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IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgI started writing this about supply chain strategy, and I might go back to that topic next week as I was preparing to teach an APICS CSCP (certified supply chain professional) class tomorrow; however, I was diverted on a conference call that compelled me to change my topic to leadership. There is ZERO doubt in my mind that strong leaders will prevail in the worst of conditions whereas weak leaders can cause even the BEST people to fail. Leaders must be willing to confront problems and address reality. It is easy-sounding until you have an issue arise.

This has occurred several times this week already. Unfortunately, in three cases, the leader didn’t “stand strong”, and repercussions will follow. The problem is that the consequences don’t necessarily follow immediately but they will occur. On the other hand, in one or two cases, they did “stand strong”, and those leaders will be respected. I guarantee results will follow.

As we go into the New Year, no matter your position, build upon your leadership skills. It will pay back ten-fold vs. anything else you could do.

One tip to implement this week:

The good news is that there are countless ways to build your leadership skills, and you only have to choose one path for this week. Thus, I’ll provide a few options: 1) Read a good book on leadership skills. I find reading about examples of exceptional leaders provides ideas to try out. 2) Find a mentor – undoubtedly, this is your BEST option. It doesn’t have to be someone you work for. Seek out someone who has a few of the skills you want to develop and ask. Offer to do something to help them as well. 3) Join a trade association and volunteer. For example, my APICS Board of Directors seeks new people who are willing to support our events, and it’s a great way to build your skills in a safe environment.

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

Fotolia_73150274_XS-300x200.jpgCustomer collaboration has become cornerstone to success in today’s supply chain driven world. We are all part of a supply chain, and so we must look for ways to thrive within our supply chains. Undoubtedly, those who collaborate with their supply chain partners will succeed whereas the rest will struggle. One simple yet impactful way to collaborate is with orders.

This concept is sometimes called consumption based ordering, sometimes VMI (vendor managed inventory), sometimes auto replenishment and the list goes on of possible names for order collaboration. The point is that it is a process where the supplier places orders for the customer based upon a mutually agreed upon process, data sharing strategy and metrics. The customer provides the appropriate data to the supplier to be able to develop orders aligned with the metrics.

Case Study:

During my tenure at PaperPak, we achieved the following successes with our #1 customer:

  • Recognized by #1 customer as “supplier of the year”
  • Increased sales
  • Became “part of the customers’ organization”
  • Doubled inventory turns
  • Improved customer service to 98%+
  • Reduced lead times and improved costs

These results occurred while supporting customers on VMI through several business condition changes:

  • Merger/acquisition
  • Turnaround & cash crisis
  • Private equity buyout
  • Several software, process, people and insource/outsource changes

As one would expect, there were trials and tribulations, yet we achieved great success overall.  The keys to success in this example were the 3 P’s: 1) People; 2) Process; 3) Partnership.

  1. People: The right people are your #1 asset. First, senior leadership makes or breaks any vendor-managed inventory program. Senior leadership must provide commitment and support, have a high level understanding of the value that can be achieved through a VMI program and be able to explain the whys. Understanding and being able to explain the whys behind a VMI program are key so that implementers’ individual goals are tied to the big picture and tools and support are provided. For example, since PaperPak had senior leadership support, the customer and bottom-line impacts were understood and valued, which resulted in the appropriate resources and funding allocations.

Second, the right VMI planner is critical. After putting the wrong person in the role, we quickly discovered the importance of finding the right person with the right skillsets for the VMI planner position. Our service levels suffered until we found a person with an analytical skillset. Ideally, the VMI planner will be analytical, enjoy the optimization game, be self-confident as he/she is “in the middle” of several competing priorities, customer focused, and be excellent at not only details but also the big picture.Lastly, there are other people integral to VMI success – Customer service, Planning, Sales, and Information Technology. To achieve success, it takes a team.

  1. Partnerships: In essence, refer back to point #1 – the right people. In this case, we expand the concept to think about the right partnerships with customers and suppliers. My definition of how to achieve a successful partnership is simple – think ‘win-win’. To create a successful VMI program, it requires a close partnership with your customer. The ingredients for a successful partnership are trust, the ability to find and create win-win ideas, and a collaborative view on forecasts, goal setting, and metrics. The same holds true for your suppliers. View your customers and your suppliers as an extension of your company and supply chain. With a partnership, you should be able to turn 1 + 1 into 5; meaning, your returns will be exponential over what you would achieve on your own.
  2. Process: To ensure flawless execution and customer service, process is king. Rigorously following the traditional plan, do, check, act model can yield significant results. It has been shown that although most people spend the majority of their time on the “do” of plan do, check, act, the successful implementers spend a very small portion of time (10%) on “doing”. Instead, the optimum numbers are the following: plan (70%), do (10%), check (15%), and act (5%). As this implies, follow-up/audit is also essential for success. Without continual review and improvement/adjustments, the process lags.

Think about how you can implement customer collaboration strategies. If you are interested in freeing up cash, maximizing profit, growing sales and elevating your business performance, customer collaboration is a no-brainer. No capital investment with amazing results – not only bottom line results but also happier customers and engaged employees. Pick up the phone to your key customer to explore the possibilities.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to be the Strongest Link in your supply chain:

Catch The Wave on Customer Collaboration

Start with Your Customer

Fotolia_54793743_XS-300x200.jpgI’ve asked my consulting clients how my value has most helped in driving bottom line results. They responded by saying the following: 1) Helping to select a few critical strategic focus areas that would deliver results in terms of growth or improving business performance. 2) Partnering with them to “make it happen”.

Undoubtedly, it boils down to execution. Those clients who are able to execute strategies and plans are those who are the most successful. For example, I’ve seen clients grow the business against all odds and improve profitability with a focus on execution. Yet, I’ve also seen the reverse – the best strategies and plans fail if execution is not valued.

The bottom line is that execution and pragmatic advice prevails. How will what we focus on today build the business and increase the value of the business? If you aren’t achieving those, you need to make sure you are working on the “right” things and that you are not overlooking the importance of execution.

  • Establish and encourage a culture of innovation – for more information on this topic, please refer to my recent articles and tips (Innovate or Die and Innovation).
  • Flawless execution – it achieves nothing to have good ideas (whether innovative, cost savings, etc.) if they are not implemented successfully.

As a former VP of Operations & Supply Chain and as a Business Consultant, I’ve found that there are a few keys to success in execution: 1) Clarify the objective. 2) Communicate, communicate, and communicate. 3) Follow-up.

  1. Clarify the objective: Simple yet overlooked. It isn’t enough to be a cheerleader for your team. Or, worse, a dictator, hoping to threaten to success. Instead, what works is to make sure everyone understands where you (and the company) are going, why you are going there, how they fit in, why it matters, etc. Of course, one of the reasons this is overlooked is that it can become difficult. You have to address the hard questions and roadblocks head on.

There are no fast, easy solutions. It requires hard work, integrity (you must do what you say you’ll do!), appreciating people’s value, leveraging strengths, and tackling issues head on. Not rocket science but it requires solid leadership.

  1. Communicate, communicate, and communicate: Similar to “location, location, location” in real estate, “communication, communication, communication” is vital in execution. Repetition is not only desired but proven as the only effective strategy. Try varying the modes of communication as people learn in different ways – via listening, seeing, through examples, etc.

Also, I’ve found another key to communication success is to be able to translate the objectives so that it’s meaningful for each team and individual. You don’t have to know everything; however, you must have baseline knowledge, be able to ask effective questions and be trusted.

  1. Follow-up: Last but not least, follow-up is cornerstone. Here is what follow-up is NOT – interrogating your team or employee, panic emails/ calls as a critical task is due. Instead, integrate follow-up into the daily culture. Ask questions – don’t waste people’s time with useless questions as it will ensure failure; however, think about and ask insightful questions.

Provide tools and support. This isn’t as easy as purchasing a software tool or voicing support. The key to success is that your support must be viewed as support by the receiver – and only then if it contributes to results. Does your support help them overcome roadblocks? Does it help them address issues? Do you thank employees for their efforts which contribute to company success?

I’ve yet to see a client who consistently delivered bottom line results with poor execution. If it will give you an advantage in the marketplace, why not consider a focus on execution? Call me if you’d like to talk more about this vital topic.

Continue reading on how to strengthen your Eagle Eye:

Execution: the Difference between Profit and Loss

Eagle Eye Execution

opportunitiy-300x200.jpgIt seems like a good idea to look for opportunities to grow your business, elevate your business performance and/or dramatically increase the value of your business, right? Of course! Yet the question remains: How?

I’ve found that identifying opportunities can be quite simple yet is rarely done. It requires a few key traits: 1) The power of observation – do you notice what is going on around you? Do you notice changes?  Are your employees moping around one minute and energetic again the next week?  What changed?  2) The right priorities – you are most likely working hard, but are you wasting effort? I find that this is a common problem. Take a step back to make sure you are working on the correct items. Are they the ones that will help you achieve your strategy? Are they urgent and have a significant return on investment? Or are they related to who is shouting the loudest?  3) Spotting trends – are you tracking key performance indicators? Which metrics will tell you if you are making progress? Who knew it would be so hard just to make sure you are making progress on items that will “move the needle” in the right direction on your main objectives! I find that my clients often times are progressing but they might be expending a lot of effort to barely move the needle at all on the final metric. It isn’t tragic but you must identify the issue and adjust immediately!

What can you do to improve these three key traits?  The more proficient you become, the more of an eagle eye you will develop.

Continue reading on how to strengthen your Eagle Eye:

What is Eagle Eye Strategic Focus?

Are You Working on the Right Priorities?

IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgOn the 6th day of 2015, I’m reminded of the power of relationships. I just finished a lunch with a wonderful, 20-year friend and former colleague, and this topic is top of mind. What could be more important in our personal and business lives? The holidays tend to bring this topic up as we get together with long-lost relatives (or celebrate remotely with them via Facebook, the phone or with tools like Skype), family, friends and colleagues. Actually those who have worked this week might have strengthened relationships with co-workers as there are typically so few people working that it provides a “common ground”.

As we go into the New Year, we all have plans, goals, resolutions and the like (whether verbalized or in our mind). Shouldn’t maintaining and strengthening relationships be at the top of our list? Who would you call if your car broke down? How about if you needed a last minute shipment from a key supplier? Or that last piece of data to fill out a potential contract with a customer? One of your relationships!

One tip to implement this week:

Relationships do not cost a cent; instead, the cost is in time and focus. What can you do to make your key relationships know they are appreciated? How about you pick up the phone and call one person each day next week to let them know they are appreciated and to provide one idea you think might help them? Not hard or time consuming yet powerful. It means you need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and call with the thought process to bring them value. I guarantee your 2015 will be off to a great start.

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

Fotolia_67550804_XS-300x199.jpgOften, the holiday aftermath can linger on into January; thus providing a slow start to the year. Instead, those companies who thrive will ensure success by kick starting the New Year with power. Since customers are demanding elevated service levels and quicker deliveries, we must rise to the challenge – or accept the likely alternative of lost business.

In my experience as a business consultant who works across multiple industries, geographies and company sizes, I’ve found that executives base a considerable amount of their profit plans on achieving project results. Thus, why leave it to chance? Instead kick off the New Year by focusing on your key objectives and the supporting projects. Take notice!

A few strategies for ensuring success early in the New Year include the following: 1) Renewed enthusiasm 2) Re-engage teams. 3) Ask questions. 4) Orchestrate a quick win. 5) Celebrate success.

1. Renewed enthusiasm: As my HR mentor says, “It begins and ends with leadership”; thus, it starts with you. The top priority is to return to the office with renewed energy and enthusiasm. It has been proven countless times that enthusiasm is contagious and will spread to your project team. No matter how smart or how dedicated your project team, they will perform better with renewed enthusiasm!

For example, learn from my mistakes. I am not a morning person. Before understanding the vital importance of this key point, I might have been half asleep and thinking through fog – and it showed! Worse yet, when I wasn’t yet “into the mode”, I appeared uninterested and boring. No one gains energy from a monotonous tone and stiff presentation style. Of course, I didn’t mean it to come across that way but perception is reality. It was amazing the difference it made when I realized the importance of enthusiasm and did a few exercises (and drank a bit of caffeine) to prepare myself to start strong. Suddenly I was interesting and engaging – with the same stories.

2. Re-engage teams: Start by re-engaging your project teams. Don’t expect your team to continue where they left off. Even if they wanted to jump back in, it’s likely there have been too many distractions during the holidays. Bring the team together. Remind them why the project is valuable. Create urgency for rapid progress. Bring the team up-to-speed with where they left off. Go over the critical path. And last but not least, make sure to re-engage as the project leader.

3. Ask Questions:Asking questions is surprisingly effective. You can stimulate interest with your questions. You can uncover potential roadblocks to address. You can make sure your team understands that you are listening and care. You can massage progress. You can lead. Find out what your team thinks is important to success. You might be surprised. Is timing most important? How about resources? Support of other departments?

Find out which upcoming tasks are most critical. Why? Is everyone aligned? If not, why not? Are there opportunities for continuous improvement? Potential roadblocks? The art of asking questions is to listen more than you’re talking.

4. Orchestrate a quick win: Choose a small, quick win as a project team. What are the upcoming critical path items and milestones? Can any provide a quick win? What will affect the bottom line? Or impact customers positively? Ask your team for ideas for quick wins. Pick one and go with it.

Then, develop or clarify a plan to achieve the quick win. Make sure the leader of each project task understands its importance. Communicate in advance that a critical path task is coming up. Encourage teamwork. Implement measures to track performance and gauge progress to the quick win. Focus additional resources on it if need be. Celebrate BIG.

5. Celebrate success: As silly as it might sound, you must celebrate success. Go out of your way to recognize the small efforts each individual puts into the project. Make sure your team knows that you appreciate them. Notice progress. Reward your high performers. Address your poor performers. There is nothing better for a high performer than to see that you are paying attention and not willing to accept sub-par work. If it was easy, wouldn’t everyone be successful? Of course. That’s why you must be different – willing to address the issues others want to sweep under the carpet. I guarantee your team will suddenly re-engage.

The impact of kicking off your New Year powerfully is immeasurable. Not only can you save time which is a hot commodity in today’s new normal business environment but you also can accelerate bottom line business results. Focus on gaining momentum while going in the right direction and the rest will follow.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to Profit through People:

Want to Improve Your Business But Not Sure Where to Start?

Do You Have Engaged Employees?

IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgThere have been a few times in the last day where I’m reminded of the value of customer service. There is an art to success. It is not merely the words spoken. Instead, it has to do with whether the person seems to truly care about their customers and explores for areas of common interest.

For example, I helped my aunt buy a new car today. She had several specific requirements in addition to a specific car (Mazda 3) such as no interest for 3-5 years, no extras, a low price (which she determined could be found on – not that she has ever used a computer…..), color didn’t matter (but it couldn’t be red or blue) and, most importantly, she didn’t want the transaction to take “too long”. The salesman actually did a fabulous job of keeping her engaged in interesting conversation about where she used to live (since they had that in common) while we waited for quite a long while for the person with the final paperwork. I have no doubt that she would have walked out if he hadn’t been as good at customer service! (Which would have meant we’d have to start again tomorrow…)

One tip to implement this week:

The nice thing about customer service is that it doesn’t require money or complex requirements; it’s all about attitude. Instead of thinking about what might have gone wrong so far today, look for the positive. Instead of thinking about “your” day, think about your customer’s or colleague’s day. How can you improve upon it? What could you ask them that would let them know you have been paying attention? How can you engage them in conversation? Then, give it a try. I guarantee that even on your first try you’ll likely be successful. People appreciate genuine effort. And who isn’t interested in someone who is interested in them?

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”