Last week I participated in a meeting of the CSCSC’s board of directors, which brought together an impressive cross-section of stakeholders in Canada’s supply chain community. In addition to hearing reports and updates, attendees participated in a group exercise, led by Linda Lucas, to build on information from pan-Canadian information-gathering sessions conducted earlier this year. The exercise involved three steps:
- Identify sector-specific priorities (in a given overall segment);
- Map actions to further those priorities; and
- Assign tasks to people (bonus marks, I think, for time lines).
From my experience doing similar work with clients and groups, all the steps are important, and gauging consensus (rather than happiness) along the way is essential. Success or failure can hinge on the Number 3 point, above; failure is still in play even if Numbers 1 and 2 are clear and garner group support.
My group was focussed on issues under the umbrella of “Attracting and retaining talent in the sector.” Among the priorities we determined was getting other business functions to recognize the strategic importance of the supply chain function to make it a desirable area to pursue.
Note: The theme of the undervalued supporting function is rampant. “Supporting” roles never get the respect that they should. Individual egos (and we all have them) are no small part of this. At varying times, I have sat in meetings where those from other supporting functions (PR, Communications, HR and IT, for example) bemoaned the fact that they deserved more respect in the organization.
Having identified this priority, we suggested that the appropriate action is to “bang the drum” about the importance of supply chain. We then dutifully took aim at assigning the task, but concluded that this one – perhaps like others – is everybody’s job.
Some specific examples for the rollout might look like this:
- Leaders in organizations: celebrate successes in supply chain innovation internally (to reinforce the changes) and in other companies (to demonstrate the opportunity).
- Educational institutions and designation-granting associations: foster pride in being involved in 21st-century value creation (profiling successful graduates), and provide skills to communicate that value to different areas of the organization.
- Workers in the sector: take every opportunity available (and create opportunity) to share successes with all related functions internally and externally; praise and foster internal collaboration that helps generate innovative solutions.
- Consultants in team and stakeholder communications: provide awareness as to the importance of selling your functional and individual value; train skills on effectively communicating the value of supply chain to the wider stakeholder group.
Much of this is already underway, I know. According to information gathered in the Council’s activities, the work is far from done to further this priority to the extent that the sector needs to realize its potential. Consider yourself tasked, and stay tuned for the timelines.
This originally appeared in the June 2009 newsletter for the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (supplychaincanada.org)
The last day of public school reminded me of my youth when late in the school year, my grade 7 English teacher, Mr. Williams, gave us a quiz on a series of short stories he had assigned to read. The front page was a combination of short answer, fill in the blank, and true/false questions. On the back, there was on line on which we were to record “the number, between 0 and 6, of stories that you actually read.”
Does self evaluation get any better than that? I can’t remember what I wrote or his reaction, but I remember pondering whether to gamble in looking “studious, yet forgetful” or being “honest and, perhaps, lucky.”
Look for a letter to the editor that I submitted on two articles in today’s National Post commenting on peer evaluations in university. The issue being, is it progress to use a software that allows peer grading for short written assignments? Dangerous move toward blind leading the blind, or novel way to bring technology and dialogue into new millennium academia?
I will share the actual submission, if printed, but the gist of my argument is that most post-secondary education should be about discussion to gather support for an argument, and practice in presenting arguments effectively. This view reflects my bias in working in a business school, and away from the “black and white” numbers side of things (although you learn to use numbers in such a way to support your intentions).
The article writers on opposite sides of the issue both do a poor job in supporting their case. The software vendor quickly refers readers to the vendor site for objective support for the value of the software. You have to do better than “if you don’t believe me, then look at this thing that I wrote.” Where is your third-party endorsement?! The teaching assistants make a noble attempt to evoke an analogy, which I find very effective. Their problem is the hyperbole (it’s like peer-delivered medicine) followed by a quick “All joking aside…”
When operating out of the realm where you have no “benefit of the doubt,” that kind of support won’t cut it!
I spent the morning working with a client to “bullet proof” a proposed project direction that she will presenting over the phone to a task force. We were meticulous about the clarity of ideas and the relevant support to back them up. Since the group meets every 6 to 8 weeks, getting buy-in next meeting could mean accelerating the project schedule by two months. Not bad for 90 minutes of prep work: for the numbers people, it is almost a 1000-fold return on minutes spent. I will suggest it is worth spending the time, and worth getting help.
Toronto city workers are striking, because they can. City management and union representatives, hopefully, continue to negotiate, because they have to. I am expecting final class assignments devoted to analyzing this situation:
- what went wrong?
- how could it have been better?
- what should they learn for next time?
I always enjoy the perspectives and the biases that come out in the analysis. Likely because he shares my biases, I enjoyed Howard Levitt’s legal perspective on the situation in today’s National Post.
As an additional perspective, my MBA class (Negotiations) this week tried to deal with ethics as practically as possible. With the assistance of some readings, excersises and discussions, we arrived at some criteria that can help inform ethical decision making. (I don’t like to think that it always “depends;” there are some more biases for you!) One of the criteria was “It is unethical to maximize your own interests with a disregard for shared interests.” You can argue the semantics of any of those words, but the point, as I see it, is look out for number one, but stay attentive to shared interests.
Under this criteria, in nature, a parasitic relationship becomes unethical if it threatens the survival of the host. Does that mean the Bernie Madoff was unethical because he failed to create a sustainable Ponzi scheme? Maybe. Remember, this is one of four criteria.
Do city workers violate this ethical code by holding out for, specifically, sick day banking and pay-back for half a year of sick days upon retirement? I think the answer is, “Yes.” The shared interest is in a sustainable system whereby reasonable tax revenues cover reasonable city services. As Mr. Levitt illustrates, the status quo union agreements have progressed to being unreasonable (evidence by the fact that you don’t see similar benefits in the private sector).
The checks and balances of the private sector are not perfect–and certainly do not guarantee ethical behaviour–but can help. Uncompetitive wage burdens were part of GM going bankrupt. Unions, workers and pensioners live with the consequences. Pushing a business to unsustainability is unethical if your plan is to continue working there (as it appeared to be for many workers) or to bank on retirement income from the company (as it appears for many pensioners).
If today’s City of Toronto workers are in it for anything other than short-term gains, they are not behaving ethically, I will suggest. Anyone who makes such a claim, better have a strong ethical leg to stand on (or had best make it on a blog whose readership is limited to like minds… we will see.)
Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of listening to Michael Porter speak about value-based strategy in the health care system. (Since then, two people have asked me, “Who is Michael Porter?” Answer, for non-MBA types: “He is the Wayne Gretzky of business strategy.” Think 1980s and substitute Harvard Business School for the Edmonton Oilers.)
Having previously only read Porter, I was delighted at his level of passion and engagement with the audience. From the second to front row, I got a great view of all he did well. I would argue that this was not entirely necessary. As I mentioned to a fellow attendee: when your name is Michael Porter, with that particular crowd, you could count on the audience doing some work to understand you.
My take on the top-level was likely the same as everyone else’s. The current system is not set up to allow practitioners or patients to succeed. Too many people are asked to do the impossible. (That those in the system continue to do toil is a comment on very human-centric motivations!) The answer is to let people/system pieces excel in very specific areas. The success of niche players in business (Apple specializing in “cool,” Wal-Mart doing “cheap,” and Starbucks continually polishing their “experience” are all well-known examples). There is a German health centre that specializes in “headaches.” That is the future of health care.
We all have our “things” and Porter’s is “value-based competition.” Given that my “thing” is “getting the right ideas implemented,” I smiled (then cringed) when Porter glossed over the need for a “broad consensus” required to implement any of these changes. He quickly alluded to all the egos that prevent people from “stepping back and thinking rationally, ” and half-heartedly urged any board members in the audience to use their influence to champion attention to patient-outcome value.
I am unsure if others picked up on the importance of this point. It is a huge barrier to the right conversations ever beginning. Porter is right that it has to start somewhere: indeed, it has already begun. “Broad consensus” may be a challenge, but a good dose of “couldn’t this be WAAAY better” from various places in the system can help. I will continue to try to do my part. Intolerance is good.
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