Welcome To The New Year’s Evolution

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Art van Bodegraven. 

Or Is It The Revolution? 

Whichever, it is something new, and high time, at that. Think of it as a sort of Arab Spring in your life, only with more and better outcomes. We might quibble over what is really involved. Is this a re-engineering? A renewal? Building new relationships? Redesigning? Re-imagining? Reconstruction? Maybe there are elements of all these, and more, depending on your circumstances, your environment, your objectives and the interests of those around you – upstream, downstream and within the enterprise.

The end of an old year and the onset of a new one triggers, in many cultures and faith traditions, a taking-stock and resolute expressions of hoped-for improvements, renewal and/or redirection. Most often, these are made in a personal context of good practices and behaviors, self-improvement, elevated relationships and forgiveness of past offenses.

And, At Work? 

This would seem to be as good a time as any to apply the reflection, energy, commitment and focus (even transient attention) of personal initiatives to our careers, our day-to-day jobs, our organizations, our working associates and our partners in supply chain planning and execution.

The shape that those might take will – or should, or must be unique to you and your circumstances. Taking someone else's new path could well lead off the edge of a cliff. And, as in personal lives, charging out with some lofty and patently unrealistic objective is a nearly sure-fire way to abandon the effort early, possibly realizing no improvement whatsoever.

Where To Begin?

Reiterating, don't start out with the intent of conquering Everest with no help from the Sherpa people. Start with the commitment to improve, learn and improve some more. It will be more clear after a record of successes whether Everest is next up. Or K2. Or Mount Trashmore, just on the edge of town.

Here's a crucial tip. Don't start with a frontal assault on the area of greatest need, or on the relationship in the most shredded tatters. The most likely outcomes are: 1) the invasion gets stopped in its tracks, even thrown back, or 2) the relationship gets permanently severed. And everyone else in the organization will know it. These fall somewhere in the spectrum of career-limiting and suicidal.

Forget The GPS; Invest In A Roadmap

Look, whether your interest is in building and repairing relationships or achieving performance objectives, implementing processes, changing paradigms, whatever, this is too crucial, personally and organizationally, to blithely drive along, responding to real-time cues and instructions. In all cases, you must create a plan to reach intermediate and longer-term objectives. A plan with milestones, timelines, contingencies, mitigations, fallbacks, resource needs, skills development, accountabilities and communications support. Without that, it is amateur hour, and we all know how those turn out.

Act Small, Think Big, Dream Outrageously

Whatever the direction of your evolutionary revolution, do the little, almost invisible things first. Make the plan(s). Train yourself and the staff. Invest in specific skills development.

If the course is altered performance, test plans and skills on small projects before taking the show to Broadway. If the target is more productive and comprehensive collaborative relationships, practice skills within your group until you are confident. Then, work with a unit outside your own (one in which failure will not cripple the initiative or draw undue attention from others) in building new ways of communicating and working together.

When that works, prioritize and sequence companion initiatives with mission critical supply chain partners, ones that can make a difference in enterprise performance. Those might be vital internal units (e.g., field operations, customer service, sales and marketing, legal). There could be others within the supply chain, such as sourcing and procurement. At some point, they have to include key suppliers, and ultimately, critical customers need to be brought into the tent.

In an abstract vision, you are immersed in an ongoing and continuously improving process to create and sustain an integrated, synchronized, holistic set of supply chains. In succeeding, your organization can become crazy good, and a joy to work with and be part of. And, you will be seen as a leader who can achieve the impossible. How great is that?

A Reminder

The outrageous dream would have been doomed to failure, even ridicule, if it began as a massive top-down imperative. Both suppliers and customers would immediately revert to the “What's-In-It-For-Me?” game. Internal units would actively ignore – or sabotage – progress at every turn.

Legal would rat you out for introducing rewardless risk. Field operations would put everything but party limos on their P-cards, and aggressively court their own pet suppliers. Procurement would build inventories because they "know better" than the callow youths who think they are now in charge. Real Estate would ignore operational advantages in favor of cost per square foot considerations in facilities. Transportation would expand its carrier portfolio, with less oversight and control than before. Manufacturing would make its own production plans, over-rule inventory guidelines and take independent procurement actions.

So, building the wall one brick at a time is a better way. Teaching those inside and outside the organization that win-win is a reasonable outcome to expect. Showing and earning trust and credibility, creating a little buzz around the idea that something is different, and it is good.

Good For Who? 

Or, good for whom if you are a grammarian stickler. Whether the target is a project with outcomes or the creation of new ways of working together, the effort, done right and done well, is good for everyone. Your team, your enterprise, your supply chain partners, your colleagues in the company – and, not least, for you.

But, none of this is worth talking about until and unless you make the commitment to begin your own evolution and revolution. It's hard work, to be sure, but the concept is straightforward: change yourself. Change others, first next to you, then around you. Like casting a stone into a pond, the ripples cascade outward, growing circles of influence, change and success. The notion is applicable across industries and is particularly powerful in the universe of supply chain management, in which sourcing and procurement are pivotal functions.

It's a beautiful thing that is not always easy to visualize or appreciate until and unless you've been there and done that.

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