What You Do Today at the Frontline Will Define Your Supply Chain Forever

Engage your frontline employees according to this playbook—go see, ask why and show respect.

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When buying a birthday present online, I was frustrated to see that many things were out of stock. The item I finally selected would take six days to arrive at my doorstep, instead of the typical 2-day delivery promise. Yes, the modern supply chain has spoiled me, and I know I’m not alone.

Most people visualize supply chains as a sequence of conveyor belts, forklifts, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), warehouses, trucks, containers, freight ships and airplanes. But, the current health crisis has revealed a secret of the modern supply chain.

The supply chain, it turns out, is a human chain. And, that’s a marvelous thing to be aware of. People at the frontline of industrial operations have been risking their health, and in many cases, their lives, to make the world run and ensuring that our essential goods are adequately supplied and delivered.

Both as consumers and as operations leaders, we owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to frontline employees. When was the last time you went to the shop floor to show this gratitude?

Times have been tough in supply chain operations, and will get tougher in the coming months. 

That said, what we do as employers and leaders in this time of crisis and uncertainty will define our company culture for years or even decades to come. How you treat and manage frontline employees now will have a long-lasting impact on your brand, both as an employer and to the public.

Wouldn’t it be great if that perception was positive, even when making hard decisions on behalf of the company?

Engage your frontline employees according to this playbook—go see, ask why and show respect.

Go see

This means going to the place where value is created for your customer, typically the shop floor, warehouse, retail floor or service center. It implies going physically and observing and gathering facts firsthand. Even with the current guidelines of social distancing, most supply chain leaders have no excuse for completely avoiding the shop floor.

Ask why

Seek to understand the current situation deeply—the anxiety, fear and uncertainty of your people. The challenges of the supply chain. Do so, not just by asking yourself questions, but asking them to your employees. Then, be quiet and listen. This is when the magic happens. Your employees understand the problems way better than you do, and in most cases, they have fantastic insights into solving them.

Show respect

You show respect to your employees by acknowledging their creative capacity, by trusting them in making the right decisions and by empowering them to do what they think is best. 

Is this easy and risk-free? No, but most important matters aren’t.

The supply chain is a human chain. The time is now to unlock the full potential of your frontline employees by partnering with them to harness their pride, intelligence, humanity and drive to make things better.

What you do today at the frontline will define your supply chain forever.