Taking Your Supply Management Activities (and Performance) to the Next Level (Part 1)

Spend Matters recently had the chance to chat with regular contributor Robert Rudzki and co-author Bob Trent on their new book, Next Level Supply Management Excellence, now available for purchase.

Spend Matters: What gave you the idea for "Next Level Supply Management Excellence"? Aren't the basics still what most organizations need? And on that note, what percentage of companies in the Fortune 500 do you think are ready to prioritize some of the more advanced concept and techniques you talk about over the basics?

Rudzki: The initial idea came from discussions, and suggestions, from clients of my advisory firm (Greybeard Advisors) and also from some of my fellow CPOs. The suggestion that we look forward 10 or more years -- and envision what the "next level" of supply management excellence would look like -- came out of those discussions. In a sense, our original book, "Straight to the Bottom Line" is about the existing state of current best practices (and how to get there). "Next Level Supply Management Excellence" builds on that foundation and describes the emerging practices that lead to the next level of best practices and even higher performance. As books go, they are a natural one-two punch, even though each book is intended to be a standalone read.

Bob Trent, who I have known for years, is my co-author. Bob is one of the top professors and researchers in the field, and he has real career experience as a practitioner as well. Bob and I refined the book's outline, and then identified a panel of 14 distinguished practitioners as "contributing authors" who participated in developing the book's content.

I agree with the premise that most organizations still need to get the basics right -- which is in stark contrast to some of the "survey" results that we hear about. I think there is natural grade inflation when you ask a CPO to rate his/her own organization through a survey tool. An independent perspective with face-to-face interviews and business process reviews is much more likely to give an accurate picture. When you do the comprehensive assessment approach, you identify exactly how much work remains to be done at most companies to achieve best practices.

Too many companies -- of all sizes, in all industries -- are leaving huge value unrealized because they are not practicing "current best practices." Add to that the reality that few companies are devoting time to envisioning the future of supply management, and you have an enormous opportunity available for those who are prepared to lead into the future.

Trent: Anyone who stays active in supply and supply chain management research knows that the world is changing rapidly. Topics that I covered in an earlier book, while still relevant, are now incomplete. Our thinking must be extended and we must recognize that new topics are increasingly relevant and that older topics need to be extended. Bob Rudzki and I both realized that the time had come to take a new look at a subject we have both covered extensively.

SM: In today's environment, if you could pick one chapter to read, which would it be and why?

Rudzki: That's a tough question; all the chapters are valuable in their own right. Here's my answer: first read the short (2 page) Foreword by Frank Quinn, Editorial Director of Supply Chain Management Review. He beautifully describes the current state of our profession, the challenges we as leaders face, and exactly what is needed to succeed -- both on an individual level and at a corporate level. Readers can access book excerpts, including the Foreword, through this link.

Trent: I believe the chapters that go after the critical link between supply management and finance are especially important. In particular, the discussion of working capital management and also early supply involvement with capital procurement projects are key. I know this is more than one chapter, but it stays within a general theme of working within the finance world. I am also a bit partial to the chapter on complexity. In my mind, the battle against complexity (or learning how to turn complexity into a competitive advantage) has to become part of every supply organization's culture.

SM: Besides your books, what do you consider essential reading for procurement organizations?

Rudzki: Some of my favorites include the better blogs/websites (Spend Matters, Sourcing Innovation, and MyPurchasingCenter come to mind), and the key magazines and their websites (Supply Chain Management Review, Supply & Demand Chain Executive, Procurement Leaders).

I make regular use of "Google Alerts" on key topics of interest. Let Google browse the internet for you and provide you with a daily listing a new items that meet your search term criteria. It's a great time saver.

Now a word of caution: It is too easy in any professional field to read mainly the stuff written about that field. For anyone aspiring to become an effective leader -- regardless of the field -- I strongly recommend that they read about other key topics, such as the subject of leadership. The first leadership book everyone should read is The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. It is a classic and, when combined with a "Leadership Practices Inventory" (a 360 degree feedback built around the framework of The Leadership Challenge) it can have a huge impact on your leadership style and effectiveness.

Finally, get an iPad! I've loaded my iPad with more than a dozen "news" sources from around the world. In 30 minutes each morning I can literally scan the globe and find out what is going on across multiple dimensions: geographic region, business, politics, science, health, etc.

Trent: Beside the sources that Bob mentions, I would add some that are outside the traditional trade material and websites. On the leadership side Harvard Business Review is a must. I also find many interesting stories with supply management implications in Bloomberg Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. A great deal of thought leadership is also available in Supply Chain Management Review.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where we continue our interview with Robert and Trent.

Jason Busch

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