IoT, AI, Big Data, Machine Learning and AR/VR. Key words, statements, and topics that populate every aspect of supply chain management discussions, seminars, conferences, articles and strategies in the ongoing digital age. All these cognitive technologies are both exciting and important. But...yes, I did just say but.”
"There are different ways to do this, and if you are at a point in your organization where digitization is the next big thing, then pack your approach behind this topic"
No matter the size of the supply chain or the industries that exist, regardless of how digitized, connected, automated, or complex, they all have one thing as a common denominator—people! Those on the cutting edge of technology in supply chain management and optimization might reckon that the aforementioned statement is under threat, and yes, to a degree some of it is. However, supply chains are still overwhelmingly dependent on people.
The irony is that, for an organization and a supply chain to truly tap into, and ultimately implement the transformations offered by the technological advancements, it is vital to get the staff engaged. Why? Well, as we have all heard so many times before, an engaged workforce understands where the organization is going, what the benefits are to them, how to plan and adapt in advance of the change and ultimately drive strategic thinking to performance.
It’s also critical that they research the internet for techniques and methodologies to engage the workforce, and you may want to clear your calendar to get through all the options out there. To me, however, the approach is relatively straightforward. Think about it in terms of the age old PDCA continuous improvement approach.
Firstly, get a pulse check of the business in terms of whether people feel that they are well-trained, whether they understand the ethos of the business and its direction, and lastly, whether they have the means to do anything with regards to bringing improvements. There are different ways to do this, and if you are at a point in your organization where digitization is the next big thing, then pack your approach behind this topic. Once you are on board, start talking to people about whether they understand why the organization needs to think about this, does the company have the necessary skills to go down this route? And finally, is there a work culture in place where all employees can all speak their minds, make suggestions, highlight pitfalls, and participate in CI and step change projects fully?
Once you know where the gaps are, you can really get into one-on-one sessions with them. Ensure that the sessions are non-threatening and encourage conversations. The key here is to have the right type of people running the sessions; if you can be a neutral person, it’s an advantage, since as employees may be more honest and truthful if/when their senior manager inquires, “So, nothing to worry about, just want you to tell me what needs to change around here?” Capture the potential ideas visually for all to see and get the staff to filter and prioritize these. Then, and this is important, get them into an action list, project plan, a to-do list, but ensure that they can see the actions moving. Show them you mean business. This gives you and the process credibility and credibility leads to buy-in.
My experience over the years has taught me to consider carefully who should be responsible for these actions, own them and get them done. In each organization the most important operational layer in ensuring strategy is turned into performance, is the supervisory/team leader level. These are the people that you really must get on side, make sure they get the 100 percent of it and buy into the way forward. The reason is simple, they are partly operating physically in the processes on a day-to-day basis alongside the rank and file. They also carry an element of management responsibility. As such they are the bridge between the managers/senior managers and the staff.
If these people are well-supported and trained, and they work well with their teams and have everything at their disposal to manage their teams fairly and efficiently, then they will carry a high level of credibility in their teams and understand the strategic direction of the organization. Also, don’t forget, credibility leads to buy-in. If your supervisory level of management has buy-in and trust from their teams, then any type of step change or transformation will have a far greater chance of success.
Lastly. You must ensure that the communication lines in the management structure of the organization are totally clear. The interaction between senior, middle, and supervisory management needs to be regular as one team, whether face-to–face, or online. If you’re the senior manager in that mix, make it clear that that forum is the place to hash out the differences and when you leave the room, the management speaks in a unified voice, and has one message. If you’re not, push for it!
The future looks very exciting and in supply chain management. There are things that can change the world as we know it, make sure your teams get to glimpse that potential with you and I think they will help you get there!