The Credibility Gap

in the course of work, I frequently meet and talk to supply chain executives, and there’s one simple question I ask frequently to see what people are thinking about: “What prevents you from being successful in your role?” Many times we get the answer, “I’m implementing X”, where X may be S&OP, ERP, some special practice, outsourcing logistics, you name it. Then I clarify: “Isn’t X really just your job? What prevents you from being successful at implementing X?” That’s a showstopper, or at least a pause-inducer.

One of the most intriguing, and frequent answers is a highlight of the lack of credibility with, support of, visibility to, or as the American comedian Rodney Dangerfield put it – “I don’t get no respect” from the most senior management of the company, or respect of SCM generally from senior management. Tough problem – we’ve all encountered difficult management situations.  There are entire schools of business literature about the situation with individual managers, but what I feel is going on here is a special version because it’s both widespread and not personality focused.

What’s going on? I take my cue for an answer from Marlboro Cigarettes, an Apple iPad, and a dash of ground Cumin. Well, really I mean looking at Philip Morris International (PMI), Apple Inc., and McCormick & Co, Inc. What SCM teams in all three companies have done at various points is trained and developed incredible bench strength in supply chain management, through focused research, recruitment, and training development within staff.

As Parker Kapp (previously) from PMI spoke to me, he viewed his credibility and role within PMI business strategy teams as directly due to the success and capabilities of his staff in SCM, which he invested heavily in over a 3-year period. He felt released from needing to focus 99% of his time on day-to-day SCM.  He could spend his valuable time working on long-term business strategy because his team developed rock-solid SCM performance. Virtually all staff in his Melbourne office (which runs all of Asia-Pacific) attended training in 3-4 areas of SCM from Lean/Six-Sigma to APICS to SCOR. He has also brought business development teams, in combination with vendors and customers, into SC and Product Design training (SCOR and DCOR) so they have a common language throughout the business.

Tim Cook, CEO and former head of operations at Apple is cited frequently for the deep well of skill he leaves in the SC Team at Apple.  He never could have left his role in SCM to become CEO unless there was zero question of the team’s ability to perform without him.

We have seen McCormick & Co. Inc., which has an SC expert as CEO – Alan Wilson – invest heavily over the years in programs very similar to Philip Morris. What we see is a continuous path in their management teams to more and more strategic responsibility in their organization.

Perhaps the solution to the supply chain professional feeling trapped in the Rodney Dangerfield “I don’t get no respect” trap is not to focus more time on how to manage today’s supply chain crises, but how much investment to make in developing a solid SCM team and broad base of talent.  Then there is time to focus on issues that senior management value the most.