Brand, Values, and Supply Chain Strategy

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainDan Castle is a true APICS success story. A longtime member, instructor, and leader, he made a very bold professional transition in 2009 and became the chief quality officer for Tata Communications in India. Dan recently transferred to Tata Quality Management Services, a division of Tata Sons, and he is charged with helping to set standards of excellence to achieve improvement goals across Tata enterprises. Because of his new role, Dan was excited to learn that APICS was holding the 2013 Asia Supply Chain & Operations conference April 4–5 in Mumbai. In preparation for the conference, I recently visited Mumbai, and Dan invited me to spend some time with Tata leaders and staff.

It was an incredibly valuable trip. Most impressive to me was how Tata employees I met were ambassadors for Tata Group corporate values. We heard stories about how Tata values, developed over the past 145 years, are sometimes at odds with the business culture in Indiaand the global business culture. The effort Tata leaders have taken to empower every employee to act upon the corporate values of integrity, understanding, unity, excellence, and responsibility has made Tata a recognized economic, social contributor on a global level. That Tata customers appreciate the connection is evident in the fact that the Tata brand is among the top 50 global brands based on net present value.

Brand impact is based on many intangibles, but there is no question it is significant to increasing shareholder value. Therefore, it is an important consideration in supply chain strategy development. Regardless of size, enterprises with values that are closely connected to their brands must take up the challenge of creating supply chain strategy and tactical plans that are consistent with those values. Sourcing, production, and distribution strategy should all be expressions of corporate values, and the decisions that supply chain professionals make day-in and day-out need also to align to these values.

The Tata Group is not the only Indian-based multinational enterprise making this connection. Infosys is leading a newly formed United National Global Compact (UNGC) sustainable supply chain taskforce on traceability. According to the UNGC, the purpose of this taskforce is to develop, “practical guidance for companies on how they seek improved transparency and traceability in their supply chains.” Transparency ultimately reveals whether corporate strategy is true to corporate values.

So what is the best way to ensure that corporate values influence supply chain strategy and execution across an enterprise? Are there compelling success stories? Which companies are best at walking their talk?

Mind the Strategy Gap

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainYour comments after my last post, which I greatly appreciate, reminded me of an interesting meeting I had a few years ago. The group was discussing strategy and linkages between corporate strategy and supply chain and operations strategy. After the meeting was over, I asked Robert Vokurka, PhD, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, 2008 chair of the APICS board and a professor of operations management at Texas A&M University, to help me understand the disconnect. As he explained it, we ended up drawing a continuum on the white board that looked something like this:

Think Supply Chain

In organizations where a gap exists, it is likely that a combination of the following is happening: corporate strategy is not being effectively communicated across all levels in the organization and staff on the execution side of the business is not proactively seeking to understand corporate strategy and how it impacts what they do.

Imagine the many decisions made every day by supply chain and operations management professionals primarily responsible for execution. To whatever extent a gap exists between current corporate strategy and execution, it creates risk and loss of opportunity. Yet, the negative impact of the gap is a shared responsibity of corporate leaders, managers, and individual employees. How do you mind the strategy gaps?

  • How do we ensure that employees at all levels of our organizations are making the best decisions based on corporate strategy?
  • How does one proactively gather the information needed to be certain that his or her work aligns with corporate strategy?
  • What does it take to have confidence that all policies, processes, systems, and staff are aligned to achieve corporate strategy?

Think, Plan, Source, Make, Deliver

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainAsk anyone in the field and they will tell you successful supply chain and operations management professionals are skilled planners who know what needs to be done to accomplish their objectives. Tactics are important, they get the job done.

Companies, however, increasingly are emphasizing supply chain design to meet their goals. I can think of many examples across a variety of industries where supply chain is a strategic competitive differentiator: Unilever and P&G in the consumer packaged goods world, Apple and Samsung in consumer electronics, TESCO in retail, the list goes on.

Can supply chain professionals meet the needs of two masters? Can they excel both at strategy and at tactics? Can anyone?

Over the last couple of years, APICS has been striving to build strategic acumen  as well as tactical expertise of the professionals we serve. While we were planning the content for the upcoming APICS Asia Supply Chain & Operations Conference in Mumbai April 4–5, I challenged myself to develop an education session to help supply chain professionals practice strategy development.

During the course of my career and in multiple settings, I have heard people say that individuals are either tactical or strategic in nature. I cannot quibble with this; it may be true. But I do know that, while we may each have a preference for one or the other, we can learn how to engage in both. Over the next several weeks, I will be gathering techniques and tools that help professionals engage in strategic thinking, the first step to developing strategy.

As I study how individuals can develop their strategic-thinking ability, I’ll share in this blog what I’m learning. In turn, I invite you to share as well. How do you ensure you are taking a strategic perspective in your work? Are there tools you use to aid this process? Have you read books or attended programs that have been particularly helpful? Let me know. I am excited to learn what works (and what does not) in the real world.