Global supply chain concerns were awakened during the pandemic, but current geopolitical tensions and the declining availability of nonrenewable resources have since exacerbated the issue. A company’s supply chain is structurally fundamental to its well being in the same way plumbing or electrical wiring is essential to a house. If any one part is damaged, it can impair the system, which might require tearing up the floorboards to get to the root of the problem.
Solutions like strategic stockpiling or allocating bigger budgets to moving products around the world are ultimately short-term answers to a bigger question about how our supply chains are built and maintained. However, leaders across every industry and organization have the potential to rebuild the system, provided they are equipped with the right tools and mentality. The three below approaches can help companies create sound foundations for future success.
Reframe Threats as Opportunities
The shock of suddenly finding favorite items absent from grocery shelves or fewer cars to choose from at dealers across the country made COVID-era supply chain disruptions feel like a threat to consumers and companies alike. But within every threat is the glimmer of an opportunity to make impactful changes to a broken process. Almost everyone now fully recognizes the importance of diversifying sources, having back-up plans and quickly adapting to setbacks. Those lessons — no matter how painful — prepared us to deal with unpredictable events in a rapidly changing world. Moving forward, supply chain leaders must be able to identify and clearly communicate the bright side of a bad situation to motivate employees to persevere through difficult times.
One example of this is DuPont. During the Great Depression, the company wasn’t able to receive rubber from Asia. As a result, they engineered their own synthetic rubber, ultimately being used for neoprene, military supplies and women’s pantyhose, among others.
Be crystal clear about the opportunities at hand and each department’s role in working toward a solution because it can be easy to view the current environment and dynamics as threats. Positioning internal and external factors as opportunities to enhance or refine business practices, sourcing and planning can alleviate concerns or dispel the negative emotions associated with a threatening situation. Lean into these opportunities and position them as a chance to think critically or creatively without boundaries. Encouraging this mindset helps empower employees to feel hopeful about their company’s future. A sense of opportunism can encourage innovation as well as bolster morale and commitment to the greater vision.
Enlist Leaders From All Levels
Reforming a system as interconnected and complicated as the supply chain requires a massive amount of support from many people working together to drive the process forward. This can best be done by enlisting more leadership from more levels within an organization. Diagonal leadership encourages the collaboration and equal input of employees across a range of titles and levels. By facilitating diagonal leadership, an organization can ensure senior executives aren’t dictating the conversation, while sparking ideas from people who are closer to the ground running with strategies and acting toward business goals.
An all-hands-on-deck approach like this helps build a “volunteer army” of employees who feel empowered to voice their ideas and make decisions without cutting through hierarchical red tape. Employees who are encouraged to volunteer in whatever way makes sense — whether that means leading a “lunch and learn” or jumping into a new project — can also create momentum and rejuvenate your corporate culture. Giving employees permission to voice and pursue great ideas pushes them into a “want to” mentality, instead of a “have to” mentality which can ultimately generate incremental energy and productivity.
Shift From 'Survive' to 'Thrive'
The volunteer army mentality can also prepare your business to shift from “survive” to “thrive” mode. In a challenging supply chain environment, perceived and actual threats can trigger rapid problem-solving and “negative” emotions that make it hard to think strategically for long-term success. By re-framing these threats as opportunities and listening to leadership from all levels of the organization, a sense of excitement and energy can replace those survival instincts. This energy can fuel more positive emotions, leading to an expanded capacity for over-the-horizon problem solving.
Tap into specific interests, areas of expertise and passion points to ignite a “thrive” mentality among employees from the ground up. Then work together to formulate clearly communicated, achievable goals that all members of the organization feel invested in achieving. You’ll soon find yourself with an engaged workforce prepared to rip up the floorboards and install an updated system.
The sense of unease everyday consumers felt when they first realized the effects of supply chain complications does not need to be reignited as we navigate a new era of uncertainty. While there is danger in swaying too far towards protectionism, leaders have an opportunity to fundamentally rewire an antiquated system and give our global networks new life through a focus on. This can best be accomplished in an opportunistic environment, involving more people and maintaining a thrive mentality.
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