Earlier here, I introduced AUTHORITY, EXPERTISE and INFORMATION as dimensions to consider in determining if and why to collaborate with different parties. Importantly, this decision is driven by what you need from other parties and not whether or not you like them. For context, let’s say we are addressing complex supply chain relations that directly affect the sustainability—economic, environmental and societal—of today’s business models.
The net/net of the earlier column was, if you have all three of these elements, collaboration is optional.
THE “2 out of 3” SCENARIOS
#1 – No AUTHORITY – Sell the idea
The extent of simultaneously moving parts in most business functions creates a situation where those managing the work cannot be familiar with all the intricacies. Having information and expertise usually means that you can see the consequences of a decision (e.g. “No, we can’t just ship in larger quantities to make sure we meet demand; the expense and risk of housing inventory in that particular location is prohibitive.”).
The approach here is to “sell” the right idea. If you have fostered a degree of “benefit of the doubt” with the “authority” figure, this can be very easy. If the relationship is not there yet, this will demand a thorough understanding of that person’s interests, and a savvy ability to tell them what they need to hear. This is the realm of persuasion and communication skills. In my view, it is the responsibility of our informed experts to get these ideas through.
#2 – No INFORMATION – Help me help you
The final scene in the Cohen Brother’s movie “Burn After Reading” illustrates this situation perfectly (and hilariously), but in real life these interactions can horribly frustrating. Picture a situation whereby you are a competent cook and you have the authority to make whatever you want for dinner. Yet your question “what do we have in the house?” is met with either:
1 – “Well, there is a lot of stuff in the house,” OR,
2 – A detailed list of “everything” in the house.
The fog created by the audience’s lack of expertise can thicken if they are at all intimidated by the degree of authority. These situations are quick to break down completely (e.g. “we’ll eat out tonight!” or “just let me in the kitchen to see for myself!”) The overriding “help me help you” desire can—time and patience permitting—also take the form of tolerating the lengthy list and taking what is useful.
#3 – No EXPERTISE – Hand over the authority
This is the flip side of “No AUTHORITY” and demands a large degree of comfort with the lack of expertise. But, no, this doesn’t mean abdicating completely! Those in authority are tasked with taking a wider look at things, so, to use our first example, they understand the trade-offs involved with running short on supply (e.g. disappointed customers), as well as the trade-offs involved with keeping more inventory (e.g. higher costs and risks). Taking all into account, they can arrive that the decision that does the “best” for the organization.
The interesting part here is the word “best,” which should come down to strategic priorities for sustaining business success, rather than “best” for specific segments of the company (short-term profitability) or individuals (least headache potential). With the necessary separation of expertise and authority, such strategic priorities need to be very clear. A colleague of mine and I consult with organizations to align such strategic priorities with elements of the triple bottomline (profit, planet and people) and to leverage those in engaging with various stakeholder groups. The ensuing conversations, though tough, are well worth having in preparation for evaluating such trade-offs.
If there was any danger of your supply chain getting dull, this can certainly spice things up nicely.
What kind of person are you: Competitive? Big-picture thinker? Assertive? Conciliator? Other?
Such tags tend to promise clarity, but bring in a bundle of behaviours and attitudes that may or may not relate. When these words find themselves describing quadrants or supporting wider groupings on a personality test, you almost need a glossary to explain the context (and the particular bundle).
I run into this with my working descriptions for negotiation strategies.
A couple of semantic challenges are:
- Even if you are not “a competitive person,” you can still pick a strategy of “competing” in a certain situation;
- It can make strategic business sense to “accommodate” the needs of others and you don’t have to be weak-kneed to do it;
- Collaborating with a party does not mean agreeing with them all the time, and you don’t have to be “nice” to do it.
I will suggest that collaboration is a default for supply chain initiatives, given that the relationships (internal and external) have to be maintained over a period of time and that, in today’s competitive (semantics again!) environment, there is no room for compromising the returns on time and dollars spent.
So do you have to collaborate all the time on everything? Not at all.
Before giving you the model, let me give you this:
Glossary of Terms
Information: Results, data, examples and findings that may help in determining a superior course of action.
Expertise: Orientation, experience and training that enable one to see relevant implications of a decision prior to its implementation.
Authority: Structural or informal power to direct the actions of others, coupled with accountability for the consequences of a decision.
If you have all three, there is no need to collaborate. Why would you? You have all the information you need, you know what is important for the decision, and your sphere of responsibility allows you to “make the call.”
This doesn’t mean that you have to be obvious about “going it alone,” but engaging others would be strictly for relationship-building. You will decide if this is worth the effort.
Tune in next month for an elaboration on what to do when you have “two out of three” (which “ain’t bad,” according to Meatloaf).
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE AUGUST NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL.
If you read this column, you will know by now that I have a very soft spot for analogy. My favourites involve the restaurant industry, and to guard against diminished impact from overuse, allow me to share one from a client of mine, who is enamoured with sports analogies. He explains a relatively recent switch in his and his agency’s role:
“We used to be like hockey referees. If things were working, people barely knew we were there. Occasionally we would be called in to work on problems, but there was often clarity about what should happen. These days, we are baseball umpires and are constantly being asked to call ’strikes’ and ‘balls’ in situations where things are happening fast and in front of many spectators.”
The difference in the impact of the authority of officials is stark between hockey and baseball (leaving national orientations aside). In hockey, a referee is unable to see everything because the action is so constant. In most instances, no action on the part of a referee is an acceptable response. There is an expectation that less-serious infractions and breaches will be ignored, and that occasionally a major breach will slip under the radar (for example, if it happens behind the play). In instances where a potentially game-changing decision is required, such as with a disputed goal, the lines are very clear and the maximum impact – one goal – is usually surmountable for the other side.
Baseball umpires, on the other hand, have a nearly omniscient view of the field of play. They are constantly required to make binary decisions – i.e., in or out (watch this clip for the frenzy created by delayed calls). One of the most-important criteria for an umpire’s decisions – the vertical strike zone from the player’s shoulders to knees – changes with every batter, plus the ball travels at highway vehicle speeds and only very recently has support been allowed through instant replay. “Game-changing” calls routinely become “game-ending” (e.g., how rare is a bottom-of-the-ninth third out on strikes?)
In the working world, which would you rather be?
A straw poll would likely show a preference for refereeing, but I will suggest that many organizations need the calls made by umpires. There are steep potential downsides to “no action” as a response to a situation:
- Delays that cause missing a window of opportunity
- Diminishing perceptions of the person’s ability/leadership
- Deflating employee spirits as “analysis” continues seemingly forever.
From my involvement with supply chain professionals, I’ve found that they often make up the group that has the best view of the “field of play” and may be in a good position to make (or initiate) a positive “game-changing” decision that takes into account wider implications. The criteria for success, like the strike zone, may need some clarification to maintain the quality of the decisions and garner necessary support.
The other thing to point out, before the analogy goes too far, is that the best decisions come when the “us against them” dynamic is altered toward collaboration. This is why I still prefer the restaurant stories.
THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE AUGUST NEWSLETTER OF THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (www.canadiansupplychain.org)
There are two questions arise whenever a change initiative hits a snag that requires a decision: 1) “Who can make the call?” and, 2) “Who knows best?” Such is the interplay between authority and expertise in moving change forward. The manner in which individuals manage this interplay can have drastic effects on the success or failure of any given improvement initiative.
Authority – Who’s in charge?
Things are straightforward when the person who should make the decision has the visibility to come up with the best answer. Small operations, where the founder/owner knows every detail of every process, supplier, procedure, etc., will fall into this category. It is not long, however, before organizations reach a size where authority and expertise sit with different individuals. In the SMB space, as well as with larger corporations, necessary functional divisions make it impossible for those at the top of the organizational chart to see everything beneath them. Culturally and structurally these organizations have to create an environment where information flows up and down. Also, different layers of management can create a dynamic by which those at different managerial rungs will be tempted to cover their respective backsides, on the off chance that results are not as favourable as expected.
Two things to watch out for in the authority structure are:
1.Are those in charge accessing all the information that they need to make decisions?
2.Are those in authority taking responsibility for the decisions they make (or should be making)?
“No” to either of these will hurt implementation in every case.
Expertise – Who knows best?
There is a human tendency to over-recognize ones own expertise (and I say this as an expert in interpersonal communications in change environments…). In process improvement projects, however, those “doing the work” can add significant value by sharing their “on the ground” expertise. Familiarity with the day-to-day operations provides excellent visibility to identify areas for cost and/or time savings. These process experts may not, however, have visibility for the overall operations or the wider improvement initiatives that are underway.
Good information comes from tapping into the expertise at all levels of the organization. This may sound easy but can get hung up on a couple of areas:
1.Managers who have “come through the ranks” may have to realise that times might have changed;
2.In engaging the “rank and file” managers must foster trust and manage expectations (e.g. just because I am asking you what you think, doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to do it.)
3.Once the decisions are made, managers have the responsibility to “close the loop” with those whose expertise has been tapped.
Authority and expertise play different and important roles in enabling the most effective changes to take place. The interplay has the potential to slow or stop some of the best initiatives from smooth implementation. I would suggest that more responsibility sits with those in formal authority to reduce the interpersonal noise that habitually arises. This type of “micro leadership” can pay macro dividends as the right information moves to the top of the pile.
This originally appeared in the September 2008 e-Newsletter for the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (www.supplychaincanada.org).
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