Thursday, 21 February 2013

From Best Operator to Best All Rounder

Case study 1

Having joined Global Freight Consolidators as a Warehouse Receiving Clerk in 2008, Mary Mesquita became a real expert in that aspect of the company’s operations: there were very few problems that she could not solve in this area.
Her diligence and hard work as well as the respect she had built up amongst clients and colleagues had recently led to her promotion to Team Leader in the Warehouse Receiving Department.
Mary was confident that her intimate knowledge of the job would assure her success.
Problems started to arise very quickly however:
Although the people for whom Mary was responsible were doing their routine tasks well, the work was becoming less and less coordinated, with some team members processing work to others who then seemed to get stuck, inaccurate work being produced with nobody taking responsibility and a general lowering of morale. At the same time her team members were continuously soliciting her help in resolving operational problems. She found that it took a lot less time to sort out an operational problem herself than to teach the team member responsible how to do it.
In the meantime was Mary being pressurised to produce performance reports, revise budgets and attend to staff disciplinary matters.
As a result, Mary’s team’s performance was beginning to fall and she was taking increasing stress.

Case study 2

Throughout his career in international trade, it was the compliance aspects which interested Marco Pimentel the most. In the five years since he joined the industry he become highly proficient in all aspects of Customs compliance. This is a very legalistic area - it requires the ability to pay minute attention to detail and to analyse a number complex factors in order to achieve results.
Penalties for mistakes in the preparation and submission of Customs Declarations are high and the work is extremely pressurised:- those who carry out this function therefore have to produce top quality material very quickly and consistently. Due to the nature of the work however, people who excel at it tend to regard people who operate outside of the field as either stupid, intent on defrauding Customs, or both.
Marco’s superior ability in this field did not go unnoticed and in a relatively short space of time he was promoted to head up the Customs Clearance Department of a forwarding and clearing agent. In addition to the responsibility for the overall performance of the department, this position typically requires that the incumbent assists in solving of problems relating to Customs, client servicing and providing Customs technical support to all departments.
Marco soon found himself in hot water: Colleagues who turned to him for assistance had a great deal of difficulty in understanding his communications because of their convoluted and obscure terminology. Whilst acknowledging his undoubted expertise, both customers and Customs officials had difficulty in dealing with Marco’s arrogance and superior attitude.
Things came to a head on the day that the MD of Marco’s employer company received an official communication from Customs Head Office stating that Mr Pimentel was no longer welcome to have any communications with the Customs Department.

Sound familiar?

These case studies are intended to demonstrate that, whilst technical competence is key to any function, mastery of leadership as well emotional intelligence skills (so called soft skills) are equally important. By including these into our training strategies we achieve far greater  potential for enhanced competitiveness. 
Therefore, in determining the skills needs of our people it is essential that these areas are also addressed. 
In my next post I would like to delve into this area in more detail and discuss how the organisation’s all round competency requirements can be identified.
Have you any war stories like these to share?
What has your experience been with blending  technical, leadership and soft skills training?

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Aligning Capabilities to Strategy

Changes in international supply chain management and logistics as well as the South African education and training environment have shifted the ways in which we operate in these environments irreversibly and forever.

There are tremendous threats – the required competencies are costly, both in terms of money and expertise, but to carry on as before may see substantial loss of business.
As a measure of the efficiency with which our company is doing it might be instructive for us to look at some key ratios over a three year period:

  • Business lost to business gained in Rand turnover terms;
  • Amount of administrative penalties imposed to amounts disbursed on statutory imposts such as VAT,import duties and the like;
  • Amount of storage, rent, overstays and/ or demurrage paid to the total freight bill;
  • Amounts written off due to errors to total turnover.

An increase in any one of these of these is a critical indicator that something needs to be addressed in the way in which the skills needs in our company are being addressed, so read on.
  • Experience with many companies shows that there are a number of ways of in which they try to make sure that they have people who are competent to carry out their respective functions:
  • Poaching staff who appear to have the right experience and/ or training from competitors
  • Existing job holder shows the “newbie” how things are done;
  • Experienced staff hold training sessions as and when the need arises;
  • Sending people on external courses as either they (or their supervisors) feel the need;
  • Organising training for different sections of the organisation which is applicable to their particular function (payroll, marketing, Excel and so on).

I would like to suggest that whilst all of the above methods have their place, each one has some critical risks:
  • How can we be sure that our opposition is not overjoyed at our taking a real dud off their hands (normally this only becomes apparent much too late)?
  • Is the existing job holder going to be that willing to share their expertise, or will they be passing on their bad habits?
  • Can the experienced staff member really train, or is s/he simply an experienced individual with little ability to transfer their knowledge and skills?
  • How do we know that the courses on which we spend substantial amounts of money are really needed, or simply nice to haves?
  • When we send people from our company on training, how can we be sure that each of them has gained maximum benefit from that training?
There is a better way which is a great deal more cost effective and which does not require any rocket science.

It starts off with the simple concept, “begin with the end in mind”.

Each of us has a vision of where we want our business to be.  

Once you are clear on your ultimate goal or destination, the next step is to determine what actions on the part of the team will be most effective in getting you there.

For companies involved in international supply chain and related logistics operations, a good way of looking at competitiveness is through a supply chain congruence model:


In terms of this model, the higher the congruence, or compatibility, amongst these elements, the greater the performance of the organisation.

So, for the people element, their development requires a structured approach and methodology focused on aligning their capabilities to your organisation’s supply chain strategy.

How we structure this approach is key and will be discussed in future posts.

In your experience, is there more of a need to train staff than was the case in the past? If so, why do you think this?

How about the quality of work being produced by today’s supply chain practitioners? 

Would you say that this is improving or do you think that it’s going backwards?