Ch-ch-ch-change is coming fast and furious to supply chains
I teach change. I write about change. I detest change.
Just rearranging the pictures on the wall in the living room or buying a different brand of ketchup gets my goat, to which my wife can attest.
In the supply chain world, change is coming fast and furious. The factory of the future is already here, and changes in work processes and customer demands continue unabated. In the blink of an eye, technology dominates and overtakes our jobs. It seems like only yesterday we adopted lean concepts to streamline operations, and today we interact with robots and look for driverless vehicles in the warehouse and over the highway.
But that is not the kind of change I am concerned with. That change is massive in scale and all-encompassing in scope. There is not much we can do about seismic changes. A new ERP system or company reorganization? Bring it on. Robots? I’ll lead them to the coffee machine.
It is the little changes, ones that are out of my control, that are harder to manage and get my dander up, both on a personal and organizational scale. Moving my mailbox in the workroom? Cover your ears. A new internal workflow, changes in a supplier’s sales team, a new supervisor or an additional workplace responsibility can be frustrating, creating behaviors that are counterproductive and damaging to the business and ourselves.
In my organization, we are planning to move into new offices, in a new building with new furniture. The pushback, griping, and political positioning by staff about office furniture is both interesting to watch and also cringe-worthy. While some are trying to negotiate the size of their file cabinets, changes to the industry and our clients continue rapidly evolving. What change deserves more attention?
There are two types of change in the workplace.
- Top-down change is introduced by company leadership who control the agenda for the impending change. The board of directors might appoint a new CEO, or company leadership might want to enter a new market or transition to an outsourced model. There is often passive, or even active resistance to large top-down changes.
- Bottom-up changes occur when the workers, even supervisors or managers, create an undertaking for change. Through their actions, they can influence others in the company and create avenues for change. Company recycling efforts or charitable giving are often bottom-up initiatives. These changes are quite powerful and often outperform those changes dictated from above.
Consistent communication helps employees to see the logic of necessary top-down changes in the workplace. I recently wrote how clothier Brooks Brothers is transitioning to an omnichannel process, essentially using their stores as inventory locations supporting online customer sales. In my analysis, I felt that the key to success for this process was not necessarily the software, which I assumed was efficient and effective, but with the impending changes to the employee’s jobs.
I was unsure that some of the front-line retail employees would react in a positive way to this change.
To convert to this omnichannel process, Brooks Brothers worked with the Atlanta-based supply chain software expert Manhattan Associates. In a recent conversation with Chis Shaw, the director of product marketing for Manhattan Associates, we spoke about what I considered the gap between the omnichannel concept, the software and the implementation on the sales floor. Shaw noted that the software was designed with the user in mind, and he described a simple and seemingly elegant interface that would provide the necessary information and management of the pick, pack, and ship process at the store level.
My apprehension was with companies that did not have a motivated workforce to handle these additional responsibilities, essentially a change in the workflow as well as workload. Having worked in retail, and as one who has been known to be a critic of customer service, I guaranteed Shaw there would be gaps in service levels in some instances. We agreed that this might be the case, and it was up to the retailers to manage their way through this process.
Companies and individuals need to proactively manage change.
Incorporating planned change into the organization provides an opportunity for success. Strong management, leadership, and direction, coupled with a workforce that is enlightened, well-trained, and adaptable, has a better chance of meeting market challenges and opportunities.
Understanding the strategic need for change, and meeting it with an executable and measurable plan, is critical. Building a culture that embraces change, even the little changes, will provide companies with a fighting chance to handle the inevitable larger ones speeding down the road.