Stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place, Supply Chain Managers, or SCMs, are often put in the difficult position of refereeing between the needs of their customers and the company they work for. Many struggle with the balance and often end upsetting one party or the other. Those few who succeed often bear a resemblance to each other by the habits and traits they bring to their job. Here are six traits that a skillful SCM needs to be highly effective to serve both their customers and their teams.
The most important thing a Supply Chain Manager can do to be highly effective is communicate.
• Interface with SCMs to inform them of upcoming loads
• Find out about the status of those loads
• Use SCMs as a direct contact with the 3PL
• Interact with the SCMs to get information about loads
• Give carrier information
• Disperse information about the loads to the customer
Both parties require up to date information and neither can sit long waiting for an answer. Marketing guru and author, Seth Godin, says, “The less people know, the more they yell.” The worst thing an SCM can do is be silent. According to a 2011 survey by Fierce INC, a “world-class” training and development firm, 86% of those surveyed cited poor communication as the driving force for workplace failures. Potential truck options can be lost or production lines can fail due to lack of information; so it is vital for SCMs to keep everyone in the loop. Even if they do not know the answer, an effective SCM will acknowledge a question has been asked and let the interested party know that they are working on a solution.
The best SCMs not only respond to questions, but respond quickly.
• Require a response ASAP
• Normal practice is within 15 minutes
Having an email saying “Checking on it” is not any more useful than silence if it comes after more than 15 minutes of a question being asked. In that time, planners and customers alike are left wondering if the SCM received their message and why they are being ignored. Not acknowledging a customer right away is a fatal flaw for any business, but it can be equally troubling to overlook coworkers in need of information. Too often, confusion occurs, opportunities are lost, and work is stalled due to slow responses from SCMs.
Effective SCMs will respond to emails and IMs within the first five to fifteen minutes, acknowledging that they did receive the request. They do not have to know the answer right then, but it is imperative that all parties feel heard. Sometimes, SCMs can be unavailable, due to meetings, lunch breaks, etc., so it is vital that they signal with an “Out of Office” response whenever they are not likely to respond in a timely fashion. That way, the customer or planner can escalate their question and the work does not stall.
Nothing can stall workflow more quickly than inaccurate information. Wyatt Earp said, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.”
Customers want to know:
• The status of their shipments
• If the shipments have a carrier on them
• ETA to pick up or delivery
• Current position
• Cost to ship a load
Planners need accurate information as well:
• Pickup and delivery dates and times
• Bill of lading and pickup numbers
• Customer requests for loads
Giving the wrong information is bad for business. Bad info can cause production issues, cause confusion, and also give the SCM’s company a bad reputation. Both customers and planners need accurate details for a successful shipment, and any misleading detail can cause a major disruption or delay loads from reaching their destination. Small mistakes can often ripple out into larger issues and many of these can be avoided by double checking the details before submitting answers to questions. There is a carpentry saying that applies to logistics – “measure twice, cut once.” It means to be sure you are correct before proceeding onward. Accurate information is vital for smooth shipments and happy customers.
One way to ensure accuracy is proper organization.
Customers & Planners:
• Need information quickly
• Need SCMs to be efficient when answering questions
Effective SCMs have information at the ready for customers or planners trying to move freight. They would either know the answer to questions or know how to find the answers they need. If a customer needs to know where their truck is, an effective SCM would need to know either who to contact on the planning or tracking team, or how to look up a check call and relay that information to the customer. If a planner needs to know if a receiver will be open at a certain time, an effective SCM would need to have that information on hand or be able to ask their customer to clarify. The answers to many of these questions are often routine, and can be easily referenced if one knows how to look for them. Benjamin Franklin said, “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”
Documenting changes to loads, references, and other notes is a simple way to keep everyone up to date and informed. Getting organized, generally, is not a simple task. It takes work to coordinate with customers and team members to ensure that everyone is on the same page and is working with the same information. SCMs can be more effective with organization by establishing routines and references to many day to day questions; in that way, they can easily answer expected questions and take more time on the unexpected questions.
Another way to make sure everyone is on the same page is to be proactive.
• Need to be prepared for delays, breakdowns, & coverage or cost issues
• Need prepared for load changes, load additions, & load cancellations
Effective SCMs do not let their customer or their team be surprised. Tell the planners that the customer is adding in loads, warn the customer that the ETA has changed – let everyone know what is coming so they can prepare. Nobody wants to be blindsided with information. By preparing them, SCMs can make their team more efficient, can save time and money, and can relieve the stress that last minute changes cause. Being proactive can be as simple as relaying on information right away when it is received, asking common questions in advance, or by checking easily gathered information first rather than waiting for it. Proactivity is a major function of communication, and communication is key.
Honesty goes hand in hand with communication and is crucial for effective SCMs.
Customers & Planners:
• Nobody can operate without honesty.
Honesty builds trust and trust is a cornerstone for business. If there is an issue, an effective SCM will let the customer or their team know. Like proactivity, nobody likes surprises. It is much easier to correct a mistake people know about than to operate without knowing and let the mistake grow larger. Honesty allows for preparation and correction. The 2011 Fierce survey also noted that 99.1% of those surveyed say that they prefer a company culture of openness and honesty but that fewer than half of them work for companies that operate that way. SCMs need to notify their team if the customer does not like something they are doing or notify the customer if something is not working properly. An effective SCM calls for honesty from their customer and their team as well. In that way, nobody is working on an assumption and the operation runs smoothly.
Taken together, these six traits can allow a supply chain to operate effectively and alleviate the stresses that competing interests of companies can cause. Proper, timely communication can keep the parties out of the dark and be sure that they not surprised, and accurate information can keep both teams pleased. Few supply chain managers come with these traits in hand, but all can develop them with simple application of hard work and integrity.