If you were asked to categorize your supply chain's collective, cross-departmental knowledge at the moment, would you call it a train, steadily chugging along or more of a traffic jam? Keeping information—either on purpose or by simply not encouraging an open flow of communication—bottled up in a series of individual cars will only clog up your information flow and productivity. Alternately, emphasizing connection and holistic company understanding—like adjoining train cars—will get you to your goals faster.
Closing knowledge gaps across your supply chain is the first step towards sidestepping traffic jams and building vendor management best practices that work. Here's how to make that happen.
Start With Connection-Oriented Hiring
Even if your company is fully staffed at the moment, making a commitment to seek out well-qualified individuals for future positions should be your first step. Naturally you'll want to focus your interviews on finding candidates who understand their potential job duties, but incorporate questions on other areas of your business as well. Does your new marketing professional understand how campaigns affect logistics? Will your warehouse management candidates know vendor management best practices instinctively? Compartmentalization only holds back progress, so make sure you're kicking down a few walls each time you bring new talent on board. Bridget McCrea of Supply Chain 24/7 mentions that some colleges, such as Portland State University, even have curriculums that emphasize this multi-department connection.
Build Understanding from the Top Down
CEOs and senior management staff have a lot on their collective plates, but that doesn't mean they should get comfortable with ignorance or limited knowledge of their own supply chains. Instituting company-wide "cross training" of any variety needs to start with a good example, and a leader that doesn't understand it all, at least in passing, doesn't fit the bill. More than the annual stroll through the warehouse or chit-chat with customer service representatives, business leaders consider spending a few days in the shoes of various department positions to really get a feel for the demands of the work and required knowledge in those areas.
Mad Tea Party = Sound Business Approach
It turns out that Lewis Carroll's famous tea enthusiast—so fond of shouting "Change places!"—may have had a viable solution to positional stagnation. Obviously, any swaps you make should be rich with management and oversight to prevent disruptions, but a change of pace and view has the potential to refresh hearts and minds and build a collective knowledge base in the process. Schedule the position changes on a long time scale, a few months to a year, to give your staff time to adjust and truly absorb knowledge at their desks before moving to new ones.
Training isn't just for new hires anymore. Presenting your existing employees with training and tests will help keep them on top of changes, innovations and thinking about ways to improve the way you do business. Incentives like PTO or better reviews in exchange for certification efforts can also be used to encourage interest and participation in a sluggish, unenthusiastic audience of employees. Whether you look to a pre-made certification program or work with your departments to create a proprietary one, it will help get your entire workforce on the same page, regardless of their current job titles.
From customer relationships to vendor management to distribution, no individual should be an island of knowledge. Building cross-positional collaboration will act as insurance for employee loss and open a channel for communicating improvement ideas. It has the real potential to be a win-win scenario for your business, so consider if it's time to pull off the highway and get on track.