In today’s new normal business environment where sales are no longer easy, talent is in short supply even amidst high unemployment levels, volatility is the new norm and customers want “more for less – and NOW”, finding strategies to stand out from the crowd is no longer innovative; it’s required to survive! Companies are turning to the supply chain to make that happen!

As much as any executive is interested in elevating business performance, the supply chain offers not only an answer to that need but a solution to the hot topic in today’s information overloaded society – how to have an effect on time. Every one of my clients is interested in time – finding a way to get the most essential priorities accomplished each day, shortening lead times, making rapid, well-informed decisions, accelerating new product and service introductions etc. Thus, being known as The Strongest Link in Your Supply Chain is pivotal to success.

There are countless topics we could discuss as to how to become the strongest link in your supply chain; however, as time is of the essence, we’ll limit it to a few critical steps: 1) Get your house in order. 2) Think culture. 3) Start small but on the “right” path.

  • Get your house in order: Now that you’re interested in jumping on the supply chain bandwagon, you’ll most likely be disappointed to hear the most important place to start is with “your house”. There’s no point in thinking about elaborate supply chain concepts if they’ll be of no avail. I repeatedly see that my clients who focus on internal excellence look as though they are lagging behind at first but always far surpass the ones who try to jump straight to the latest fad. Getting your house in order includes the following types of activities: understand and improve business processes, further leverage already-existing systems to improve service and efficiency, develop supply chain talent and teams, and resolve internal bottlenecks.
  • Think culture: Undoubtedly, the best strategies fail if culture doesn’t support them. Thus, it makes sense to spend a few minutes to think about your culture – which set of beliefs governs behavior in your company? If you’d like to make the supply chain your strategic advantage, you must have a culture that values collaboration (and therefore people), visibility (and therefore embrace the sharing of information), and flexibility (and therefore be willing to invest in several areas such as cross-training, equipment etc.).

    Although it might be hard to think of why you wouldn’t support these concepts, when it boils down to the day-to-day, it can get harder. For example, if you have to choose between making your month end numbers and standing behind your new culture (which you believe will ensure the year’s numbers even if you miss the month), which will you choose? Or, if you need to invest what could be a significant amount of money on implementing the right system for your business which will pay off in spades down-the-line but will likely not only cost precious money but also significant time immediately, what will you do?

  • Start small but on the “right” path: If there is one mistake in common among the majority of my clients it’s that they want to jump into the fire (latest idea or fad) without making sure it best aligns with the strategy and that they are prepared to succeed. False starts can create havoc to success!

    Instead, start small but make sure it’s on the correct path to achieve your supply chain vision – and then work it aggressively! For example, one item that often can be of value in becoming the strongest link in your supply chain is to think about sales and operations planning – in essence, balancing demand with supply across your organization and in alignment with your customers and suppliers. However, even S&OP backfires frequently when executives don’t start small and figure out what will work in their organization.

    For example, I’ve seen executives tied up in all sorts of S&OP meetings drowning in spreadsheets yet accomplishing nothing. Instead, what I’ve found to be successful is a “simplified S&OP” – start by getting the right people together to review key information (such as expectations for future sales and any obvious potential threats such as supply constraints) and develop action plans for improvement. Pen and paper (even on the back of a napkin as my former CEO used to say) can achieve wonders!

Your smart competition is already on the path towards leveraging the supply chain to deliver bottom line business results. What are you doing to outsmart them and become the strongest link in your supply chain?