yourself direct questions. Why do you do what you do? Why do you track what you track? You may come to the harsh reality that your approach hasn’t kept pace with change. Simply put, why would we consistently track the same things and expect different results? If you feel as though your profession, industry, and/or economy has passed you by, all is not lost. We’re currently in the early salvos of a decades in the making supply chain rewrite. Today’s early movers have but the slightest of head start. 

From my experience in the trenches and observations about supply chains across industries, I’ve realized that leaders have an amazing opportunity to continuously adjust supply chain metrics to enable better business outcomes as the world and data change more frequently. Now, more than ever, leaders need more information, not data, that enables better, faster decision making so you and your team can thrive and drive better business outcomes in the future.

Determine Current State

Before we embark on a journey of greater impact we need to understand where we are today. We need to understand our current company and supply chain key performance indicators (KPI)s. How did we arrive at our KPIs, and what is our perception of them?

We also need to acknowledge our biases. Our company and its supply chain performance are closely related to our academic teachings, ingrained training, past experiences, and available resources. Pausing to reflect on company goals and supply chain KPIs offers opportunity to move from generating good business results to great ones.

There are multiple paths to seeing improved supply performance results, and leading companies have designed and implemented purposeful strategies and actions to get themselves there. If you have KPIs that are generating results, keep using them; however, many of us could benefit from refinements to some portion of them.

Our approach is that supply performance is a never-ending pursuit. To help accelerate and sustain these results, we developed the Supply Chain Performance ProcessTM, a seven-step continuous process to assess, map, align, and refine current state KPIs.

Supply Chain Performance ProcessTM

The process is supported by an upfront digital assessment to quickly establish a baseline from which to accelerate actions. Further, this process verifies future state KPIs, advocates for a bias toward action, and facilitates real-time information and lessons-learned sharing.

Envision Future State

We need to document a clear vision for where we need and want to go. What are our near- and long-term supply chain goals? Do we need to reduce product costs? Do we want to want to align with suppliers that enable more demand flexibility? Our goals need to support company strategy and align across our team.

As leaders, we need to avoid one-size-fits-all metrics and instead purposefully select the best metric that most efficiently solves the problem. There are means during periods of change to act more quickly than your competition that will give your company an edge to shorten lead times, reduce costs, and increase visibility when launching new products or improving supply chain operations.

Refinements to our supply chain goals, in some cases even small ones, can empower our teams to accelerate better business results. As more and more leaders are leveraging supply chain as a force for good, supply chain has an opportunity to lead by enabling positive impacts for all stakeholders.

-William