Connect and Trust: Leading Companies Run Heart-Centered Supply Chains

By May 3, 2019Beyond Supply Chain
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A man frowned, leaning uncomfortably against a wall in the back of the room.

This wouldn’t have been so notable, except it occurred during a personal development class.

The instructor walked up to the participant during this group exercise, singling him out.

The instructor asked the rest of us, “What do you think is going on with this gentleman right now?”

We were asked to be open and direct, so the ideas bubbled forth.

“He looks upset.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be here.”

“He thinks this discussion is nonsense and has chosen to disengage.”

The theories continued for a while, until the instructor finally turned to the man and asked about his situation.

“I am scheduled to have surgery on my knee next week, but I’ve been looking forward to attending this class for months and didn’t want to miss it. I’m really enjoying the discussion, but my knee is particularly painful today, so I’m propped up back here and doing my best to focus through it.”

The instructor, of course, knew this person’s background, but wanted to shake our collective assumptions. This occurred years ago, but it’s something I’ll never forget.

I was struck by how quickly I had jumped to my own conclusions about the man’s behavior and vowed to keep a more open mind in the future. This was part of a larger commitment to be more compassionate and appreciative toward the people in my life.

What, if anything, does this story have to do with supply chain? A lot, actually.

Like most professions, we’re transfixed by the advanced technologies available to better run our businesses — all the shiny objects: artificial intelligence, blockchain, robots, the list goes on. But it’s really the inner technology — our social software — that will dictate whether our organizations thrive in the long term.

There is no doubt that we live in challenging times — geopolitically, economically and ecologically.  Amid this turbulence, the world feels unsettled. In our work lives, the pace of introduction for new, disruptive technologies has also accelerated. It is in times like these that many people collectively retreat to defensive postures: behaviors rooted in scarcity, competition and conflict.

There is an opportunity, however, to turn this dynamic on its head. We can embrace the principles of connectedness, compassion and gratitude for one another and run “heart-centered” supply chains. This is appropriate, since supply chains are, metaphorically, the hearts of our companies.

It is the function that first senses (or feels) changes from within and outside. It is the pacemaker that connects and regulates across the enterprise. And quite often, it’s the organization most directly focused on driving positive environmental and social change in the world.

So, what does heart-centered supply chain look like in practice? Beyond the general principles, here are two initial ideas, both in the spirit of empowering people.

Let’s start with our managers, all the way down to the front line. A recent Gartner research study examined the impact that different styles of management have on the performance of people in the organization.

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The first type are ultra-responsive, “always on” managers. Next are those who seek to teach based on personal expertise. Third are the promoters or “cheerleaders.” And last are the “connectors” who link employees with the best subject matter experts, mentors and partners for advice and help to get the work done. Hands down, connected managers yield the highest-performing employees.

Last week in this blog, my colleague Steve Hochman noted a question we’re hearing from a lot of chief supply chain officers: “How do we craft and activate cultures of discovery for breakthrough innovation?” A great start would be to create the space and permission to pursue true breakthroughs. A recent Gartner study on organizational structure and behaviors shows that middle and senior management are often the bottleneck rather than the enabler.

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Beyond empowerment, there is much more to be said about building cultures of trust, where employees feel comfortable enough to experiment and take bigger risks.

To quote Stephen M.R. Covey, “the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is… the key leadership competency of the new global economy.”

We’ll explore this topic in the future and share some of the bright spots we see in the supply chain community.

With great appreciation,

Stan Aronow
VP Distinguished Advisor, Gartner

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