Supply Chain Leaders Are Winning the Long Game

By Stan Aronow | July 23, 2021 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainBeyond Supply Chain

Last week, we held our annual Supply Chain Leaders Forum event. Instead of the typical gathering in London, our community of COOs and heads of large global supply chains convened virtually. We explored how we can meet the short-term demands of our stakeholders and collectively solve some of the planet’s largest environmental and social challenges — our long game.

In my opening keynote, I shared that despite all the disruptions of the last two years, we’ve consistently delivered growth and profitability for our businesses.

Net profits for our largest companies hit a record high in the first quarter of 2021 and we’re headed for a blockbuster Q2. As supply chain leaders, you have sprinted to make rapid-fire moves with your teams, networks and portfolios.

But there are always two sides of the coin. The flip side of our race to support new customer requirements, resolve supply shortages and adapt to new ways of working is that a sizable chunk of our teams experienced elevated stress. Over time, this has taken a toll on mental health and engagement.

On a cautionary note, we should beware the law of averages when surveying our people. Gartner research reveals that a summary view of our workforces shows them holding up quite well, when in fact those with improved circumstances through remote working are just cancelling out the cohort with negatively impacted mental health.

What Did We Learn?

Here are some key takeaways from keynotes and group discussions at this year’s event:

On the virtuous cycle purpose-driven supply chain’s drive in employee engagement and business performance …
  • Many supply chain leaders shared that addressing global challenges, when aligned with employee purpose, is an enormous unlock for renewed engagement, despite the exhausting pace of the past two years.
  • The CEO of a leading high-tech company uses a decision matrix to determine when to publicly weigh in on environmental and social issues. This cuts through the politics to focus on those benefiting humanity and addressing employees’ desire for the company to take a stand.
  • A process manufacturer with a longtime commitment to environmental sustainability and community engagement has drawn mathematical correlations between improved employee engagement scores and boosts in customer experience.
On how digital automation and augmentation can enable our teams to focus on what people do best …
  • An apparel retailer propelled its digital transformation through scalable technology platforms used across all dimensions of its value chain. The result was increased customer intimacy and triple-digit annual growth in its direct-to-consumer models.
  • An advanced industrial company built a highly automated and connected digital ecosystem within its operations and across its strategic partners. It uses a digital academy and innovation teams to drive continuous improvement through its network of empowered local businesses.
  • From capturing real-time product sell-through and continually refreshing demand and supply plans, to leveraging AI to proactively track and manage customer deliveries, a consumer electronics company’s employees spend less time on manual, unstructured updates, and more time on better supporting customer needs.
On solving our largest environmental and societal challenges as a united front …
  • Some of the supply chain leaders driving the environmental sustainability movement forward feel we are collectively moving too slow in the near term, despite ambitious 2030+ goals.
  • Ellen MacArthur, of circular economy renown, spoke about the need for a mindset change whereby new products are simply designed for reuse and safe recapture. She also stressed the importance of collectively innovating and collaborating, trying to make structural changes within the system, not just within individual businesses.
  • Many of the larger environmental and social initiatives that companies are pursuing individually can only be effective at scale if they partner to set standards and build common markets. Several leaders noted the lack of a natural organizing function for companies to work together toward some of these objectives.

We are excited to return to an in-person Leaders Forum event in London on July 11-12, 2022. In the meantime, we look forward to the next gathering of this esteemed group at our virtual Leaders in Action event, co-sponsored by Don Frieson, EVP Supply Chain at Lowe’s, on the topic of customer-driven supply chain transformation.

Stan Aronow
VP Distinguished Advisor
Gartner Supply Chain

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