Category Archives: Professional Development

The Economics of Cheese

cheese

What every sourcing professional should know

When you read this week’s Wall Street Journal story A Cheese Glut is Overtaking America, after thinking about doing your part to assist with the report that every American would have to eat three extra pounds of cheese this year to work it off, did you think about the economic impact and why this story matters to sourcing, procurement and supply chain? There are many lessons that can be learned from agricultural commodities and understanding the economics, especially in strategy development and managing volatility and risk.

During my career I have managed agricultural commodities and I understand the value and role that economics plays in sourcing. Let’s look at a commodity cycle we’ve experienced in recent years. It’s not difficult understand that after a period of drought, many crops fail and grain prices increase significantly. Farmers then look ahead to a tough winter of feeding cattle with the high cost grain, which will have a negative impact on profitability. As a result, farmers send their cattle to the slaughterhouses and cut their losses. As consumer demand remains steady and exports continue to rise, there is little doubt that the limited supply will force prices to rise. As the weather becomes more stable and grain prices fall, it’s natural for farmers to increase their herds of cattle, production of milk (and cheese!), flocks of poultry and grains. This is the easy to understand supply and demand economic cycle.

In this recent cycle, the opportunity to capitalize on the high prices became apparent to many farmers, however, the failure to understand the impact of the high US dollar on exports and the collapse of the export market, has caused increasing inventory levels, plus the time requirements to flex the size of herds and flocks has built up to the glut of some commodities. Gluts, shortages, currencies, pandemics, weather, labor, regulation and government stability all contribute to agricultural commodity economics and add financial and capacity complexity across supply chains, requiring an increased understanding of the economics to gain control. Today, I’m wondering how many Midwest farmers will switch from planting corn to soybeans, since the USDA projects that soybean production in the US and South America will be tight over the next two years while global demand continues to rise. How much corn is planted, of course, will impact the economics of food supply chains, but it also will impact ethanol, alcohols, building products, plastics and even tires.

Sourcing professionals involved in commodities of any kind can make or break their company’s profitability. The skills required to manage the complexities of commodity sourcing are understanding economics, extensive research of the market, having the right tolerance for risk and volatility, maintaining a calm demeanor and building extremely strong supplier relationships at both the farm (producer) and broker levels. They also need an analytical approach combined with communication and quick decision-making skills to be effective in commodities. We can all learn much from understanding the economics of commodities.

Have you thought about the economics of low-priced Cheddar?

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The Talent Management Game

I was asked to speak about talent management to a group of about 1,800 procurement leaders in the insurance industry. In the same week, in meetings with two CEOs in different industries, both discussed talent management as a key strategic imperative for their respective businesses.

I started to think about the attributes of a great talent management program. I pondered which industry sets the standard for attracting, retaining, developing and deploying talent. Perhaps because I just experienced the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl in Phoenix and attended a workshop for sports related philanthropy, the sports industry stood out for managing talent.

Finding Talent

Both college and professional coaches scout talent, follow high potentials throughout their high school and college careers, consistently review player strengths and weaknesses, create a shortlist of needs, cultural fit and potential, then they recruit. While they may recruit star players, they always have their eye on recruits who have few bad habits, but are extremely coachable.

Starting with talent with the right attitude, smarts and cultural fit, coaches teach players the business by starting them in a rotational program, introducing them to mentors, shaping thinking, behavior and practices. They pare down the team; are they good enough to make the cut? Some companies like GE, Textron and others have embraced this process and move future leaders through the rotations, make them survive boot camps and grow into their destined positions.

I lived in Ann Arbor when Tom Brady played for the University of Michigan. He started college as 7th on the quarterback depth chart, and moved to back-up QB for two years. Then he battled Drew Henson for the starting position when Brian Griese graduated. In the 2000 NFL draft, he was selected with pick #199 in the 6th round. Now considered by many the top NFL pick of all time, he’s the poster child for finding “talent” with a high degree of coachability and high drive to improve.

Retaining Talent

Players are not developed to leave the team in free agency. Coaches must have defined career paths, challenging projects, continued coaching, training and development processes to drive the competence and capability of players to another level. Teams must also have an incentive scheme that makes it more difficult to leave once an investment is made in an individual. Just like sports, company development programs must be focused on individual and team needs to retain the talented employees they’ve invested in.

Playing the Game

Professional athletes are not only expected to have high skill levels and good game thinking, they are also expected to provide leadership to new recruits. The same is true in business, when the leadership and technical skills are in place, the business is learned and the team member is playing to his or her capability, it is important to align responsibility, authority and accountability with the individual and their position to help them become winners.

Winning the Championship

To get the best players, coaches and general managers know that they must grow, manage, develop and invest in talent to get to the championship. Talent management, whether leading procurement, supply chain or company organization, is not a short term proposition. It requires a plan, patience and investment to put the best team on the field. Great talent, customized to your business strategy, is not usually found as a star; find the coachable player and develop talent–great draft picks are waiting!

What’s your winning talent management strategy?

Strategic Agility is a Leadership Imperative for Procurement and Supply Chain

I read an interesting blog post by Steven Krupp (CEO Magazine) on strategic agility that can be applied to Procurement and Supply Chain leaders. In my 20+ years of consulting, I’ve learned that procurement leaders will fail and lose all credibility and effectiveness if they are not flexible and display strategic agility. It’s a career-ending move to say we don’t do it that way, we can’t do it, we tried it before and it doesn’t work. All of these demonstrate non-openness to change, lack of flexibility and limited strategic agility. Today’s business environment with its uncertain economies, drive for short-term earnings, increasing regulation and unstable markets can threaten the procurement leader who likes the status quo. It takes consistency, a great deal of courage, discipline and tenacity for leaders to be flexible during change and agile in strategy. Good leaders lead their charges to calculate and take the right risks to achieve their goals.

Each Procurement and Supply Chain leader must develop these skills:

  • Anticipate changes in the supply chain
    Do a minimum review with the team once a quarter to identify where key markets are headed. Be able to anticipate changes in the global economic climate. Review where exchange rates are strong and where they are weak. Be sure that you have a supply chain that is aligned with your business strategy. Work to develop strong supplier relationships that add value that will be seen all the way to the customer.
  • Challenge the conventional wisdom
    Strategic leaders are not afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom. Rather than having extensive category and industry experience, recruiters and organizations are now looking for a proven track record of conventional challenge. To challenge conventional wisdom, it’s necessary to speak up and voice your opinion on key topics even if not popular to show how ways, processes and opportunities can be met by changing traditional business thinking. Leaders display innovative ideas, strategic plans and solutions to age-old problems.
  • Learning from Experience
    There is no better teacher than experience. Giving people the responsibility, authority and accountability for decision-making will make them stronger and provide the opportunity for changing the status quo. Of course, there may be mistakes, but good leaders use those mistakes to build a learning organization that takes calculated risks for the benefit of the entire company. A true leader is open to this type of delegation and a culture of learning vs. retribution.

To be successful in this profession, a leader must anticipate changes in the global economy, category markets and integrated supply chain. Leaders of the future are those who challenge conventional wisdom, create new ideas, consistently improve performance and encourage their teams to take calculated risks and rewards, modifying plans as necessary.

How are your strategic agility skills?

How do you manage risk?

A recently released Accenture study, “Don’t Play it Safe When it Comes to Supply Chain Risk Management,” shows the wide range of approaches companies take when it comes to managing their supply chain risk.

Unfortunately, only slightly more than one quarter of the companies surveyed are taking the most important tack, developing a “playbook” or plan that various parts of the organization can implement immediately when a crisis strikes.

It’s well and good to identify alternative suppliers that can step in when needed.  And it’s critical to monitor all of your suppliers (not just Tier 1) on an ongoing basis for troubling trends and potential risks.  Building in excess capacity in the event of high volatility is important, too.

But if you don’t have that plan or playbook everyone can follow, you risk having everyone react “one off” and potentially exacerbate the crisis.

On Wednesday, July 16, ISM will host its Risk Management Summit in New York City.  It’s an opportunity to learn how to identify and oversee critical risks, and learn the key measurements you need to effectively communicate and implement a risk strategy.  For more information, visit ISM Conferences for 2014.

 

Learn to keep your skills current

People, keep on learning is the crux of this research study “Keep Learning Once You Hit the C-Suite” in the Harvard Business Review blog.

While it’s aimed at those in the C-Suite or those who aspire to it, the results are valuable to everyone who cares about his or her career.  Who among us wouldn’t benefit from being more flexible, adaptable and curious?  A better team player?  Or from updating our communications skills and learning to interact through social media?  The study talks about the value of mentors, and not just those who’ve achieved long, successful careers.  How about a “reverse mentor,” someone younger who can help change old habits and outdated ways of thinking?

The study cites the importance of looking for opportunities to get out of comfort zones.  And, to ask for feedback from your team, peers and bosses on how to be better at work.  Always keep developing your skills, a self assessment like ADR’s DNA is a good start.  I have the view that learning never stops and I can always learn more.

Whether you’re headed to the top, or happy in the niche you’re in, it’s all good advice.

Back to basics with three R’s

Strip away all the sophisticated software, instant communications tools and reams of data we can now incorporate into our decision-making and a simple truth remains: people are still the key to good procurement, and relationships among people still count.
Chris Jones at DC Velocity reminded me of that recently in a column he wrote about the three Rs of supply chain competitiveness. He says he heard them from a former professor nearly 20 years ago, and they haven’t changed much since. They are:
> Responsiveness
> Reliability
> Relationship
These are good principles to guide decisions about how we use all the procurement tools we have at our command. Will a big data analysis really help us respond quicker to changing conditions or anticipate possible risks? Does the vendor management software package make us a more reliable customer? How do faster communication channels help us build our relationships?
We often assume that whatever is new or “trending” is better, and data can often obscure as well as uncover a truth. So it’s good to have a few basic principles to guide us through all our metrics, and these are three that have stood the test of time.
They aren’t just good for supply management, they apply in general to business — and life.

To Become a CPO, Think Like a CEO

For a number of years we’ve been watching the trend of supply managers to think more strategically, for instance, looking for ways that relationships with suppliers can bring innovations that could increase sales instead of simply reducing costs. The Hackett Group recently released a research alert that confirms that trend. Read it here.
The report is based on an annual survey of procurement leaders, and this year’s survey found supply managers looking past cutting or containing costs to more strategic priorities as expanding the scope of procurement’s influence on spend and tapping suppliers for innovations.
The Hackett Group Global Managing Director and Procurement Advisory Practice Leader Chris Sawchuk said, “We believe many procurement organizations have reached the upper limit of cost reductions possible in categories they are actively sourcing today. So they’re looking for ways to reinvent their value proposition. A key part of this is expanding their influence, and taking a life-cycle approach to category management. This requires working more effectively with spend owners, executives, requisitioners, suppliers, and other stakeholders. It also calls for skills that are outside procurement’s traditional areas of expertise.”
The big idea from this research is that long term success for supply managers comes when they think like a CEO. However, as we all know, if you are stuck in the swamp it’s darn hard to see what it looks like from the mountaintop. To get from here to there it may take investments to raise your skills and those of the team around you. It may take a continuous process improvement approach to the work your department does, and it may take investments in technology to reduce the transaction costs of non-strategic purchases. In short, you may have to start thinking like a CEO of your team before you can align with the CEO of your organization.