As I write this blog, Valentine cards scatter my desk. This is the week for love: a time to send cards and letters to those that we appreciate. I am in the middle of sending the cards to my grandchildren. It is in this spirit, that I write this post. The most unloved employees in the back office are supply chain planners. As supply chain leaders, I would encourage you to send each of them some love for Valentine’s Day. That to do? Here I give you some ideas that go beyond flowers and candy.
Each year, when we complete our annual talent survey, we note greater and greater dissatisfaction within the role of supply chain planners. In Figure 1, note the lowest satisfaction is Generation X (birth years of 1965-1980) in manufacturing organizations. Note that academics and employees of technology software companies have a statistically significant higher level of job satisfaction. Within the data is the story of planners. The numbers are small, but the dissatisfaction is high.
Figure 1. Relative Job Satisfaction of Employees
Supply chain management is heady stuff. A complex non-linear system is not easily wrangled by the uninformed. For every action there is an opposite reaction. The response is often surprising .
In Figure 2, we share insights on five characteristics of companies with a supply chain working well. Note the comparison to the larger population. Companies that outperform their peer groups have supply chain executives with a better understanding of supply chain management.
Figure 2. Characteristics of High-Performing Supply Chains
1) Market-Driven Processes.
Business cycles. Markets go up and down. Supply chains take their sweet time to respond. (It took six months for supply chain executives to sense the market downturn of 2007 and make adjustments to their supply chain. Why? Bad news (declining volumes) moves slowly across an organization while good news (increasing volumes) travels quickly. Today, companies seek a growth agenda, but the signs are omnipresent. The economy is slowing down. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reached out to discuss the rising inventories near the Port of Los Angeles. In my share groups, large manufacturing clients have a Q1 freeze on travel. (Normally the freeze begins in the third quarter.) I am no economist, but there are signs of a market slowdown.
During a market downturn, the life of a demand planner is tough. As the patterns of declining volumes rise to the surface, organizations struggle in disbelief. The unknowing supply chain leader will send demand planners back to their cubicles to “fix the demand plan.” (In other words, forced to concoct a story of growth in a market that is slowing down. Planners hate this stress.) Tensions rise as demand planners attempt to do their jobs in an organization that does not want to engage with market data.
The answer? Embrace the data and use the work of demand planners to see early signs of the market downturn. Use the information to adjust the supply chain to minimize the impact.
2) The Story of Policy, Strategy, and Modeling.
The supply chain combines policy, strategy and models. However, there is a disconnect. Despite the fact that supply chain modelers have great insights, they model; but do not drive strategy. These planners are often stuck at low-levels of the organization struggling with what to tell the “boss” when the strategy decisions are not feasible.
The action? Align. Ask data modelers using supply chain strategy tools to validate policy and refine the outcomes. Make the modelers important members of the team. The more that they feel involved, the greater the love.
3) Buy Technologies that Supply Chain Planners Will Love.
Over 65% of supply chain planning happens in Excel spreadsheets. One of the reasons? Usability. The second? The ability to model the supply chain in the technology. Models are not created equally.
Many times it is the result of the purchase of supply chain planning technologies purchased based on IT standardization. The lack of usability and modeling capabilities drive dissatisfaction.
Figure 3. Planning Technology Satisfaction
As shown in Figure 3, satisfaction with planning technologies low. The gap is greater in emerging economies. User satisfaction is the same as the flip of a coin.
Next steps? Focus on buying planners systems based on usability and modeling capabilities. Make sure that the planners have the right stuff. Make their jobs easier. As shown in Figure 4, the fit of technologies to do adequate modeling is significant gap.
Figure 4. Gaps in Planning Technologies
So, when Valentine’s day rolls around, feel free to buy your planners lunch or host a celebration. Love in any form is a great thing; but to make a long-term impact, don’t forget to address the tough issues that drive the low-level of planning satisfaction. I would start with these three.
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