By William Crane
We’re hard wired as supply chain professionals to continuously improve our companies’ operations. Day in and day out we analyze every bolt in our businesses in a never-ending quest to optimize product total cost of ownership. Results offer us a periodic finish line to gauge our daily tasks that, when repeated over weeks, form habits. Generating repeatable results is the outcome of the right habits.
To shed light on the most impactful supply chain habits, I asked some of the hardest working people I know: entrepreneurs in supply chain. These leaders are burning the candle on both ends, growing new ventures while delivering customer results. They’re laser focused on actions that generate outsized results.
We strive to buck the proverbial new year’s resolution quips – e.g., no gym membership is required. Instead, we focused on specific, sometimes incredibly simple actions they personally plan to take to have their best year ever. Whether you’re earlier in your career or a Chief Procurement Officer (CPO), you’ll likely benefit from reading their plans. Our long-term ability to effectively deliver results throughout our careers hinges on our daily habits. Reflect on the advice discussed below to make the days ahead your personal best.
What’s One Habit You Credit with Improving Your Productivity?
Delegate Tasks to Empower Extended Team
“The key action that dramatically improved my productivity and quality of life has been improving my ability to delegate. In the beginning, I wanted to be involved in almost every activity and be the point of contact across several areas. Although this worked early on, it quickly became clear that it didn’t scale and would slow the business down. I now have the mentality of attacking the most critical challenge we have, learning how to do the job, helping to create a process around it, then delegating the process to a leader on our team,” says Kevin Frechette, Co-Founder & CEO of Boston, Massachusetts based Fairmarkit, a Software as a Service (SaaS) company enabling customers to increase cost savings mitigate risks and drive business value on their tail spend purchases.
Block Off Time to Get Stuff Done
“I started doing this many years ago when I felt like other people were determining what I was working on each day versus working on what mattered each day. I block out my calendar to get the important must do’s done first. Each week, I look at what’s important and schedule time on my calendar to get it done. I also have reoccurring meetings for those things that I must do daily/weekly. It has been a game-changer for me and a simple habit to institute,” says Amanda Prochaska, President & CEO of Fort Worth, Texas based HPP, an advisory firm focused on providing Supplier Development Programs to help CPOs increase the reliability, sustainability, and scalability of the small and mid-sized businesses within their supply chains.
Focus on Progress, Not Perfection
“Persistence, the drive to keep moving things forward has helped me in times of procrastination, it has helped me when I was in sales and almost gave up on an opportunity. I also love the phrase “progress not perfection” which comes to mind when I think about persistence and how waiting for things to be just right might be the thing that is holding you back.” Sarah Barnes-Humphrey, Podcast Host of Let’s Talk Supply Chain and Founder & CEO of Toronto, Canada based Shipz, a software company bringing innovative, collaborative ideas together for the supply chain industry on a single platform.
Avoid Overanalyzing, and Act
“Don’t overthink it. In the world of supply chain management, delaying a decision may likely be worse than being prompt with a less-informed course of action. Yes, there will always be more data to analyze and more stakeholders with whom to confer. To not decide is to decide so be deliberate and confident, but not reckless, and move ahead,” says Bill Hall, Principle of Detroit, Michigan based Hall Partners, an advisory firm focused on creating societal value through harnessing the power of sustainable supply chains.
Limit Internal Meeting Duration
“Limit the number of internal meetings. We rarely have meetings. My rule: avoid internal meetings whenever possible. A meeting should be held only if you cannot accomplish what you need by posting it on Slack, one of the best tools we’ve implemented, by picking up the phone and calling someone directly, or by sending an external email. If someone on our team does hold a meeting, it’s never longer than 30 minutes, and there must be a clear agenda,” says Sarah Scudder, President of New York, New York based Real Sourcing Network LLC a software company enabling customers to execute their print buying process in-house via a five-bid system to generate cost savings.
What Habit Should We All Put on Hold?
We often take an extreme view of professional development, what do we start and stop. Below are a few ideas for those “in between” habits that you might want to put on hold to free up your time to execute at a higher level in the days ahead.
Being Intimidated of Big Data
“If you haven’t yet concentrated on your data then this should be your year. You can’t start anything new without knowing where you need to start and cleaning up and organizing the data you currently have will point you in the right direction,” says Barnes- Humphrey.
Implementing ERP Technologies
“There are numerous companies in the early 2000s that made $100M plus investments in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software without clearly understanding the problem they were trying to solve first. Hint: it wasn’t the problem the technology company was telling you is there. Gain a firm grasp of what you’re trying to fix or optimize and then look for the solutions that will best meet your needs. With the number of advance spot solutions and the seamless integration functionality through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), there’s no need for large timely ERP implementations,” says Prochaska.
Building Strategic Relationships with Entire Supply Base
“Teams spend too much time on the emotional and personal relationship side of the supply chain. Close relationships with strategic suppliers are crucial, but they typically only account for 20 percent of the spend by volume. Scalable processes, structured data, artificial intelligence (AI), and skilled team members are accessible to enable procurement professionals to improve results on the other 80 percent of transactions with non-strategic vendors. If leveraged and implemented correctly, these technologies can enable additional time for team members to better execute on strategic initiatives,” says Frechette.
Chasing the Next New Innovation
“Avoid jumping onto the next new thing,at least not before making sure your fundamentals are strong. Internet of Things (IoT), AI, blockchain, gig economy, and other solutions continue to be touted, but if your organization, business processes, and talent aren’t sound, the new solutions will fail,” says Hall.
Hiring People Based on Experience Alone
“Hire people with sales and marketing skills. Procurement and supply chain skills can be taught. It’s more difficult to teach interpersonal skills like effective communication, networking and building meaningful relationships. I believe procurement is going to become less centralized and will transition into a function that supports business units. Under this model, interpersonal skills will be paramount to success,” says Scudder.
What’s One Habit You Plan to Break?
We all have habits we need to break, none of us are perfect. Below are a few habits you may want to phase out in the weeks ahead. Habits, sometimes even minuscule ones, when stopped can have an almost instant positive impact on your effectiveness in delivering company results.
Eliminate Referring to Suppliers as “Vendors”
“Vendors sounds transactional and doesn’t represent the add-value partnership that procurement leaders and suppliers should have in order to maximize results. Amanda Proschaksa and the HPP team inspired me to change the Print and Marketing Services Partners setup in our Sourceit print e-sourcing tool to Suppliers. In our e-sourcing tool, roles are reversed; suppliers select the companies they want to work with. Because of this, procurement departments need to put systems in place that help suppliers see them as strategic partners that suppliers want to work with,” stresses Scudder.
Understand, then be Understood
“The one I always focus on is one of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people, which emphasizes listening: Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” says Hall.
Improve Spoken Grammar
“Use words ‘absolutely’ and ‘awesome’ less on the podcast,” says Barnes.
Stop Trying to Fix People
“I am trying not to fix other people this year. I have noticed that so much of my time and effort has been put into stressing about other people’s strengths and weaknesses and trying to change them. At the end of the day, it is my accountability to change my own habits and grow myself. Through that, I can be an example to others,” says Prochaska.
Avoid Meeting Wrap-Up Grey Area
“A professional habit I’m working on breaking is not leaving meetings with any gray-area action items. Whether internal or external, the lack of clarity or accountability typically leads to massive inefficiencies and sometimes multiple meetings on the same topic. For some meetings it’s easier said than done, but I’m working on it,” says Frechette.
Act Today, Make This Year Your Best Yet
Research supports that most habits can be changed within a short two-week period. Thus, time as they say is of the essence, take the above advice to identify, document and start making the small daily adjustments that will allow you to accomplish your professional and company supply chain goals.
At first glance the above habits can seem simplistic; however, the key is consistently repeating them. This is the hard part. One thing is certain, tomorrow will be different than today. As such, we must evolve our habits for how we lead, manage and execute our work to thrive tomorrow.