Our fundamental objective at Supply Chain Game Changer is to share experiences and expertise and lessons learned. As such we have focussed on curating a wide range of content and resources that will have relevance to anyone at anytime no matter what their needs may be.
We began our Seasoned Leadership in Action™ Interview series in support of our objective to share experiences and expertise. And hearing from Industry leaders in this interview format has proven to be incredibly popular. People want to hear about the experiences of others and lessons learned from those who have been successful in their fields.
With many of these Seasoned Leadership in Action™ Interviews now published we thought it would be valuable to extract excerpts from these interviews along themes, starting with lessons learned.
As such we are presenting our first compilation of excerpts from these interviews which is focussed on Lessons Learned by these leaders throughout their careers.
Enjoy and look for nuggets of wisdom in these lessons learned.
One of the questions we ask all of our Interviewees is:
“What are some of the lessons you learned in your career that you would like to share for others to learn from?”
Here is a summary of how these Global Supply Chain and Business Leaders responded and shared their lessons learned:
Mistakes & set-backs are the great source for development opportunity. Those who embrace change and seize failure will be stronger and create the most transformation in the long term.
Failure means that you are trying new things and ultimately learning new ways to drive value.
The most important thing is to be flexible in your opinions and adaptable to change. Society and business are in a constant state of flux and people have access to more data and more information now then ever before in the history of mankind.
This gives us all fantastic power and freedom of choice. In business we need to be able to support this improved freedom by having solutions that are flexible and support consumer demand and desires.
Throughout my career and life in general, there have been many peers that have mentored, encouraged, and advised me on many occasions. So, if I can share any lessons or advice, I would encourage the readers to mentor and develop others that come along to pay it forward.
Further, treat everyone that you come across with respect, regardless of who they are. Lastly, be open to change. Change is manifestation of life itself. Those who resist, shall perish.
For me it’s about taking the ride that will become your career. To believe that after college you will make a career choice and spend the next 40 years of your life doing just that is unfathomable to me now.
When I have the opportunities to speak with college students I tell them that, in reverse, my career journey looks well-scripted and clearly landed me where I am today. In reality, a few abrupt moves and getting laid off in 2001 by Dell drove a sharp left-hand turn in my career in 2002 that evolved to where I am today.
My message is for young professionals to keep their options open and value diversity in opportunities. The more they can do to broaden their skillsets, whether in various supply chain functions or even on the dark side of product development, marketing, or other key business areas, the more valuable they will be to potential employers. I would not be where I am if I did not take a number of different assignments at IBM or the move to Dell or the abrupt move with Lucent!
Never ask anyone to do anything that you aren’t prepared to do yourself.
It doesn’t matter how you perceive yourself, it’s how other people perceive you.
Tenacity and grit in today’s environment are more important than ever.
Honesty and integrity will never go out of style.
It’s important to remember to have fun. You need to be able to trust your team, and like spending time with them. If you only look at business relationships as “what can someone do for me today,” you won’t only be unsuccessful, you’ll be unsatisfied.
Never under estimate the importance of culture in doing business and driving change. This reflects both global cultures, as business increasingly works across international boundaries, and corporate cultures. In today’s fast changing world, being able to deliver effective change requires engaging many people from different backgrounds and roles.
Thinking about how messaging, approach and timing may need to adapt to different cultures to sustainably deliver change should never be over looked. Having lived in 6 countries and worked in over 25, I have seen effective change programs and ineffective ones. Those which embrace and reflect cultural differences are always the most successful.
1. Your Customers will tell you what you need to do.
I’ve spent too much time on comprehensive strategic planning for my boards of directors, only to realize that if you deliver on your promises to your customers, they will reward you. They will tell you exactly what they need, where and when they need it.
If you can tap into that, then you will succeed and your business will grow. It’s easier to grow your business with an existing customer than to attract a new one. After all, existing customers will prefer to do business with someone they know and trust, and they want you to win along with them.
2. Don’t overthink things – take action early.
There’s an adage that goes something like “The race goes to the swiftest.” I’ve come to believe through experience that taking action is best even with incomplete information, especially if you have the right customer or supplier partner. Because you both will go through the same experience together, it’s better to get things done, even with mistakes, then to delay.
Conversely, if you keep taking the time to engineer out the risk, so too do you reduce the window of opportunity. So, take action, not every decision you make will be right, but most will be.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Everybody in the company needs to know the vision. Seems a bit clichéd, but when everyone is on the same page, amazing things happen.
4. Be absolutely clear on roles and responsibilities.
So many times, I’ve seen where people are unsure of their roles, where they fit and what’s expected of them. I’ve been in personnel reviews and career discussions where the individual just isn’t making it or contributing in the way they should, yet the company hadn’t been clear on what was expected from them. Make it clear!
5. With new Customers, manage expectations from the start.
It’s easy to overlook or gloss over details, but take the time and effort to get “level set” so each party knows and understands the deal. There should be no questions about what is to happen, how, when, where and with whom. Problems always come from mis-matched expectations.
6. Have the courage of your convictions.
Even if unpopular or going against the consensus, if you believe in something, pursue it. There’s always a way to get things done. And by that, I mean with integrity and ethically. Never take “no” as the final answer.
- Supply chain is an ever evolving field – you never know it all, and be prepared to be confronted with something you were not expecting
- Expertise is found across your team – don’t underestimate the experiences that those around you can contribute to make a difference
- Act on facts/data, but don’t get mired in paralysis trying to determine the perfect strategy/plan
- The importance of social and ethical sourcing – make it a mindset, because it’s not going away!
- Know who your customers are – not just external, but within your organization as well
- Define the criteria for success – and make sure you, your team, and any stakeholders are understanding (and aligned) to those objective.
The greatest lessons I have learned have come from witnessing failure, my own or my business partners. The saying “Fail to Plan is a Plan to Fail” resonates strongly with me.
I recall a large outsourcing deal I was involved in. What would normally take a year to plan was short circuited into six months. A critical step in the planning process involves establishing the baseline services and costs of the function or services to be outsourced and to have the supplier validate this during the critical transition or hand over phase.
This was missed and ended in a dispute which my team and I were called in to resolve with the supplier. Despite six months of further negotiation, it ended in tens of millions in lost savings for the business and a less than trusting relationship with the supplier. It could have all been avoided had the planning been done correctly in an appropriate time frame and good governance had been in place to monitor deliverables and performance.
Failure to Plan really did cause a near terminal FAIL.
Some of the greatest lessons come from being able to laugh about the situation. I’m not sure who ever said these first but we still say them today, “when in trouble, order double”, “when in doubt, push it out” and “don’t get sassy if you don’t have capacity”.
All kidding aside one of the key lessons I’ve learned is you and your team will always get through a tough situation. There are always going to be breakdowns in communication, un-forecasted demand, missed pick-ups, quality problems, unforeseen disruptions due to strikes, floods, volcano’s, whatever. Supply chain management is daily problem solving, connecting the dots, grinding through the variability and predicting the outcome.
As tough as it is, you will get through it. Measure what is important, manage performance and then let people do their jobs.
Despite all that I have mentioned above on technology any business is all about people. So being transparent, never compromising your integrity and maintain a sincere care for the people you work with.
At the same time as a leader of any organization, good communication and mentoring is key as well and not allowing behavior that is counter to a company’s values that requires attention and swift appropriate action to take place.
I have to say be yourself and try to be humble. Now, I say, try because humility is difficult. I have always said treat the janitor with the same respect as you would the CEO. Great advice because the janitor has saved me many times with the “inside scoop” and has prepared me to go on the offensive.
It does not matter what walk of life we are from treat everyone as you would want them to treat you. Another point, I have learned and by the way, it took me a while to learn it is not to get hung up over the small stuff. Worry about the things that really matter including the human element.
Engage wherever you can, be inquisitive and be curious. Volunteer on projects and within your community and make a difference. A simple hello or good morning goes a long way. Not everyone will like you. We are on different planes as humans. Some of us understand that and some of us don’t.
I had some great mentors early on in my career that taught me the importance of building and executing business strategy based on the unmet needs of a customer, first, foremost, and always. A great CEO once coached me “You need to know your customer better than they know themselves”. This might sound simplistic in nature, but sometimes putting on your “customer hat” and really thinking through that lens can be more challenging than you’d think.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is not to make quick assumptions about anything. With jammed packed days and crazy schedules, it can be easy for us to accept things at face-value but sometimes the devil really is in the details. The trick is to know when to dive deep and when to float on the surface – this comes with practice and perhaps a few battle scars along the way.
While many of the lessons could fall in the category of motherhood statements I truly feel they have been the key to my career success.
- Start with people. Build a strong team of people that are smarter than you around you and then motivate them to contribute their best by challenging them and treating them as human beings with a tremendous amount of respect.
- Make sure objectives and deliverables are clear and then help remove road blocks whether they be financial, organizational or political in nature.
- Ask for feedback often. Good or bad. View any critical feedback as an opportunity to improve rather than to be defensive about.
- Good or bad take ownership of what you and your team does. I have learned it is better to say you screwed up and this is how you will fix the situation rather than trying to deflect blame.
- Don’t compromise on surrounding yourself with great people
- Collaborate early, collaborate often and embrace diversity
- Confront adversity as a team
Listen and learn. Get involved that is your path to learning. Find a mentor who is willing to share their knowledge with you and be your sounding board as new opportunities and challenges present themselves. Read, read, and read some more!
Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge, they create some of the best learning opportunities and they show others that your talent is expanding and will continue to grow.
No one really knows all of the answers. And you can’t do this alone. Surround yourself with people who have different experiences.
And take the time to listen to nuggets that are applicable to the problem you are solving today.
- Always face your reality. Understand the true nature of the issues facing you so that you can solve the right problems.
- This has many corollaries
- Make your problem ugly…. but not so ugly that you do not have time to solve it prior to being escalated!
- See it, own it, solve it, do it. These are the step towards accountable behavior when solving a problem
- This has many corollaries
- Have balanced, relevant and valid metrics. In my training this was called QDC for quality, delivery and cost….and you fix your issues in that order. No sense being low cost if your products are low quality and always late. Customers will eventually quit you. Plus, metrics protect you. All too often frequency of 1 is always. I am fond of saying yes, we were late on some orders but 99% were on time. Of course, this assumes safety measures are in place which comes before all others
- Always have a hint of paranoia and looking over my shoulder. Am I keeping up? Are we doing enough to satisfy the customers, my team, my friends and family. Not enough to be too stressful but enough to keep you pushing for the next level.
- Have fun and enjoy. I try to be even keeled no matter what the situation. Getting frustrated and angry only compounds the problem. It distracts the team and creates useless energy not focused on the prize.
- Be very careful of the states of competency and never be in the unconscious category. It is never good to be unconscious.
- Unconsciously competent…don’t know what you do know and forget others might not get it.
- Unconsciously incompetent…. don’t know what you don’t know
- Consciously competent…you do know what you know
- Consciously incompetent….you know what you don’t know…and hence can find out
- Be very careful of the states of competency and never be in the unconscious category. It is never good to be unconscious.
- Try to be a great leader. Work at it, learn about it. Become self-aware. People make business run and if you can attract and retain great people you will be more successful.
I have a few lessons that I share with my teams. To really understand Supply Chain and make effective decisions you need to be curious and constantly learn. Look for opportunities to expose yourself to all aspects of the business as having this exposure allows you to make balanced and effective decisions.
Even with 30 years of experience, I am still learning every day as new tools, processes and approached are introduced and new challenges arise that you have not faced before. People that succeed in Supply Chain and Operations are not the “traffic cops” who identify who is right and who is wrong. Being able to provide clear focus and direction and empowering your team to accomplish what they are working on becomes infectious and leads to great results.
I’m currently a Career Mentor at Ryerson University and participate in Career and Mentoring Discovery here at Softchoice. So I meet people from all walks of life and at various stages of their careers from fresh grads to people new to Canada looking for a start.
This is incredibly rewarding. What I tell people I meet who are uncertain what they are looking for or if they are looking to get into say IT. I tell them where I got my start, understanding the flow of material from a forecast to an order to a purchase order to a vendor to a receipt to a shipment to a customer then the invoice and maybe the occasional return.
If you can understand and talk to the supply chain you have credibility with your customer. I tell them supply chain is everywhere and is applicable to almost every industry. The skills are transferable and in very high demand.
Major lessons learned were the constant changing Supply Chain models and the expanding roles of companies moving further into Supply Chain. OEMs are becoming fulfilment houses and/or Supply Chain service providers (HP and IBM).
Shippers are becoming Supply Chain service providers (Maersk adding Damco to its services). Traditional retailers are becoming virtual retailers and vice versa (Amazon buying Whole Foods). Airlines are becoming retailers and Supply Chain service providers (Hainan Airlines buying Ingram Micro and CWT).
Such transformations were seldom heard of and not welcomed. For example, when Fedex went into freight forwarding it almost caused a revolt by freight forwarders refusing to use Fedex planes. Fedex prevailed as a trend setter and grew as a result of moving into bulk freight.
There are a lot of lessons learned that have been shared in this article. Think about this and about how you can apply any of these lessons learned to your own situation.