As you look forward, it is always helpful to look back and gain perspective. Today’s supply chain is more global, aligned and proactive than it was even just five years ago. Post COVID, we see even more supply chain challenges – yet from challenge comes opportunity. As developing strategies for mitigating the risk of supply chain interruption overtakes economizing, organizations will increasingly need to leverage strong supply chains while stringently considering the bottom line. That balance will drive the success (or failure) of SCM companies moving forward. Although technology and the digital supply chain is on the rise, without the comprehensive knowledge and collaboration of people across the supply chain, we will continue to struggle to find that critical balance.

Typically, even though organizations may be consolidating for cost management and scalability purposes, the walls of the individual functions, channels and regions have become even thicker. As a direct result, it is harder for you, as a leader, to build end-to-end supply chain functionality in an ever-changing global marketplace. It has become increasingly difficult to gain agreement on specific, customer focused initiatives or broader organizational change.

This is not a technology, process or policy problem – it is a people problem:

People control systems…

People make purchasing decisions…

People change processes…

People establish policies…

People decide to build and maintain organizational walls…

People make or break relationships with suppliers, partners and customers…

Although we tend to observe and react to events (or the fires they cause), it is critically important to really look at and assess the root cause of our problems and how people impact outcomes. Go ahead, rip that band-aid off and look at what is really causing the infection –

Your “Core System” Is Flawed

Recently I was speaking with a client in the SCM space. He was trying to understand why he could not consistently get the global business results he was looking for and needed to understand how he could change the organization to drive consistent results. What did we find?

The Organization Was Not Designed For Effective Interaction And Optimization – The “System” Was Broken.

The bottom line – his organization was not designed to function as a unit… a single system. His division was not performing at optimal levels because of suboptimal organizational design. Instead of deploying aligned processes, policies and technologies to leverage various forms of optimization across the spectrum, his organization consistently tried to implement old practices with new tools and technologies – without the support of the people and other organizations that were affected.

They didn’t take the time or make the effort to understand why the old practices were failing in the first place. They repeatedly made the poor assumption that a new process or technology would fix the problem instead of understanding that no policy, process or technology change can be successful without recognizing the people component… and the system as a whole. As a result, my client was not understanding the inherent value in meaningful organizational change – nor the lack of value in neglecting the structural and behavioral changes that needed to happen to drive effective, efficient supply chain operations.

We were able to work together to create a plan around “systems thinking” that incorporated not just his division, but the organization as a whole. He was able to leverage his new knowledge of “the system” to work across functions, channels and regions to get the very best from supply chain operations as a whole. As a result, he is now seeing strong, consistent results on a global basis and the business is growing quarter on quarter. 

Interacting With The System As A Whole Provides A Distinct Advantage.

My client is not unique in his challenge – the lack of a systems approach is pervasive in most organizations – just as sub-optimal business results are. However, in the SCM space the lack of visibility and collaborative endeavor inevitably results in not only poorly run operations, but ultimately causes declining supplier, partner and client relationships that lead to declining business outcomes. Many leaders implement policies, procedures or technologies without ever looking at them in terms of the effects on the “system” and its people… and then wonder why they have not gotten the results they anticipated. Millions of dollars are wasted each year on failed projects for this very reason.

The reality is that today the average company has variant policies, procedures and technologies across the different functions and channels that preclude them from realizing exceptional results. Leaders typically focus only on their area of responsibility. Critically important, to be sure. However, the challenge in this methodology is that the organization may have channels or functions that operate well in and of themselves, but they don’t integrate well with the wider system. Consequently, the organization suffers as a whole.

Progressive Leaders Are Recognizing How Important Aligning The Various Parts Of The Organization, And The Interrelations Of Those Parts, Is To Their Success.

As those leaders, we need to ensure our focus is on matters of ongoing organization and feedback across the supply chain. We need to diagnose problems, not by examining just our pieces of the puzzle, but by recognizing the larger patterns of interaction between different parts of the integrated whole:

  • Focus on the outcomes needed from the wider supply chain in terms of the customer and overall business results
  • Work backwards from the ultimate goal to determine what is needed from the system to succeed
  • Understand that we are not an island and in order to be successful, we need to consider and integrate all the moving parts

While most of us like to consider our business as unique and different, the reality is that the more congruency we can build into our organizational systems, the more we increase efficiency, visibility, innovation and knowledge management across the supply chain – the more potential we have to maximize business results.

While there may be functional or cultural differences across the spectrum, the more we can partner to translate and align, the more likely we are to succeed on a grand scale. It is important that we work hard to understand our counterparts and build consistent policies, procedures and technologies together. Each and every disparate instance adds to the challenge of building effective supply chain solutions that support holistic planning and deployment.

What do we have to gain in addition to the obvious? How about:

  • An Innovation Incubator
  • Connectivity That Breeds Efficiency
  • Cross-functional/Vertical Leverage
  • Improved Business Results Across The Board
  • Competitive Advantage Fueled By Solving Customer Issues Efficiently & Effectively

How Can You Contribute To Creating An Effective “System”?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how systems thinking can help you to exceed your potential. Need A Trusted Advisor to help you become the very best leader you can be while maximizing your supply chain results? Contact me at SheriMackey@gmail.com.

I wrote recently of how it had occurred to me that it was absolutely critical for academia and business to come together for the greater good of global business and inter-culturism. Oddly enough, as I spoke recently on a global stage, my views were reinforced ten-fold.  As, on this particular occasion, I addressed a global audience of primarily academic and administrative attendees, it rapidly became apparent that they were not too accustomed to hearing from the business sector.  As I made my points and finished by commenting on the need for global business and academia to partner for the betterment of us all, I was greeted with applause and standing ovations. I thought to myself, “How remarkable – we all know we need to work together, yet the mention of actually doing so is a revelation.”

The idea that business and academia would partner to create stronger graduates and leaders seems to be quite novel. Until recently, I had not given it a lot of thought, but I was challenged by a respected colleague  to provide some ideas as to how this could effectively work. Experience has shown me that business struggles to transform leadership and management theory into reality, and academia seems to struggle in the areas of really understanding how to develop, at an experiential level, anything new or innovative that can actually be leveraged to impact business. Here are some of the things I have done personally, and with clients, in the past that could be effective for others moving forward:

  • I have, from a corporate and coaching perspective,  partnered with universities to come on site and teach courses that incorporate solid global management principles and theories, but that are backed up with real-time global client business cases. These cases are pertinent to current business issues the company is facing and current employees are responsible for managing. Employees actually talk to the clients about the cases and potential solutions – this has repeatedly been wonderful for relating theory to experiential practices.
  • Sandwich learning is highly effective  –  I encourage clients to support employees alternating relevant periods of education with professional application.
  • Training in conjunction with Coaching always has a stronger outcome due to the repeated reinforcement and targeted approach. Extended, reinforced methods of educating both leaders and employees facilitates true growth and development in both the individual and teams.
  • At conferences that attempt to bridge the gap between academia and business, I tend to see two types of presentations: 1) purely academic that seem out of touch with business and 2) purely business with no real interest in what academics have to say. Wouldn’t it be interesting to pair an academic professional and a business professional and ask them to partner for a joint session presenting a multifaceted problem with potential for a joint solution? Could we derive some unique, joint perspectives?
  • Create and deploy joint think-tanks with membership split between academia and global business – with the express purpose of deriving joint solutions to move both camps forward. I have in the past run both Technical and Strategic Advisory Councils that had similar, but not expressly the same, missions – they were both based on corporate/client think-tanks instead of academic/business think-tanks…

If we are to evolve meaningfully, we will need to look to Translational Science – we have it in medicine and we need to bring it to global business. Translational science is scientific research that is motivated by the need for practical application. The term is used mainly in the health sciences and refers to things like the discovery of new drugs that directly help improve human health through alternative uses. Thus, translating bench or “lab” science to clinical practice and real people. In essence, the same principle applies to business. We need to translate the research that is done on management and leadership into practical applications that can be effectively deployed. It seems an easy concept, but experience tells me that today, most executives out there can not translate theory into application. As such, they do not apply potentially impactful research findings to their business environment – thus making the valuable research that is done essentially useless in real-world business application.

So you may ask, “how we can apply Translational Science to global business?” While certainly not the all-inclusive answer, I do believe that the five points made above could be a valid start to the process. We have got to find ways to bring academia and business together to leverage the best in both for the betterment of the whole. If we don’t, we will never actually move forward.

You can contact me at Sherilmackey@gmail.com with your thoughts or comments. Check back soon for the next installation of Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders.

While COVID-19 rules may suggest a six foot gap is a good idea… not true when talking business strategy.  I was in a meeting with a senior executive recently, when he shared his concern that the processes and approaches the company is using to develop the corporate strategy may not take the business forward as planned, but backward. As we discussed his challenges, there were some key gaps that the organization was likely to fall into that could easily be avoided with a strong planning process. So, here are a few of the more prominent reasons organizations fall into the strategic planning gap…How many of these are evident in your business?

Reason Number 1: Lack of leadership engagement

One important reason behind a company’s inability to create a visible and viable strategy is that, frequently, key senior leaders are not appropriately engaged in the development process. This frequently means that critical success factors are not considered, priorities are unclear, and incomplete strategies are developed. Leaders must engage in the process to understand how the gears of the business engage – how their domain aligns to and fits with the other critical pieces within the corporation.  Critical insights and knowledgeable contributions regarding all aspects of the business will provide the pivot point for the strategic planning process – key decisions emerge from a compilation and understanding of diverse leadership perspectives. Companies often believe that strategic plans can be developed in one or two day strategic sessions – this is simply not true. Strategic planning is a dedicated process that is developed over a period of time with all senior leaders engaged and participating – not to mention, an ongoing process that drives the ability to stay ahead of the competition.  Without a strong process for engaging leaders and formulating strategic plans as a unit, companies often end up with plans that are meaningless from a strategic point of view.

Reason Number 2: Leaders lose sight of the difference between strategy and planning

Very often I come across companies that confuse strategy with planning.  The annual financial and operating planning process drives many corporate strategy exercises – which is a backward premise. They are different activities and should be treated as such: strategy is about developing a framework that drives future actions and decisions; planning is about resource allocation. Critical strategic decisions don’t fit within the annual planning timetable, and neither should the strategy development process. When strategy and planning combine, the plans thrust upon the organization are anything but strategic in nature. Upon closer examination one may find that these plans are (at best) a collection of tactical plans targeting operational efficiency – operational efficiency IS NOT by it’s nature strategic.

Reason Number 3: Too much data, too little insight vs. too much insight, too little data

Few companies have a structured process for scanning the environment and observing emerging trends. There is either an information drought or an overload of information – generally, there is no middle ground. When there is information, often companies do not know how to draw any strategic meaning from it. In the absence (or lack of usability) of relevant data, assumptions are made that may not reflect the reality of the environment, which means a rapid decline in credibility and relevance of the strategic plan. While it is definitely not advisable to engage in paralysis  by analysis – it is important to gather as many facts as you can, within a limited amount of time, apply what you know, and move forward with a decision.  It is key insights based on the information you have (depending on risk factors, often 70% is good enough), not excessive data, that will drive a successful strategy.

Reason Number 4: Insufficient alignment, commitment and communication.

When the process is structured correctly, the leadership team has invested significant time creating the strategy together. A common result is that they come to believe that the strategic intent is clear to everyone across the organization. In most companies this is far from reality, and the strategy is left to interpretation. This creates organizational misalignment, with group or divisional strategies not fitting comfortably within the whole.  The strategy process should include ensuring executive alignment and commitment is strong, but also that sufficient time and effort is spent on communicating the strategy throughout the entire organization (at every level) to ensure there is understanding, buy-in, and integration across the company. Problems often surface when there is a lack of alignment and integration – strategically, operationally and interpersonally.

As an organization continues to deliberate strategy as an abstract concept or simply a mandated process, the typical result is that strategic plans are not living documents and do not deliver the desired results. Any one of a million reasons can derail the strategic planning process. As this repeatedly occurs,  the concept of strategic planning is eroded to such an extent that the exercise is taken up just as another routine, isolated from the business purpose of the company. The strategy process should bring rigor and challenge to leadership team thinking – it should result in a strategic plan that is alive in everyone’s mind, engage community ownership and provide a driving force that guides the company steadily toward competitive advantage.

Is your strategic planning process falling into the gap of mediocrity?  Here are some potential indicators:

  • Are all of the organizational, divisional and team leaders engaged (at appropriate levels)?
  • Is there a clear understanding (and separation) of strategy and planning? Is strategic planning a dedicated, extended process?
  • Is there a good balance and perspective between data collection and business insight?
  • Do all the key players understand their place in the strategy and how it all comes together to fill the gap?
  • Is every leader, at every level, committed to the strategy? Is it a cohesive group effort?
  • Is there a strong communication component within the strategic plan?
  • Is the strategic plan a living, breathing document that everyone is working toward achieving all the time?

There is only one way to a great strategic plan –  a dedicated, integrated strategic planning process that ensures a climate of trust and the innovative business ideas of leaders.

How will you close your strategic planning gaps?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you mind the strategic planning gaps in your organization. Please feel free to contact me at  sherilmackey@gmail.com . Check back soon for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders.

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A Happy New Year

December 30, 2020 — Leave a comment
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As the New Year approaches, I find myself reflecting on both the remarkable challenges and inherent opportunities that have presented themselves over this past year. It would be an outright untruth to say that 2020 hasn’t seriously tested us. However, while it has been extremely demanding of our hearts and our minds, that doesn’t mean we should overlook the truly good things that this year has brought us.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Winston Churchill

As I look back, 2020 was an incredibly difficult year for the entire world, but there were small blessings along the way that we should all appreciate:

  • Family: We have had the opportunity to spend time with our loved ones, allowing us to focus less on work and appreciate them more
  • Fresh Air: We were able to get up from our office chair and get outside for some fresh air and exercise
  • Fellowship: Our kids learned how to play with each other (instead of video games) and spend time outside… and so did we!
  • Future Opportunities: We learned we could successfully work from home – opening a future where you can to work from anywhere in the world!
  • Fastidiousness: Restaurants and bathrooms are cleaner than ever
  • Friendliness: We have learned the value of a smile and true friends

That being said, I find myself to be both humbled and grateful that you’ve given me the opportunity to connect with you through these challenging times – allowing me to share my thoughts and global leadership experience with you despite everything that is going on around us. As I look back, there have been so many valuable interactions (mostly virtual), comments and insights from all of you. I am blessed to have you in my network and I look forward to continuing our journey of continuous growth together in the new year.

This is a time to look forward – a time of hope and anticipation! This is true every new year, but this year especially. What will 2021 bring? How will we continue our journey? What opportunities and challenges will present themselves?  I don’t know. But what I do know is that the New Year is a time for resolutions. Not the kind that are often broken before they ever begin, but the kind that you earnestly resolve to achieve in the coming year. In order to avoid that unfortunate feeling we get when we haven’t followed through with “resolutions”, I propose we focus on intentional goals for the coming year instead.

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My Gift To You

December 23, 2020 — Leave a comment

Knowledge and experience are invaluable gifts .

Have you ever stopped to ponder what you have been given and how you can leverage it for the greatest good?  We acquire knowledge and experience on a daily basis as we go through life, but I have met very few people (and I do have a very large global network) that actually use what they know to maximize their potential. Whether it’s a natural talent or acquired knowledge, very few of us actually take the time to stop and consider how we can best utilize the “Gifts” we have been given.

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Organizations realize how important it is to “know what they know” and consistently try to maximize their collective intelligence – shouldn’t you? In a world where the only certainty is uncertainty, your only real source of sustainable competitive advantage is your own knowledge and experience – and how you leverage them. Your success in this increasingly competitive world depends wholly on how you qualitatively and effectively manage those gifts.

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The Amazing Race: Tokyo

December 16, 2020 — Leave a comment

Welcome back to The Amazing Race Series!

As those who have been reading this blog for awhile know, my passion is global business and I love to travel and interact with different people from different places.  Everywhere I go (and I have lived, worked or traveled to over 90 countries), I truly enjoy observing distinct cultures and taking away lessons learned from every place and every culture I interact with.  In fact, a good deal of my life’s work is based on this very concept.

I have frequently done business in Japan throughout my career, specifically Tokyo. It is interesting how the country and the culture have changed over time, but beneath its surface lies an extremely productive and effective society.

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To the outsider – or gaijin, as we are known to the locals – Japanese business customs appear to be so deeply entrenched in culture and tradition that they couldn’t possibly be applicable to the rest of the world. But don’t be too quick to write off the value that Japanese business practices offer the rest of the world…

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