Is This the Calm Before the Next Storm?

By Wade McDaniel | June 02, 2023 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainBeyond Supply ChainSupply Chain Strategy, Leadership and Governance

The number of shortages has reduced. Inflation, while still present, isn’t running amok. Freight capacity and prices have improved dramatically. We’re still scrambling a bit for frontline talent, but pressure seems to have eased for many other roles.

Should we sit back and take a rest, or brace ourselves for the next onslaught?

Yes, to both!

Take a Breath, But …

Everyone needs a break now and then, and it just might be the time to take a breath and regroup. This isn’t just a feeling; it’s backed up by data. Gartner research shows that current willingness to support enterprise change has collapsed when compared to 2016. Only 38% say they are willing now versus 74% in 2016. This transformation deficit can’t be ignored.

But taking a breather doesn’t mean continuing on the same path as we have over the past six years. We’ve constantly been hitting the accelerator asking teams for more transformation on our journey, and the results are teams running on fumes.

It’s not enough to say job well done, and then ask for more in the same breath. Leaders will need to prioritize transformation projects and actively manage fatigue.

Our research shows rest that is available, accessible and appropriate contributes to a 26% increase in employee performance and a 10-fold reduction in the number of employees experiencing burnout. Proactive strategies range from meeting-free days and weeks all the way to the four-day week and employee health monitoring. Leaders must find their strategy on this spectrum and adopt it.

Rewarding hard work through pay or recognition had zero positive impact on sustaining workforce health. But making processes easier and more simple does. The other benefit of simplification? It builds resilience.

An Antifragile Mindset

But we think there is something beyond being resilient in supply chain. Organizations will need to consider moving towards an antifragile mindset (subscription required) and operating framework. Resilience is critical to survive a disruption for a certain period of time, but antifragile aims are higher. Supply chains can be poised to become stronger and support profitable growth during turbulent times, not just survive them.

Simplification is a critical attribute to becoming more antifragile. Richer Sounds, a U.K. retailer of hi-fi systems, which has held a Guinness world record for highest sales per square foot of any retailer, famously created a “Cut the Crap” committee to continually identify and remove “bad work” and simplify .

Hold on a Minute

A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved said Charles Kettering. He worked his way to becoming the head of research at General Motors and held 186 patents. This all took place between 1920 and 1947.

What goes unasked is, were the problems being solved the right ones? I’m hopeful GM prioritized, and in the end it wasn’t a larger exercise in chasing a shiny object.

Today we need to admit that there is a lot of shiny object-chasing taking place. This is evident in the transformation research we discussed earlier. In the process of making our organizations antifragile we need to make sure the right questions and requests are being asked both internally and externally.

When a request or question is posed, it is inevitably based on assumptions. In turbulent times, those assumptions may no longer be valid, or optimal, and need to be revisited. Leaders will need to get comfortable with asking, and being asked, “Are we asking the most powerful and appropriate question here?”

Innovation and Openness

It is time to take stock, catch our breath and get ready for the next round of the knowns and the unknowns headed our way. The teams need refreshing, and we need to provide them a working model that is sustainable and simple. This doesn’t mean dumbing down our organizations. It’s quite the opposite. Innovation will lead the way to becoming antifragile and sustainable.

It’s nothing new, but we need to think about it again. Willingness to change — and to adopt the changes required on this journey — will need to come from within, not from on high. An open-source approach to change can result in a 29% reduction in fatigue, and an increase of up to 14 times in change success. Big numbers.

We’ve learned much over the past five years. The trick will be to apply those lessons during the calm before the next storm.


Wade L. McDaniel
Distinguished Advisor VP
Gartner Supply Chain


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