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Reimagining a Better Supply Chain in the Pandemic Era

By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University

Supply chains have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but not just by the virus. There has also been an inability to reimagine a new way of operating.

Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

A lack of resources, employees and customers has forced companies to reassess how to maximize their profit margins. Adjustments can vary depending on the end product, but common themes include not only reassessing the supply chain and prioritizing operations with an emphasis on a new process, mindset, and culture.

If there is a question of whether or not to employ a new strategy, remember that culture eats strategy for lunch. In other words, the company as a whole needs to pivot or it will perish.

How to Create Buy-In

Buy-ins for a new operational strategy begins at the top but do not stop there. A culture shift means engaging the front-line workers. Developing a group to buy into a cultural shift means being realistic about where you are versus where you need to go to implement change. Using the momentum to make a significant cultural impact must include operational managers throughout the supply chain.

Happiness Is Key to a Productive Culture

From my experience, operational supply chain managers need to create a culture of service, cooperation and collaboration. Happiness is an unheard-of concept in the supply chain environment. As a professor and supply chain manager, I never discussed happiness; rather, the emphasis was on creating optimal products and services.

Happiness is not often synonymous with a working unit, however; team members need resources, space and protection to be happy. A productive culture emerges when people are happy. The greatest intentions in the world mean nothing in the supply chain environment because intentions plus action creates the will to proactively move forward and promote a positive culture.

Empathy in the Supply Chain Environment

Empathy should not be overlooked in developing an optimal supply chain. The most productive teams learn to manage themselves by understanding the needs of each team member. Supply chain company Trailer Bridge says empathy creates a nurturing environment, and nurturing relationships help produce a strong culture and promote a new paradigm of leading people, not projects.

According to Trailer Bridge, “While analytics and predictive budgeting software can certainly drive more informed decision-making, it is the people of logistics who power successful transactions and cost savings. In fact, injecting the process with empathy and love is far more effective at driving precision and predictability in manufacturing budgets.”

The Role of Servant Leadership

If the operational manager is truly a servant leader, there will be an emerging need to lead by helping and serving. Many great leaders are first great servants. Former operational management techniques followed the military format but servant leadership flips the hierarchy and puts customers at the top. Customers should drive the entire operational process. This focus puts an emphasis on eradicating organizational silos and focusing on collaboration.

Therefore, the focus of the operational manager should be on people first, processes second and projects third.  It is the opposite of command and control and focuses on the best and the brightest.

Team members need to own the mission by creating and promoting excellence. Operational managers succeed when they give their very best and have a good idea of ‘true north,’ which includes meeting the needs of those entrusted to their care. Profits and excellence are the byproduct of leadership which is about influence, nothing more, nothing less.

Reimagining the Supply Chain Involves Building a Better Team and Culture

So the key to reimagining the supply chain is not to build a better product, but to build a better team. The key to building a strong team is to create a strong culture. A strong culture promotes happiness and empathy. Happiness and empathy start with trained operational managers throughout the supply chains, as opposed to infusing new technology into the existing supply chain.

A strong culture will focus on the operational manager who will be motivating, managing, nurturing and training. The goal of good operational managers is to leave the supply chain better than they found it, which involves understanding the fundamentals of servant leadership. Simply put, if you take care of your team, your team will take care of the customer, and the customer will drive your supply chain.

About the Author

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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