Supply Chain Vector [Electronic resources] : Methods for Linking the Execution of Global Business Models With Financial Performance نسخه متنی

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Supply Chain Vector [Electronic resources] : Methods for Linking the Execution of Global Business Models With Financial Performance - نسخه متنی

Daniel L. Gardner

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The Individual and Global Organizations: A Commercial Contract



There is no question that organizational structure influences individual, group and, ultimately, supply chain behavior. However, people are responsible for their own actions, all of which should be channeled toward the financial success of the organization that employs them. This being said, there are two characteristics that define the contribution that a person makes to the enterprise: preparation and attitude.



With regard to preparation, both the company and the employee must realize that training is a two-way street. A commitment to education and shared learning must be in the marrow of an organization's skeletal structure, manifesting itself in programs that build the skills people need to compete. The same can be said for the individual. In today's world, a college or business school degree is but a ticket into the big game. A diploma will get a player into the stadium, but what someone does on the field is left to how well the individual prepares himself or herself every day. If employees are not educating themselves independently, they are discounting their value to the company and will eventually be passed over or taken out.



Management's attitude toward investing in employees differs from company to company, with the only common ground being the lip service usually afforded the initiative. Recollection of a cartoon read in a long-forgotten business publication sizes up the situation pretty well. It went something like this.



While alone in an elevator, two managers are embroiled in a debate over the cost/benefit of employee training. The first manager says to his colleague, "What happens if we train all these people and then they leave?" The other, and obviously more enlightened, manager responds, "What happens if we don't train them and they stay?"



This little gem brings a vexing catch-22 to the forefront of any conversation on training, education and the ties to supply chain execution. On the one hand, organizations have come to be known as stoic beasts that will lay off people with 15 years of service at the earliest sign of a financial downturn. Conversely, many employees in business today are viewed as corporate mercenaries, changing jobs a half dozen times over the course of their careers. If people do not trust their employers and companies are hesitant to invest in people out of fear they will go to the competition, how can a culture be built upon a mutual interest in employee development?



There is no easy answer to this dilemma, but one could say that perhaps companies would not have problems if their people had been better trained. Similarly, if people had actively invested in their own careers like they expect companies to do for them, perhaps they would not have been among those who got whacked. While admittedly an oversimplification, there still may be some merit in these statements.



The fact is that in order for companies to be successful, they have to develop employees with a broad perspective on business. The first step in that process is to make a much-needed separation between training and education. Whereas some may consider any distinction a matter of semantics, forward thinkers will realize that there is an ocean of difference between training someone for a job and educating that person for a professional lifestyle.



Training is usually subject specific and only applicable to the position an employee occupies. Basically, people are instructed how to fulfill the technical aspects of their jobs. Training is also more event driven, short term in nature and lacks continuity or links with other initiatives in the organization. Education, on the other hand, is as much philosophical as it is practical, blending technical skills with the desire to develop responsible and proactive corporate citizens. More of a process than an event, education is wide in scope, long term by definition and all content is part of a comprehensive design.



Once management teams can separate training from education, initiatives can begin that establish technical skills and shape the corporate culture of the organization. From an educational standpoint, that process begins with an explanation of the company philosophy and what the characteristics are that personify its value system. When people do not understand the personality of their own organization, it is very difficult to adopt and display attitudes consistent with the corporate ethos.



Employees also need exposure to different cultures, languages, mores and methods of doing business. The simple opportunity to meet colleagues from foreign offices will do wonders for performance. In fact, the ability to meet and spend time with offshore colleagues is proof positive that team members are part of something larger than themselves and that subordination of personal agendas for the general good is to everybody's benefit. It is easy to disparage, criticize or be cynical with a stranger in an e-mail. It is not so easy when people know each other and have thrown back a beer or two.



In addition to job-specific preparation, training also means exposing people to functional disciplines that have seemingly nothing to do with their positions. A true supply chain mentality requires that purchasing professionals must be trained in capacity and production planning to fully comprehend the downstream results of their sourcing practices. It also means that salespeople need to spend time in logistics to understand the ramifications of their sometimes outlandish commitments to clients. There are many examples of relevant cross-training, but a good place to start is with the basics of accounting and financial reporting for every person in a company. Cultures differ from company to company; math does not (at least it never used to).



On the individual front, employees have to go the extra mile for themselves and the company. That means making an effort not only to perform well but to learn something new every day. Whether it is from a business journal, colleague, college course or water cooler conversation, at the end of a year the cumulative effect of this concerted effort will show its value.



Just as business leaders can find parallels for their organizational challenges in the field of political science, individuals should pursue sagacity in non-traditional places. Shakespeare, Mao Tse-tung, the Greek tragedies and Confucius all offer invaluable lessons for life and business that all professionals should embrace. Corporate hubris has been the downfall of more than one manager, a situation that may have been averted by visiting with the Athenians of ancient Greece.



The most famous rebuttal for continuous education, be it formal or otherwise, is that people do not have time. When employees convert an occasional activity into a way of life, there is always time. How people apply their intellectual bandwidth is a lot like the way in which production planning is carried out in a plant; everything is based on capacity and priority. If people have the native capacity, they should make learning a priority. At the very least, if they find themselves among the unlucky bunch that does get laid off in a downturn, they will be in a better position to bounce back.



Whether from the company or individual perspective, one must realize that learning is a process, not an event. Intellectual capital is the work-in-process inventory that never becomes finished goods. Unlike the company in the case study presented later in the book, this is the type of asset an international businessperson always wants on his or her personal balance sheet.



The second variable in the personal development equation is attitude. It is true that both organizational structure and a company's posture on employee development help to mold attitudes, but, once again, we are all responsible for our actions. Today's global enterprise must be populated with people who are willing to step outside their functional universe and give something of themselves for the good of the corporate physiology. This is the first step in creating a culture focused on supply chain performance. Without it, companies will never be able to maximize their potential.



A personal commitment and willingness to sacrifice are analogous to the series of compromises found in the U.S. Constitution. The individual states gave up their sovereignty to "form a more perfect union ... promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." An individual's behavior within an organization should not be much different than that of the states of the Union.



To illustrate this point further, consider the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his publication The Social Contract. Written during the time of the Enlightenment, which so influenced the revolutionary generations of the mid to late 1700s, Rousseau wrote extensively on the relationship between the individual, his or her personal freedom and life in a country of laws. His hypothesis was that although a person is entitled to his or her individual freedoms, sacrifice of some of those freedoms to the "general will" would bring greater benefits to the whole of society and hence the individuals who make up that society. To leave matters to Rousseau himself:






Each of us puts in common his person and his whole power under the supreme direction of the general will: and in return we receive every member as an indivisible part of the whole. [2]






For business purposes, the above must be tempered to allow for creativity and local decision making. However, the statement does not lose any of its force when taken from the standpoint of shelving individual or departmental initiatives that may not contribute to the overall (or general) well-being of the company. As such, each and every employee should tacitly create a "commercial contract" between himself or herself and the organization, committing to act in a manner that promotes the operational, cultural and financial health of the enterprise.



The state of the relationship between a corporate entity and the people who populate its environs is the crucible of the qualitative side of supply chain management. Products do not move themselves, and it is the desire to be part of something grander than any person could ever be individually that gets product into the hands of the consumer. People must also recognize that we live in an imperfect and conflictive world, shelter from which cannot be found in the confines of our offices, warehouses or factories. It is this same imperfection and innate sense of conflict that should lead people to seek compromise while always putting their best foot forward. Tesla, the metal band of the early 1990s, summed up the corporate tango most succinctly:



It ain't what you got, it what's you give.



It ain't what it's not, but what it is.



To the above end, all professionals involved with international trade have to operate out on the margin, constantly measuring the benefit of one additional unit of personal output against the cost of creating that output. Whether activities are related to improving customer relations, increasing revenues, better supplier management or cost reductions, people must push themselves and those around them to their physical, emotional and intellectual limits. If people are not operating out on the margin, they are probably just going through the motions. As Peter Drucker so aptly put it, "One should never confuse motion with progress."



[2]Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762, p. 15.



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