03 October 2011

Herding vendors, customers and the rest of your supply chain

Not long ago I had an opportunity to watch Temple Grandin, a 2010 biopic directed by Mick Jackson and starring Claire Danes as Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and slaughterhouses. This is an outstanding film that shows how one autistic woman, through loving support and sheer willpower, has brought much needed change to an industry.

But I think what Temple Grandin brought to cattle-handling has much broader implications. When pitching her revolutionary—and seemingly costly—design for cattle-handling facilities at the first slaughterhouse, she was roundly criticized because the managers and executives say only the cost of building the system. Only through her keen insight and persistence was she able to get them to see that every day they were pay higher costs by not using a system like the one she had designed.

It’s all about flow

Grandin’s vision was simple (see: inherent simplicity). She boldly suggested that the industry will make more money by understanding and working with the cattle than by failing to understand them and constantly struggling against them. Her facilities’ design simply leveraged the natural tendencies of the cattle themselves to keep them cool, calm and collected as they moved through the operations.

She properly pointed out how very costly it was to pay large numbers of cattle-handlers to be constantly poking and prodding the cattle through the chutes. Not to mention the lost time, lost productivity, and damage done when the anxious movements of the cattle led to backups, herd-busting breakouts, or animals with broken legs that required heavy equipment to get them out of the way.

Grandin was all about “flow” and how an unperturbed flow would increase both production and profitability.

Lessons learned

I don’t want to take anything away from the best reasons to watch this wonder film: Temple Grandin. The best reason to watch this film is, of course, because it is such a wonderful story about overcoming adversity and achieving something when it seems that all the odds are stacked against you.

Nevertheless, I think there is a huge message here for business—and the supply chain.

Why do we hire so many “cattle-handlers” and spend so much time, energy and money poking and prodding our customers, our vendors, and—yes—our employees trying to get them to move along a little faster? Why do we spend so much of our time, energy and resources trying to get the flow moving again when our vendors or employees just don’t seem to “act right”? Why is it our all too frequent first response to problems with our supply chain—from one end to the other—is, “We need to hire more ‘handlers’ to keep the flow moving”?

Don’t we have enough “handlers”? Don’t more “handlers” just keep adding to our operating expenses and make it just that much harder to turn a profit?

Isn’t it time that we took time to really understand what motivates, demotivates or even stampedes our customers, our vendors and our employees?

What we’re looking for is “flow” that doesn’t require so much poking and prodding. The way to get is to work with those who must contribute to the flow. Poking and prodding—and hiring more “handlers”—is just too costly. So, it’s time to redesign our flow in a way that leverages the participants’ natural motivations for productivity, profit and success.

What do you think?

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