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The Skills Gap

Posted by lisaanderson Nov 26, 2013

the_skills_gap_11_26_2013.jpgI 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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Skills Development


Business Process ROI

Posted by lisaanderson Nov 21, 2013

business_process_roi_11212013.jpgBusiness 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?

11192013The Significant Value of Processes.jpgProcesses 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



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.

WhyCareAboutSupplyChain_11_12_2013Risk.jpgAs 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?

Are you ready for year end 11_07_2013_cropped.jpgAs the year wraps up, successful executives are thinking about how to not only finish up the year on a strong foot but also how to kick off the New Year with rapid progress. Thus, it makes sense to take a step back and think about a few year-end planning items:


1. Tax planning – have you thought about whether there is anything you can do proactively for this year or next year?

2. Projects – which projects will have the largest impact to your success?  Is there anything you can do to accelerate progress?  Divert resources to focus on them?  What roadblocks do you expect and what can you do to minimize the likelihood of occurrence?

3. Holiday preparation – anything you can do to ensure the business will run smoothly during the holidays?  Have you recognized your key relationships?  Employees?  Supply chain partners?

4. Thank you – what better time to take a step back and remember to say thank you.  A simple, heartfelt thank you goes much further than you’d expect.

5. Season of giving – instead of thinking about what you’ll receive or your wish list, spend that time thinking of how you can make a difference for your employees, peers, managers, families, friends etc. 

EagleEyeExecution_11042013.jpgIn my experience as a global business consultant and former VP of Operations, I've yet to find a business that failed solely due to a poor strategy; however, I've seen many die a slow (and sometimes sudden) death due to poor execution.  Execution is an often overlooked secret to success - it isn't glamorous or exciting to discuss (at least not in comparison with the latest fads); however, it is the bedrock essential to delivering bottom line business results.

Even though I typically am called into clients to help elevate business performance derived through topics such as supply chain and operations management, my technical expertise on those topics rarely if ever relate to why the preponderance of my business is repeat business; instead, they call me back because I partner with them to ensure results occur.  I've often termed this "making it happen" - and recently updated it to "eagle eye execution."

The following strategies are of upmost importance when it comes to execution: 1) Leadership and Culture, 2) Focus, 3) Exemplars, 4) Follow-up.

1.   Leadership and Culture: Have you ever seen a successful company with weak leaders?  Doubtful. I haven't.  Undoubtedly, solid execution requires exceptional leadership - no exceptions.

What does this entail?  Leaders must start by conveying where the company is headed (vision), why it's of importance, and how the employee adds value and contributes to the vision. Additionally, collaborative goals must be established, performance management systems should be in place, immediate feedback (both positive & constructive) is a must, training, development & career paths should be a natural part of the discussion.........and the list goes on.  Leaders must ignore the temptation to focus on inputs (# of hours worked, tasks and activities); instead focus on results.  Help employees develop plans, gain resources and overcome roadblocks to achieving the results.  Celebrate success.

Culture shouldn't be an afterthought unless you'd prefer failure.  What set of beliefs govern behavior?  What does your culture support?  Does your culture appreciate collaboration or individualism? For example, are you compensated and rewarded for team contributions or individual contributions even if at the expense of the team?  Do leaders say one thing and do another?  Don't bother executing until your leadership and culture are in sync with your goals.

2. Focus: It's amazing what focus alone can accomplish.  For example, a few of my clients have suffered for years with nagging problems.  Of course, they tried many alternatives to resolve the issue and were frustrated. After we were able to resolve the problem working together, they often said that although they thought my technical skills would help to resolve the problem, it had little to do with it. Instead, focus was the secret weapon.

Once focus is placed on a select few root causes, seemingly insurmountable roadblocks disappear.  The interesting thing about this is that it is as simple as it sounds but it is not as easy to implement as it sounds.  Why? Designing and improving processes and leveraging systems and technology requires focus; however, aligning people takes an exaggerated focus.  How do we align disparate functions and people with conflicting goals and managers with a common focus?  Go back to point #1!

3.  Exemplars: Another secret ingredient to execution success is to identify exemplars.  Who are the influence leaders in the organization?  Who sets an example that others will follow?  They'll come from some seemingly strange places - certainly not in positional power oftentimes.  Take a step back and find them - once you watch and observe, you'll wonder how you missed it before.

Bring the exemplars into the fold.  Ask them to trial the new program or process.  Incorporate their feedback. Ask for their support.  Empower them.  Soon the rest will follow.

4.  Follow-up:  I'm fondly known as a pit terrier when it comes to follow-up.  We can attribute or blame this on my mom!  However, it is a key reason for my success; I cannot count the times I've succeeded through determination alone.  If you're interested in execution success, follow-up isn't an option.

A few tips from the pit terrier gene pool: 

1) Start with a solid plan. 

2) Ruthlessly identify priorities. 

3) Ask questions about the priorities. 

4) Listen to the answers (sounds obvious but isn't nearly as easy as it sounds).

5) Do not shy away from roadblocks and messy issues. 

6) Continually improve your communication & presentation style as it's essential in handling the messy issues. 

7) Be upfront and trustworthy. 

8) Track metrics but only focus on noteworthy ones. 

10)  Remain vigilant.

Execution is essential in today's new normal business environment.  Improving business performance can be a constant struggle. Thus, what could be more important than being known as a rare person or company who consistently delivers results in a collaborative and engaging manner? 

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Strategy Doesn't Fail in Formulation -  It Fails in Execution