As much as your people will theoretically agree that visibility helps improve the process for everyone, they will come up with all kinds of reasons they don’t want to be subjected to it, such as, “Sure, it’s good if everyone can see everything. But here’s why it doesn’t work for you to see what I’m doing!”
In my experience, people simply could not, or would not, let go of their perceived territorial rights. It exposes their weaknesses. It exposes activities that might not be met with approval from the boss, or from others who would suddenly have something to say about how things are being run.
People become very comfortable with their routines, some of which couldn’t survive if everyone had to use an open, visible, unified system. Supply chain visibility threatens those routines. The way one department works may create a problem for another, but the lack of transparency makes the problem hard to identify and even harder to solve. Shine a light and suddenly change is inevitable. People are convinced they can’t work any other way, and these sudden directives for change make them feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them.
I realize this sounds extreme, but I’ve seen it more than you can imagine, and it applies to external relationships even more so than internal ones.
Supply chain visibility isn’t only about departments within your company. To have true visibility across the chain, visibility needs to exist with your outside partners as well. This means your shipping partner, your warehousing partner, and your suppliers. When everyone can see everything, clearly and easily, in real time, efficiency goes through the roof. Waste of both time and resources are reduced significantly.
But going all-in on visibility requires a tremendous amount of trust. Do you really want outside partners to know exactly what you do and how you do it? Do you trust them to keep things confidential? Are you worried that at some point down the line, that company might work with a competitor, or truly get to know your weaknesses?
So if you really want to pursue supply chain visibility, how do you overcome these obstacles?
Most likely, the impetus isn’t going to come from the typical logistics brass. It has to come from senior leadership within the company, ideally with the CEO. When the CEO establishes a clear vision and matching policies for how the company is going to operate with its supply partners, people understand they’re going to be held to that high standard. They might still resist directions that make them uncomfortable, but if the policies are clear and the reasons for them are understood, the tendency for your team members or departments to go rogue decreases, though it never disappears.
This commitment to real visibility starts with the process of deciding to itemize and quantify the benefits of truly committing to supply chain partnership. It’s when you select what parts of your supply chain you’re ready to open up—both internally and externally—to real transparency.
There’s a lot to consider. You need to look at shipping, warehousing, raw materials, regulatory compliance and everything in between. There are a lot of people involved. That might make you nervous, but there’s opportunity there as well. When everyone can see everything, you’re getting the benefit of vast experience that can help you improve across the board. If these are people you’ve chosen to do business with, you’re already investing a certain amount of trust in them.
There is probably more potential for them to help you than there is for them to threaten you.
But the first challenge of any CEO who’s serious about this is to overcome the resistance of his own people. I have yet to meet a CEO so bold that he will simply tell everyone to comply or else, and as a management practice that rarely, if ever, works. Getting people to embrace change and give up some of their security means first getting them to embrace the vision of true visibility. When they start to see that everyone is better off if the company performs better, that’s when they become willing to trade their familiar habits for the promise of greater overall prosperity.
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