Sunday, 21 January 2018

A silver bullet for supply chain jobability?

What changes a person from unemployable to jobable in the supply chain world?

This article suggests that the answer to this question might be unexpected.

In the supply chain world the marketable skills of today very quickly become constraints to progress, today’s standard operating procedures are tomorrow’s unsafe practices and the earth changing flash of inspiration becomes the norm in no time at all.

Businesses which succeed in this environment are imbued with a special magic which drives them to levels of success far beyond what is predictable from their balance sheets, their products or even the qualifications of their people; in other words the infrastructure, technology, people and processes of those businesses have been combined in a unique way to produce outstanding results.

What does it take to scale that magic to other organisations?

From the human point of view, that magic translates into super competency -- the ability of each team member to add very high levels of value whilst at the same time having the ability to effect change (or at least adapt to it) very quickly.

In these times of massive transition throughout the world, many of which are happening at an exponential rate, there are both tremendous opportunities and feelings of uncertainty. Each team member in the organisation must be able to make sense of all of this

What makes people who are successful in such a world? Certainly, some technical skills are the starting point but even this raises some interesting ideas. For example, we see civil engineers morphing into extremely successful end to end supply chain solutions developers and lawyers transforming into credible business development managers.

Both academic and occupational institutions seem unable to satisfy these demands – employers complain that academic graduates can’t apply theory to practical problems and that that those with occupational qualifications can’t think out of the box and come up with solutions when the rules change.

There is a newer approach in the occupational field which suggests that employer/ industry needs would be better served by structuring courses into theory, practice and workbased experience elements. This is unfortunately likely to produce more of the same (although possibly at a higher level) – people who can operate efficiently in today’s world but who don’t have what is necessary to adapt to radical and rapid change.

Whilst the necessity for technical specialists will always be there, what these examples show is the increasing need for more generalised skills: the ability to work in teams and build relationships, to solve problems, to think strategically, pro-actively and outside of  silos.

Are these skills which can be taught and, if so, how?

Radical change calls for radical adjustments and today’s Supply Chain industry needs a learning environment in which:

·       Learning is based on challenges which are structured to ensure that solutions are found through teamwork. Teams should comprise not only learner syndicates but mentors, subject matter experts and other real people.
·       Each challenge must require that a number of different solutions are presented with a fully motivated case for the adoption of one of them;
·       Recommended solutions presented must include the “what ifs” of contingency planning.

Since there are no correct answers to such challenges, they need to be assessed against:

·       Flexibility of approach
·       Extent of team involvement
·       Ability to transfer learning from one context to another
·       Workability of solutions
·       Adaptability of solution(s) to changing conditions
·       Application of new and relevant technology

Is this a system which could work in your environment?

If there are ideas here which have some appeal, how would you go about implementing them?

How could the current system be adapted to these ideas?

These answers will form the basis of subsequent discussions.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Drivers of future profitability growth

What’s the driving wind that will keep our corporate ship on course?

Yes, we know it’s skills, but what skills? How can we be sure that we’re training for future success?

What the market says and what academia thinks

Recent wanted ads in the Supply Chain Management field look for very specific skills:
  •      Development of monthly tactical, budget and forecast process;
  •       Manage importation processes;
  •       Manage interfaces between vertical operations (logistics, procurement, quality, plants and suppliers);
  •       Pursue opportunities around storage, transport and stocks in order to optimise for lowest landed cost;
  •       Develop and implement policies, processes and procedures around supply chain strategies
  •       Plan, purchase and distribute up to 2000 inventory items.

When looking at the academic curriculum intended to make those responsible competent to carry out these functions, the terminology shows some scary differences:
  •      Describe the evolution of the current distribution system;
  •      Reason out why organisations hold inventory;
  •       Provide a broader perspective on supply-chain management and logistics management;
  •       Define supplier relationship management;
  •       Illustrate and explain the role of purchasing and supply management in acquiring transportation.

Whilst these differences clearly illustrate why it is that university graduates don’t get jobs, what is perhaps more interesting from both sets of statements is that neither address what a survey such as Barloworld Logistics’ supplychainforesight identifies as key Strategic Supply Chain Objectives over the next 5 – 10 years:
  •      Improving service levels to customers.
  •       Improving visibility in the supply chain.
  •      Integration of technology.
  •      Lowering procurement costs & reducing order lead times.
  •      Improving the flow of business intelligence.
  •      Reducing the environmental impact of supply chain operations.

What is also very concerning is the lack of real future focus in all of these. In today’s disruptive world this is a costly omission.

Famous brands of US made horse drawn carriages were Weber, Columbus, Steel King and Buckeye- you don’t see those names in today’s automobile industry but also seems unlikely that Ford, Fiat or Ferrari will be the leading manufacturers of the autonomous vehicles of the future.

So, what’s to be done?

The future focussed company

It all starts with the company vision: By defining what value it adds to its customers, not what it does, the company vision can carry it into the future.

Living the vision: The current employment environment precludes lifelong tenure or anything like it, so how will people be driven by a future focused vision when there’s no chance that they’ll be around to see it realised? The answer to this lies in the current benefits to be gained from being part of a future focused organisation: after all, who wouldn’t want to work for Apple, Google or Tesla?

Disruption comes from the ability to accelerate speed-of-execution and the agility to seize new opportunities. People who innovate are, by definition, entrepreneurs who thrive in an unstructured environment. However, to sustain innovation, scalability is needed, which in turn requires accountability, reliability, and predictability, which cannot be achieved through an unstructured innovation network.

This leads to the conclusion that, in order to compete in a disruptive world, the company needs both strong entrepreneurial and structured cultures to co-exist.  

The nature of Supply Chain Management in such that, because of rapid developments in technology, success is anchored in the ability to create and embrace innovation whilst at the same time carrying out current day functions in compliance with to highly structured and regulated procedures.

Clearly, completely different skills sets are required to carry a Supply Chain Management into the future. We will be exploring how these can be imparted and acquired in future articles.

What steps does your company need to be able to thrive in the future?

How is your company training for future success?

Is it possible to have a dual culture company – one highly compliant?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Blending Technology and Experience for Maximum Learning Engagement and Returns

Exponential changes in warehousing and transport technology demand that training keeps pace to ensure that we have an super competent workforce, one that delivers exceptional results while using minimal resources.

This article discusses how a winning blend of training technology and experiential learning can achieve this.

An evolution of a powerful learning methodology

The creators of today’s corporate learning environments have a huge advantage- their world needs to be as flexible as the business environments in which they operate. The days of learners ploughing through pages and pages of boring, online text are long over. That was Online Learning 1.0.

We are now in Online Learning 3.0, which is designed to create irresistible, sustained engagement for the learner through challenging, thought provoking learning experiences. It’s like a good novel that you just can't put down and consists of some really exciting elements:

  •        Integrated learning experiences combining workbased experience and assessment with the ability to switch seamlessly through a number of different online media;
  •        Interactivity, both in content and assessments;
  •       Engagement tools including things like gamification and mobile device learning;
  •        Incorporation of external materials from a wide range of sources;
  •      Competency based (learning by doing): online experiences which closely simulate real life and in which assessment takes place more on the job than in the exam room;
  •        Socially enabled programmes through which human involvement through online debate, collaboration, coaching and mentoring are integral elements of the learning experience;
  •        Curriculum which is aligned to life- long learning principles and fit-for-role learning solutions;
  •        The use of data to analyse learner behaviour and effect continuous improvement, to personalise programmes and ensure that they are infinitely adaptive to changes in the environment.

     Online Learning 3.0 is driven by learner management systems which have the ability to bring together all learning and development interventions and report on them in formats which are useful to both learners and management.

Is it worth it?

The increasing power of computation (More’s Law), the changes which this technology is bringing to the market (one example: shopping malls are dying, so what will this do to warehousing and transport?) and the unprecedented changes in climate which we are experiencing are all bringing us into a world which was simply inconceivable at the turn of the century.

For any business to thrive in this kind of world requires high levels of human competency and flexibility. This can only be brought about by embracing the technologies and concepts which make up Online Learning 3.0.

This is however a journey, not an event. It is possible to implement a plan in which each step has immediate impact.

The pathway to Online Learning 

1.   Strategy determines structure
How does the business want to position itself in the future? What competencies will be required to achieve that goal? Which of those competencies do we have and how are we going build the rest?

2.     Think like a marketer
What would make for a “wow” learner experience for every one of our programmes, taking into account how millennials and the others in the target market actually learn?

3.     Embrace technology strategically
Features like games, virtual tours or any of these innovations serve no purpose unless they answer the question “What must the learner be able to do on completing this programme?

4.     Baby steps
Choose low hanging fruit – those programmes in which participation is like watching paint dry (usually compliance type courses)- start piloting improvements on them as the start of the strategy implementation. Select applications which have least cost and greatest impact.

5.     Don’t be afraid of data
Data is the most important tool for continuous improvement and for calculating returns on investment- incorporate it.

What strategies are you implementing to adapt to the creative destruction which is happening in your industry? 

How is your company’s current experience with online learning?

Do you feel that implementing a strategy like Online Learning 3 will produce the desired returns in terms of increased staff adaptability, productivity, retention, and improved profits?