Another Ducking Digest?!
September 25, 2023: Navigating Challenges and Strategies in 2023
Howdy from Austin! I was at a concert last night and came out on a break to a flash weather warning on my phone, saying, “Do not go outside. There are golf ball-sized hail coming down or soon to be coming down, and it could kill you.” So, avoid the hail. First time ever experiencing a note like that. It did not actually hit in the area that I was, but it was quite a crazy storm with lightning, rain, and thunder. But I survived, and I’m here today with Lindsay. This is our weekly news show where we pick a topic that’s relevant to those working in manufacturing, specifically for a small or midsize manufacturer.
Today, Lindsay is going to be talking about the perceived image of an effective supply chain practitioner in 2023. He’s dealt with this throughout his entire career, and I’ve asked him to break up the conversation today into four buckets. We’re going to start with the Baseline; lots of clutter happens there. Then we’re going to move into the critique that happens, some of Lindsay’s observations, and then I’ve asked him to close out with some of his best practices.
Well, thank you, Sarah. Glad you survived your storm. So, let’s talk about the potential storm of supply chain and small manufacturers and what we’re trying to move to. Of course, it is a relevant, healthy image. You know, how do we describe this successful supply chain role in a small van manufacturer versus what versus someone who’s got themselves into maybe a bit of an overcommitment, maybe a bit understaffed, under-supported, maybe a bit of success by working long hours versus getting a bit of the support, process systems, and people that they need to work smarter? So yeah, the baseline can be there. There’s a lot of clutter to the role, and a really kind of a sad voice in the background might be that Lindsay, your job is to get all the parts, save money, beat up suppliers, punish them when they do wrong things, reduce inventory, deal with all the changes, and you know, the underlying expectation to work long hours. And as if that wasn’t brutal enough, then there’s some things you’re not going to do. You’re obviously not going to spend time schmoozing with suppliers, and certainly don’t pay too much, and don’t be buying the wrong thing from the wrong person, and don’t be tying up our precious cash in inventory, and don’t complain if AP chooses to pay suppliers late. Don’t show up late, don’t call in sick, don’t waste time in meetings with ARs; that’s a bit of an insidious one, and don’t neglect our returns, don’t complain about MRP, and don’t complain about your buy recommendations. Other than that, the job’s really simple. So I think part of the challenge there, Sarah, is the mixed messaging, right? It’s not a clear, succinct Nike “just do it” right? It’s there’s all this context.
Well, the one that’s near and dear to my heart, in particular, is the supplier piece. Don’t be nice to your suppliers; treat them like crap, but hey, we want to save money, we want to be the priority, and we want all your ideas, yeah, yeah, and we want the same terms you give Walmart. So, and it’s interesting how we see this rubbing off, you know, the critique, how does the rest of the organization view us? That’s always a very important sanity point, you know, or hopefully not a red flag, but how am I viewed? Am I viewed as a key contributor? I want to be viewed as a key contributor. I want to be viewed as an asset. I want to be viewed as someone that can make things happen and be relied on. I think a big one, Lindsay, a big one here too, is the want to be perceived as someone who’s strategic and not just tactical, pushing paper and cutting POs. Yes, yeah, yeah, and that’s the, you know, if the role’s perceived as purely administrative, you know, that’s not good. If the engineering or sales teams don’t really see a need to engage, then that’s a warning sign. You know, I was once introduced by an engineer to, I think, a supplier or a company visitor, and my role at the time was director of supply chain, and I was introduced as the shipping man manager. You know, it’s all good feedback, you know, but it kind of highlights that Lindsay isn’t doing a real good job of communicating across the organization about all what he’s doing or why his role might be perceived as more than just a shipping manager.
And I think here, another one is supply chain can be perceived as complaining quite a bit where they’re asking a lot of questions, they may be pushing back, and oftentimes there’s a very good reason, but the perception can be from executive leadership that you’re unhappy and that you’re not a team player. Yeah, so, and we don’t want to dwell on the dark side, right, Sarah? That’s not really a good way to start Monday morning, but there’s some sanity checks here. There can be little reward for working long hours and, like you said, we can brand ourselves as being tactical. So, it potentially can be that the small manufacturer trying to support an ERP can become somewhat of a hostile environment, right, and where MRP complaints are unwelcome. And it’s, you know, it’s so, therefore, it’s very important that we suppress that very natural temptation and instead offer it up in terms of a solution or look to recruit folks to pursue the RCCA, right, the root cause corrective action. Certainly don’t want to be a Kagan, you know, I, you know, guilty as charged, I’ve probably been accused of that more than a couple of times. Certainly don’t want to burn bridges, make enemies. And it’s not, don’t get confused, it’s not our job to criticize the sales team or engineering. You know, the fact that the forecast isn’t a perfect science and everyone knows that, so it’s okay to make that explicit if it’s not being explicitly communicated, and everyone knows there’s a lot of changes, so it’s okay to have a KPI but here’s so many ECOS we have in the past 30 days that are impacting purchasing or driving purchase order changes. So, Lindsay, observations. I agree, it’s Monday morning, it’s not all negative and doom and gloom, as we’ve been alluding to. Let’s have you move into my favorite part of the conversation today, is around your best practices. What can supply chain leaders do now to change their perception or maintain a positive perception and excel, do a really gosh darn good job? Yeah, that may always be a goal but yeah, we should stay on that.
So, yeah, best, I think first off, best practice, Sarah, has got to be maintaining that healthy life balance, for goodness sake. You know, those of us who have a long commute or do work long hours or don’t have enough staff due to budget constraints, you know, it’s important, first and foremost, to take care of ourselves, you know, start our days right at the granular level but at the bigger level, maybe have a mentor, yeah, that having a mentor either in the organization, you know, I’ve enjoyed mentoring from CFOs, you know, that’s a key play, but you know, also, you know, a manager outside of the company. Benchmark with peers in similar companies about a great way to do that with Institute of Supply Management or any networking event, you’ll find a peer that you can just swap numbers with about, here’s how many POs I’m processing a month, here’s my percentage that changed, Sarah, here’s my favorite supplier for machined parts, here’s my inventory turns, here’s my percentage of slow-moving, obsolete inventory. And then, Lindsay, I’ll throw one thing in there too. You mentioned mentor, whether it’s internal or external, you don’t also have to have a formal mentor. I’ve learned a lot from people by watching how they carry themselves, reading their content, seeing what they do, so it’s not that you necessarily have to say, “Hey, will you be a mentor?” and have a structure. You can also learn a lot from other people in other ways as well.
And I think that’s very well stated, Sarah, and I think that’s great for someone like you who’s calling multiples perspectives and is in a good, healthy place. And I think it’s a good cautionary note that we don’t want to have a big ask on someone that a big ask might be intimidating, whereas if I can just tap into someone for lunch once a month, maybe that’s a smaller ask or bouncing a couple of ideas, sharing a couple of KPIs once a month or even once a quarter, unless of course, I’m in trouble, you know, if I’m upside down, if I’m losing sleep, if I’ve got the supply chain indigestion, if I just want to cry on a Friday night, then you need a mentor.
You need someone who can do a deep dive and work with you to understand recovery. If you’re not getting the support you need, which I think is more common in the smaller manufacturers. So, you know, tee the healthy life balance, have the mentor, benchmark with peers, and then third and last would be manage the boss. We’ve talked about this before with, you know, schedule a one-pager monthly activity. What here’s the progress I’m making, here’s the priorities. I think it seems like I’m working to, are these the right things? Have we, has the situation changed from our January one goal setting that we kicked off the year with?
And then, in addition to the health life balance, continuous learning. Don’t, and that can’t be as simple as reading the business section. You know, I think, yeah, we’ve shared that I allocate 45 minutes a day to reading the Wall Street Journal. Now, with my schedule, that works, with other people, it may not, but it’s a luxury that I kind of enjoy. But there’s lots of other things, there’s too much to learn, right? Too way too much. But there’s some things that we can decide. So maybe the first step there is deciding what you’re going to learn. Are we going to learn about new ERP features? Are we going to learn about the plethora of ERP add-on apps that are out there? And which ones are pertinent to my business? Because all supply chains are unique, all businesses are unique, businesses have different needs. So the retail world of fulfillment and stocking is very different from the manufacturing world of forecasting and scheduling. So different tools work in different ways.
And I would also, from the learning piece, it’s also, know what your learning style is. Do you prefer to read? Do you prefer to watch a video? Because that will really help accelerate your learning, and I think you’ll get more excited about it. And there’s top, yeah, and well said. Very well said. And we should all know what our personal style is. My son’s dyslexic, but he has got an incredible mind for listening and learning from verbal communication, learning by watching, far better than me. So, yeah, yeah, well, well said.
Similarly, the pain points, the 20, you know, we started off the conversation saying, how are we going to deal with 2024? Well, understand what, of all the things going on, and there’s way too many in 2024, which ones are most near and dear to the company? And not necessarily what we feel are near and dear, which ones is the boss talking about? Which one is finance talking about? Where do we see risk? Certainly, from a selfish standpoint, where do we see things getting squirrely in terms of semiconductor lead time or assurance of supply on the shipping lines? Great that we think, you know, Asian freight rates are coming down, but you, when we should stay abreast of that and, you know, ask our carriers where they see the 90-day outlook trend for freight rates.
But also need to watch some of these big macro ideas. What on earth is going on with the China dynamics and how does it affect me? How does it affect me? You know, do I need to be looking at the Vietnam solution or the Mexico alternative? You know, what are my suppliers doing to protect me for that? And then the glamorous ones, right? They can’t pick up a new newspaper without hearing about AI, for goodness sake. But we don’t need to understand it because at the end of the day, it’s very complicated and it affects different industries in very ways, many ways, and some people are still, there seems there’s some chat discussion about, “Does ChatGPT really improve, really, really improve performance?” So we need to be aware, are any of our great peer discussions, are any of our peers using ChatGPT? If so, how? Or, you know, what the heck is large language models, and how does that apply? Does it supply, apply to supply chain? And that’s kind of a trick question because let someone try and answer that and they say, “Okay, does it supply, apply to a 20 to 50 million US manufacturer? How are companies like that using it?” And that’s really a challenge to all these great experts out there on LinkedIn, and I mean that more sincerely, but they tend to talk about the industry as a whole rather than say, “Well, how does that affect me in my little world?”
And I think lastly, Sarah, yeah, we’re probably at time, but lastly, for best practices, my old favorite, and guilty as charged again, communication, for God’s sake. Don’t be head down doing the job and not communicating both up through the organization to the boss and to the leadership team, but also across the organization to my peers.
Two different communications, but the underlying message to reinforce the broad scope of the supply chain role. You know, the suppliers, the inventory, the assurance of supply, the cost reduction, the changes, the new products, the obsolescence, you know, the compliance. Keep on underscoring. Here’s all the parts of the job. And certainly, highlight the wins, and certainly, be in that context. You know, it’s always a mixed bag. So, the wins, here’s my open challenges, and here’s the changes that we’re working on, so that, you know, to drive that appreciation for the broad scope of. I think branding falls in the communication. I talk a lot about building your brand externally. It’s just as or more important to build your brand internally. You want to be known as an expert, a thought leader, someone who can get it done. You want to make sure that internally, people know your value at the company. You can do all the best things in the world, but it doesn’t matter as much if other people don’t know about it. So, really, really important to communicate your wins and your value.
We have somebody in the audience, Lindsay, who asked if he could come on and join us live next week on the show. So, Sarah, I’m not sure how to pronounce your name if I may have butchered that, but shoot me a note on LinkedIn, and we can chat further. Lindsay and I have not had a special guest, but are definitely open if we have a special topic that we want to dive into. With that, I want to thank you, Lindsay. Thanks to our live listeners today, and we will see you all next Monday at 10 Central. Thanks, Sarah.