Supply chain leaders: Lost in the fog of disruption

The past two years have changed our businesses. It’s now time for leaders to refocus the direction of their efforts and enterprises.

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The last two years have been uncertain, complex and difficult. While many supply chain leaders have a heightened image, most have struggled to produce impressive results. In fact, the nonstop disruptions over the last two years have resulted in inefficiency, ineffectiveness and poor customer satisfaction.

Supply chain leaders have not had the opportunity to be proactive, as every time they thought they had a path to success another disruption occurred knocking them off into the forest. In my view, supply chain leaders have spent the last two years:

•Being reactive, not proactive

•Being tactical, not strategic

•Managing, not leading

•Playing defense, not offense

Now, after two years of non-stop disruptions it is important that we look ahead and get back on top of where we are heading. Let’s face it, the disruptions over the last two years have changed our businesses and we are late in refocusing our direction.

Supply chain leaders need to regain the momentum and focus on:

Being reactive and proactive. Sure, disruptions will continue, and we must react to these disruptions; however, the supply chain of today is drastically different than the supply chain of 2020. We have major staffing, process and technology problems. These problems must be proactively addressed with agility, resilience and optionality.

Being tactical and strategic. For the last two years we have shifted and primarily worked from home solving problems. We found satisfaction in solving problems and achieved a sense of accomplishment working at the tactical level. Now however, we return to work, and we must return to the more challenging responsibilities of working on the strategic tasks, which were not addressed over the last two years.

Both managing and leading: Leaders define vision; managers execute the vision. Leaders focus on the horizon; managers focus on the bottom line. Leaders align staff; managers direct staff. Leaders ask what and why; managers ask how and when. Leaders inspire others to act; managers serve in a specific role that has a list of responsibilities. Leaders focus on the long-term; managers focus on the short-term. Leaders are servants of people; managers are the boss of people.

Playing both defense and offense: When you play defense you are reacting to others. But when you are playing offense, you are the one calling the plays. Offense acts and defense responds to that action. Offense is when you are driving forward, innovating and striving to accomplish your goals whereas defense is about holding your ground, being cautious and maintaining the status quo.

Immense success comes to organizations that have a balance between being reactive and proactive, being tactical and strategic, managing and leading, and playing both defense and offense. The fog of disruption is clearing, and it is time for supply chain leaders to recapture the initiative and lead our organizations to achieve competitive advantage.

Jim Tompkins of Tompkins Ventures is an international authority on designing and implementing end-to-end supply chains. He is a serial entrepreneur who has started several businesses; worked with private equity; designed many industrial facilities and automated materials handling systems; implemented many supply chain information technology solutions and worked to enhance the performance of many 3PLs and 3PL clients. He can be reached at [email protected].

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