Image Credit: Flickr user Jacqui Ku

Sticks and Ropes: Supply Chain Planning

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Image Credit: Flickr user Jacqui KuRoy Hollister Williams is a consultant and author from Austin, Texas. He is a self-proclaimed ad man and is known within his industry as the “Wizard of Ads“, based on his best selling book of the same name.

I never have been (nor will I likely ever be) in the advertising game. Like most of you, I also get multiple emails from various supply chain industry publications – if I see an interesting headline, I’ll read it. Otherwise, into the trash bin it goes.

Roy’s Monday Morning Memo is different – It’s the only email publication I read every single time I receive it. Sure, lots of times the content is advertising related, but Roy is really more of a business philosopher/behaviouralist than an “ad man”.

Here’s a sample from his memo on January 20th, 2014:

“Laid side-by-side, a stick and a rope have a similar profile. Likewise, rules and principles look alike even though they have little in common.

Rules are like sticks. You can prod people with them. You can threaten people with them. You can beat people with them. But you cannot lead people with them. When a rule doesn’t fit the circumstance, your only choice is to break it.

Principles are like rope, able to be wrapped around even the most weirdly shaped problems. They are less brittle than rules and stronger. Principles whisper priceless advice and people are happily led by them.

A rule requires obedience.
A principle requires contemplation.

Simple people living in a push-button society demand simple rules.

Wise men and women understand and apply universal laws.”

Mike and I have often written and talked about the difference between rules and principles, but I dare say never so eloquently.

So, is the supply chain leadership within your organization creating a “push-button society” or are you developing “wise men and women who understand and apply universal laws”?

Do your people follow procedures or execute processes?

Does your organization invest in education or just job training?

Do your people know “how” or “how and why”?

Do your projects change systems or change minds and behaviours?

When problems arise, do you tell people what to do or do they tell you what they plan to do?

Typically in retail, those on the “front lines” of the supply chain planning process are in entry level, short duration positions. Knowing this, it can sometimes be tempting to just sit them in a chair and show them how to “get the orders out”. Left to their own devices (and through no fault of their own), these people will not be able to effectively solve problems that fall outside the rule book.

So you’re left with a choice:

  • Do you want to be the Oracle of Delphi to whom everyone brings their problems for you to solve? Hope you have lots of free time on your calendar.
  • Will you write the world’s biggest rule book that gives detailed instructions on what to do in every conceivable scenario? The day you finish it, something will come along that makes it out of date.
  • Will you impart to your people simple, practical and timeless principles that will allow them to look at problems from multiple angles and do their own problem solving?

I know you’ll choose wisely.
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If you’re not already signed up to receive the Monday Morning Memo from Roy, I’m afraid I’ll have to insist:


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