Leverage COVID as the Ultimate Supply Chain Culture Hack

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Two years after the tsunami that devasted northwestern Japan in 2011, I was talking with a supply chain leader challenged with how her organization was performing. She recalled her company’s response to the tsunami, awestruck by how people organized and performed tremendous feats to keep the company operating and serve their clients. She wished that in “normal times” the company could operate with the same level of speed and customer focus. What was keeping them from that same level of performance?

Disruption tends to bring out the best in our communities in general, and our supply chain organizations in particular. Our survival instincts kick in. We overcome those barriers that typically keep us from being effective. Our objectives are clear and aligned. We allow ourselves to operate outside of the bureaucracy and silo thinking. We realize the risk of no decision is greater than the risk of some decision, even if that decision is not perfect. We organize war rooms, empower individuals, operate in small teams and trust those teams rather than question every decision.SC_B 201366 D200922 September_Graphic 01
But after we survive the disruption, the organizational adrenaline fades. We fall back into old patterns of behavior. War rooms are closed. Tiger teams go back to their regular jobs. We stop collaborating. The old culture reappears. We wonder how we missed the opportunity.

Use COVID to Hack Your Supply Chain Culture

Surviving a disruption requires actionable, low-effort, immediate, visible and emotional strategies that motivate the organization to get work done. This is the foundation of what we call “culture hacks.” In hacking the culture, companies look for the everyday processes, projects or meetings where they can simply start behaving in new ways that produce new results. A culture hack should not require planning, design or funding. If you want to embed collaboration, you go to a meeting where collaboration is most needed and begin working with people to collaborate.

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COVID is potentially the greatest culture hack of all. It forces the entire organization and supply chain communities to work together differently. But can we capture the opportunity?

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Intel CEO Bob Swan observed that “(COVID) forces us to step back and ask ourselves, ‘How is it in moments of crisis we are able to get so much done so fast? How do we continue that pace in a more normal environment?’ ”

The first step is to start learning now! How are teams working together to make decisions? Who is involved in decision making and why? How are you limiting escalations of decisions? Are you limiting the amount of time to make decisions? What information are you using to make decisions?

One stark example is how COVID hacked almost every company’s culture relative to employees working from home. Almost overnight, companies shifted technology, HR policy, work practices, training and leadership to accommodate for the large number of employees working from home during the pandemic. Many of those companies are actively learning now to see how this WFH culture hack can help them transform how they do business post-pandemic.

COVID may represent the biggest culture-hack opportunity of our generation. Real-time learning is the key to success. Work with internal teams to find those practices you want to keep post-pandemic and starting embedding them into the fabric of your culture now.

Ken Chadwick,
VP Analyst,
Gartner Supply Chain



Author Ken Chadwick

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