By Clifford F. Lynch
Weíre now a couple of months into what might be called the "Year of
the Supply Chain." The Council of Logistics Management has become the
Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals. All around us, logistics
managers are being promoted to supply chain managers.
But calling us so does not make us supply chain managers. And I worry that
too few of us realize what it takes. Managing a supply chain calls for much more
than technical skills. It also requires expertise in collaboration, cooperation
and relationship building; mastery of the arts of negotiation and persuasion;
and most important of all, sensitivity to others both within and outside the
company. But from where I stand, it seems that we simply donít treat each
other very well.
Take, as Exhibit A, the halting progress of CPFR. Itís been a full 10 years
since we first began hearing about the benefits of collaborating with supply
chain partners and nearly seven years since the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce
Standards group began serious promotion of Collaborative Planning, Forecasting
and Replenishment. Though a few retailers Ė Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware come to
mind Ė have established successful CPFR programs, the idea has failed to catch
on in a big way. Though people often cite technology as the major obstacle,
thereís considerable evidence that points to a lack of cooperation among and
even within companies. In the end, collaborationís success will hinge not on
technology, but on the ability of leaders to build relationships, smooth the way
and make things happen.
Exhibit B could be the industry-wide lack of interest in participating in
research that could benefit the entire profession. If you read the fine print in
the latest benchmarking studies, for example, you may be surprised to learn how
few companies responded. Only 222 of the 2,384 people who received the 2004
outsourcing survey conducted by Capgemini, Georgia Tech/FedEx bothered to return
their questionnaires. Less than 10 percent of the Fortune 500 took the time to
respond to a similar survey sponsored by Northeastern University.
As Exhibit C, I would point to a decline in simple courtesy. As a service
provider, Iím often frustrated by peopleís failure to answer letters and
e-mails or return telephone calls. That frustration turns to bemusement,
however, when the tables turn.
Recently, my phone rang. On the line was someone Iíll call John, who
greeted me with, "Itís been a while and I just thought Iíd check in. Iím
networking." Now, I havenít talked to John since 1999, and heíd never
thought to "check in" with me before. Obviously, he was out of work
and had engaged in a crash program of networking.
He might as well forget it. It wonít work. Building relationships is a
long-term project; it canít be accomplished overnight. You have to nurture
your relationships, making it a point to call people periodically just to make
sure all is well. The same goes for networking, which is not something you do
when youíre in trouble or need a favor. If you wait for a crisis before you
attempt to develop a network of people who care, itís already too late.
Thereís an old story about a group of boys who were trying to walk one rail
of a railroad track but could only negotiate a few feet of track before losing
their balance. Finally, two of the boys bet they could walk the rail without
falling off. Challenged to make good on their boast, they each stepped on a
rail, extended a hand to each other and walked the entire length of the track
Over the long run, we will accomplish much more by helping each other. Wouldnít
it be nice if we could make 2005 the "Year of True Collaboration and