The Skills Gap

November 26th, 2013
Many manufacturers and distributors are faced with bridging the skills gap in current employees and new hires.

Many manufacturers and distributors are faced with bridging the skills gap in current employees and new hires.

I recently partnered with the APICS (the leading association for supply chain and operations management) Inland Empire chapter to complete a survey on skill gaps as it is becoming a critical topic for manufacturers and distributors in today’s work environment. Additionally, we hosted an executive panel discussion on the latest trends and ideas to address the skills gap. Interestingly, I cannot think of a client that doesn’t have some sort of challenge with having enough of the right skills in critical areas of the business. Stay tuned for a press release. In the interim, a few highlights emerged:

1. Skills gap growing – Greater than 80% of manufacturers and distributors see more of a skill gap than prior years. It is a topic to think about!

2. Soft skills rule – According to one of the panelists in our executive panel who compiles statistics for the ISM, soft skills are gaining in importance. We saw that come through loud and clear as well.

3. Technical skills are required – Technical skills have become more of an assumption – a required baseline. As complexity grows in the supply chain, the gap becomes greater.

4. Problem solving core – It seems we often worry about complex skills when problem solving capabilities came out on top. What training and development options are you providing to help employees with problem solving skills?

5. Communications and presentations are key – On the soft skills side, by far, the most requested and/or largest gap is in communications and presentations skills. In today’s environment, they are a must for success!

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Business Process ROI

November 21st, 2013
Systems pragmatists focus on achieving exponential returns on investment (ROI) with a combination of top-notch business processes, systems, and people.

Systems pragmatists focus on achieving exponential returns on investment (ROI) with a combination of top-notch business processes, systems, and people.

Business process improvement is starting to make a comeback as executives are thinking about how to increase efficiencies. I’m a fan of selecting a few critical priorities and re-focusing resources on how to improve the process and related outcome. However, I’m not a fan of what many term “business process improvement” which turns into a wasted exercise of creating volumes of 1-inch thick binders of best practice processes that sit on the shelf and collect dust. If they were providing value, wouldn’t the employees use them?

Instead, take the pragmatic route and focus on how to achieve exponential returns with a smart combination of business processes, systems and people. What are a few keys to success? 1) Involve employees. 2) Value diversity. 3) Plan-do-check-act model.

1. Involve employees: It is critical to involve employees in the process from the start. The employees who perform the business processes which are being reviewed/ discussed should be the “stars” of the business process improvement initiative, and the leaders should be in a supporting role – after all, who knows the processes best? And, who will have the best ideas on how to improve upon what they do each day? The leaders who truly value their employee’s input and ideas and who can ask questions that help facilitate this process will far exceed their competition.

2. Value diversity: It is important to value a diversity of ideas. In one company I worked with, the most significant bottom line business results were generated through a spirited debate. There were divergent views (one division valued processes and procedures and the other division valued creativity and spontaneity); however, by engaging in a spirited debate, they were able to take the best of both worlds to create an optimal solution – one that delivered bottom line results in terms of dollars and customer service.

3. Plan-do-check-act model: The plan-do-check-act model provides a solid foundation for implementing the business processes so that the dust-collecting books turn into living processes. This model is as it sounds. Plan it, do it, check it (verify that the new processes accomplish what is intended), and act (standardize the process, continually improve it, etc.). And, to circle around to the first priority again – the employees are integral to the success of this model. Leaders provide the vision, resources and support. The employees lead the process improvement.

The latest trends, programs and technology might be exciting; however, they are not typically what will drive results. Instead, the right combination of people focused on business systems process review will typically lead to increased margins, efficiencies, service levels and cash flow. Will you take the time to achieve business process ROI?

The Significant Value of Processes

November 19th, 2013
Following business processes that are known to work is the cornerstone of a successful supply chain business.

Following business processes that are known to work is the cornerstone of a successful supply chain business.

Processes are often overlooked in terms of their value. Every supply chain manager knows you should have them, document them and even follow them, but few understand their power. Here are 5 keys to tapping the power of process:

1. Process review – One of my most successful approaches in my consulting toolkit is process review. It is simply amazing how much can be learned by observing processes in action. Almost every time I review processes, low hanging fruit is uncovered.

2. Questioning – Asking the right questions at the right time is a key to uncovering process potential. It seems so obvious that it is frequently undervalued. Asking the whys associated with processes can yield substantial results.

3. Systems approach – A systems approach to processes is the only way to go. This doesn’t mean to be rigid and inflexible (as many think when bringing this topic up). Instead, it means to think and design your process in a systems-wide manner.

4. Documentation – Of course, don’t overlook documentation. There’s no need to get crazy but core processes should be documented. Make sure folks have the ability to reference documentation for key functions.

5. Simplify – I thought about using process improvement as the key point and decided that simplification is of upmost importance. Simplifying processes can be one of the most challenging pursuits but it’s well worth the effort – and is an improvement to boot.

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Implementing Processes

Which Social Network is the Best One for Getting Started?

November 14th, 2013
LMA Consulting Group Social Networks Drive Business Webinar

View my recently recorded webinar on how to leverage and work your social networks to build connections and ultimately, your business.

Leverage Social Networks to Drive Business Results

I’m frequently asked which social media tool is best for those who want to get started.  For manufacturing and distribution professionals, undoubtedly, it is Linked In!  One of the most recent statistics I’ve heard is that there are more than 259 million Linked In users – and, even more powerfully, there are executives from all of the fortune 500 companies on Linked In.  Who wouldn’t start there?

Linked In is well known for being a great place to find candidates and to search for jobs; however, this is a small portion of its power.  I see the value in using Linked In as a tool for locating, developing and maintaining relationships.  Since my view is that we are all in the relationship business, what could be more important?

So, how should we start?  First, sign up for Linked In.  It’s as easy as typing in your name, email address etc.  Next, link with your core connections:  Who are your colleagues?  Who did you go to school with?  Who do you work for?  Who is involved in your community?  You’ll definitely find enough to get going.  Then, start to have conversations with your connections.  Be interested.  Offer value.  Last but not least, find one group to join in an area of interest to your career.  Listen and observe conversations.  When you’re ready, start answering and asking questions.

Why Care About Supply Chain Risk?

November 12th, 2013
Businesses face many hurdles—some we can control and others we cannot. How we manage risk is what determines our success.

Businesses face many hurdles—some we can control and others we cannot. How we manage risk is what determines our success.

As this topic came up frequently at the APICS 2013 conference and has affected almost every one of my clients in the last year in some manner, I thought it would be good to think about why we should care:

1. Natural disasters – Heard of any earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes or hurricanes?  One of the companies I worked for was one of the only buildings not destroyed in a few miles square area during a hurricane – as fortunate as it was, the facility couldn’t function for a while as no one could get in or out (unless via a helicopter).

2. Political unrest – Certainly, we hear about political unrest, danger areas, fly at your own risk zones, etc. every day.  Since there are very few companies who have been able to trace back their entire supply chain, it’s very likely something in your supply chain will be affected sooner than you think.

3. Labor unrest – Even if you are lucky enough not to be affected by political unrest or natural disaster, how likely is it you’ll avoid labor unrest as well?  Strikes occur in manufacturers, ports, transportation providers, distribution centers, etc.  Just ask the folks dependent on the LA ports during the last strike…

4. Theft – For my research for a recent webinar I led on the most common incidences of fraud that COO’s should be aware of, I gained a new appreciation for how often theft occurs inside companies.  That is nothing in comparison to what can happen in today’s extended supply chains!

5. Security – The advantage of technology is that it can be leveraged to drive business results with minimal resources and effort.  The disadvantage is that the more dependent on technology, the more risk that a disruption or outage will directly impact your business.

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What are the Latest Supply Chain Trends?