Think about your most popular product. How many pairs of hands are involved in manifesting it on your fulfillment center shelves? 100? 1000? More? When a supply chain is running smoothly, it's surprisingly easy to hand the credit off to flashy tech and algorithms, but people are what's truly at the core. While upgrading technology may be as simple as a download, optimizing the human component of your supply chain is quite a bit trickier, but certainly not impossible—with the right approach. Consider three important reasons to invest in the people that move your supply chain.
It's human nature: No one likes to get called out on the carpet for a mistake, even if they're clearly the one that made an error. If you've ever had to navigate a virtual maze of automated voice prompts and dead-end mass voicemail boxes, you know how frustrating it can be to try to get a question answered. Sometimes these contact system labyrinths seem to be designed to diffuse blame, making it hard for supply chain professionals to pin down solutions through assigned accountability. If you make an effort to introduce yourself systematically to each person involved in your supply chain tasks, you'll know who to call or email if there's a problem—as well as their supervisor, if you ever find yourself stonewalled. Solving an issue is undeniably more satisfying than mashing the "0" button in the faint hopes of reaching a company operator. To further support this link, make sure that accountability is intrinsically connected to clear consequences for that individual.
Connecting with supply chain node reps is an act of supply chain strategy is just as much about growing as it is about stabilizing. Even if your current setup—ordering, components, services, etc.—works well, an inside rep will be the best judge of techniques to make it more efficient. If they've recently introduced a new service or product for another client that would also work for your company, for example, an existing rep relationship would clue you in well before it hit trade media. A positive working relationship also increases willingness to discuss fostering these new products and services in the first place, giving you a potential edge on the competition. Not all innovations need to be huge "leapfrog" style breakthroughs, either. Just as much success is found through slight adjustments to the many moving parts of the supply chain.
Treating a business partner as nothing more than a resource may get you more of the same if you ever find your proverbial back to a wall. With the potential for volatility inherent in most supply chains, especially international routes, it's just smart business to invest in person-to-person relationships. Is your supplier willing to go to bat for you and extend credit or assistance in a crisis? Will they assist in finding you a pinch hitter if they ever experience a problem delivering? If your answers are anything less than a firm "yes," you're only one unfortunate event away from supply chain disaster.
Have the hard discussions and hash out your expectations with the individuals behind your supply chain processes before a crisis makes it a necessity. Your supply chain strategy shouldn't fall to pieces if the power goes out or a piece of software malfunctions. All types of businesses start with "analog" personal connections like handshakes and conversations, and those skills must be preserved and even revered as we move into 2016 and beyond. Without them, your success is at the mercy of a few keystrokes in either direction, rather than a stable foundation that can be counted on in any business climate.